Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me A Match: Can the Powerbrokers Put Aside Ego and Craft a Schools Budget Without Teacher Layoffs?


As the verbiage lags the discussions get serious.
On June 30th the New York City budget year ends.
The New York City Charter, the governing document requires the Mayor to propose a budget and the City Council to pass the budget (with changes if they choose). The Mayor can sign or veto and the Council can override the veto. In my memory this has never happened, the Mayor and Council always reach an agreement.
It became increasingly clear that this year the Mayor’s layoff budget does not have the 26 votes required for passage, and the Council may not have the 2/3 votes to override a veto. If no budget is in place the situation is unclear. It is my understanding that the Corporation Counsel argues the budgeting responsibility falls to the Mayor. Others argue that without a budget the City would be in technical default and the Governor would appoint an Emergency Financial Control Board to run the City’s finances.
Neither scenario is likely, a budget agreement looks increasingly likely  as the grandstanding fades.
Once upon a time reporters would plant themselves in front of 250 Broadway to monitor the foot traffic. Who is arriving and leaving?  Council leadership, labor leadership, key mayoral aides, top staff from all parties as the discussions reach a pinnacle the key players would be at the table. In our increasingly electronic era the “key players” can text and email and Skype and use that antiquated communications device: the telephone.
This week the spotlight will be on Albany as the session moves toward the June 20th adjournment date. Marriage equality, rent control, property tax cap and reapportionment are the “big” issues awaiting action. Marriage equality will only come to a vote  if the votes for passage are in place. There is a possibility that if a religious organization exemption is added enough votes in the Senate may be in place.
Reapportionment is the elephant in the room. The unwritten rule was that each house drew the lines for their own chamber. Republicans in the Senate protected Republican seats and in the Assembly Democrats drew “Democratic friendly” lines. The Governor has made it clear that he will only support a non-partisan reapportionment process, non-partisan reapportionment in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic would be a death knell for the Republicans on the Senate side. If no agreement is reached reapportionment could end up in the courts.
Rent control expires June 15th, millions of New York City would be impacted.
The Governor wants a property tax cap that is vigorously opposed by NYSUT, the statewide teacher union. School boards are also opposed while tax hawks and the business community support. Proposition 13, a voter initiative in California more than twenty years ago capped property taxes and the result has had an enormous impact on schools. Per pupil spending and teacher salaries lag far behind  other states. Class size is high and California’s once glittering school system has faded.
A rent control/property tax cap compromise may emerge.
The June 20th legislative session will probably run late into the night, or into the morning of June 21st as scores of bills are passed.  Both houses can return later in the summer to “clean up” whatever is necessary.
As the state legislature adjourns the focus will fall on the City budget process.
If a compromise, as expected is hammered out what can we expect?
The elimination of teacher layoffs would be essential, although cuts in school  funding are likely.
Teacher evaluation is not tied to the budget directly, but, is a key issue for the City. If no agreement is reached the City may not receive 20 million in federal dollars to fund the Restart Model schools. Restart would pass along millions to non-Department organizations to run a cohort of schools without changes in staffing. 
The recently approved teacher evaluation law will only come to fruition if it is negotiated under PERB rules. The current evaluation system would remain in place just as the expired 2007-2009 teacher contract remains in place.
The Walcott chancellorship may be thawing the chilly relationship with teachers and their union. The Department has fully committed itself to the implementation of Core Standards and this will require changes in each and every classroom. The Department has moved as close it comes to ordering principals, to provide significant common planning time. Principals are urged to use existing parts of the teacher contract to create blocks of time within the school day for grades or subject areas to meet and work on curriculum maps, lesson plans, to review student work, the core of what defines effective schools. Walcott is also moving to change the once or twice a year full period pro forma classroom observations to more frequent, brief classroom visits with “meaningful feedback.”  The Department references a school in which the principal spends two days a week in classrooms and/or meeting with teachers. A sea change in the day-to-day job of a principal.
While the ink has featured the teacher evaluation law,  the law is a teacher-principal evaluation plan. Principals strongly oppose the plan. The CSA, the principals union, claims that using current data 15% of principals will fall into the “ineffective” category under the new regulations.
The teachers and/or the principals unions have an option. If no plan is locally negotiated the current plan stays in effect, although sections of the Race to the Top dollars could be in jeopardy.
With a Republican House of Representatives that is wary of additional education dollars and suspicious of top down, Washington-driven policies waiting may be an effective strategy. The re-election side of the Obama administration needs those three million teachers.  Arne Duncan will find the political gurus trying to cobble together  270 electoral votes and willing to sacrifice Arne’s policies to cozy up teachers.
Should be a fascinating last two weeks of June.
If layoffs are averted the Mayor will begin to look like a “cry wolf” mayor. A classic political  strategy: create a crisis and squeezing your opponent is looking stale.
 A lame duck Mayor is developing an ominous limp.

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