Governor Cuomo announced that New York State schools are closed till the end of June, 4800 schools in 700 school districts, CUNY, SUNY and private colleges. Over 4 million students scattered across the state. The decision whether summer schools will be open will be made by the end of May and September openings will be driven by the data as well as whether you can practice social distancing in a school environment. (Watch full press conference here )
Cuomo acknowledged that school opening questions must be addressed: school busing, social distancing in classrooms and the rambunctious nature of kids.
New York City teacher union (UFT) president set a high bar in a Change.org petition,
- Widespread access to coronavirus testing to regularly check that people are negative or have immunity
- A process for checking the temperature of everyone who enters a school building
- Rigorous cleaning protocols and personal protective gear in every school building
- An exhaustive tracing procedure that would track down and isolate those who have had close contact with a student or staff member who tests positive for the virus
National Public Radio (NPR) listed nine pre-conditions for school openings and a 3-minute interview with UFT President Michael Mulgrew. (Read/Listen here)
Chancellor Betty Rosa announced the formation of a task force of stakeholders to guide the decision about the re-opening of schools,
“In the coming weeks we will form a statewide task force made up of educational leaders, including superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, school board members and other stakeholders, to guide the reopening of our schools. By working together with these partners, we can ensure that our children’s educational, developmental and overall wellbeing is considered during this important discussion.
“We look forward to working with the Department of Health and sharing recommendations with Governor Cuomo’s New York Forward Re-Opening Advisory Board.”
The people who are never mentioned and are at the heart of school openings are the district budget folks. They may have different titles, Assistant Superintendent for Finance, Deputy Chancellor for Financial Services, or some other title.
New York State has a 2% cap on school district budget increases (except New York City) and the budget must be approved by voters in the district, in the past, at a May district election, at the same time school board members are elected. This year the school budget vote has been postponed until “after June 1.”
In my years “in the trenches” I was the program chairman, I scheduled students in a 5,000 plus student high school, of course, under the guidance of the principal. How many course offerings? Class size? How many counselors? Deans? As budgets changed from year to year the configuration of the school changed. As the district union rep I sat in on budget meetings, the deputy superintendent was a magician, moving dollars from category to category, maximizing direct services to classrooms.
In a normal year the state budget is passed by April 1 shortly thereafter the state provides budget runs, the amount of dollars for each district. Property tax revenue plus state dollars equal district dollars and budgets are allocated among the schools in the district. A budget is created, registered voters cast their ballots.
This year is unique.
I imagine budget directors are planning a number of scenarios: bad, worse and worst.
I would begin: can I staff all classrooms keeping the current class size? If not, ranking cuts from non-classroom services in order of priority: after school programs, including sports, class trips, professional development, etc. Worst case scenario: lay off teachers and increase class sizes.
You can utilize zero-based budgeting, start with zero and add services according to a pre-determined set of principles, a bilingual aide in a first grade classroom before an after school arts program; Advanced Placement classes or a counselor?
The community is going to vote on a budget before a decision is made over whether schools will be open in September: social distancing, daily temperature-taking, over night school cleaning, etc., what is the cost of these required actions prior to opening schools? Later school openings? How can I budget for the costs without knowing the pre-opening requirements and the costs?
How will the governor’s hundred member re-opening advisory council interact with the yet to be announced Board of Regents stakeholders group?
Will the governor be prescriptive, or, will school districts have attitude?
These decisions can rip schools and districts apart, pitting parent against parent and teachers against parents, non-parents against parents, with national political politics hovering over all the decisions.
One careful, very careful step at a time.