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NYC principals with enrollment shortages brace for more cuts

Even though many New York schools are reeling from this summer’s budget cuts, some principals are bracing for another financial blow.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, schools with an enrollment deficit will have to reimburse money in the middle of the school year. Education department budget directors warned many schools last week that they may have to drop or “surplus” teachers to realize hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings through what is known as “ mid-year fiscal adjustment,” several executives told Chalkbeat.

Some principals have sent teachers to pack weeks into the new school year, while others have warned staff that more cuts may be ahead. Still others choose not to make any more cuts this year and assume a budget deficit. But the move could worsen their long-term financial prospects and lead to additional spending restrictions for the rest of this school year.

“Principals are kind of between this rock and a hard place,” said a Brooklyn headteacher who will likely owe the Education Department more than $200,000 this school year and spoke under the guise of anonymity. “It is a significant sum.

“What I chose to do is not pass anybody and see where the cookie goes down,” the Brooklyn manager said.

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Principals receive their mid-year budget adjustment — which takes money away from schools with lower-than-expected enrollments and adds money to those with more students than planned — usually each fall after finalization registration count on October 31, and again later in the winter.

The mid-year adjustment aims to address any imbalance in student rosters against budgets released in June, which are based on the Education Department projections for the upcoming school year. When schools end up with fewer students on their rosters than expected or have students with extremely low attendance rates, they can lose per-student funding for those children in the middle of the school year. That’s more than $4,000 per student for a general-education high school student and up to nearly $12,000 per head for students with disabilities, who receive additional funding, according to DOE figures.

The mid-year recovery has been halted for the past two school years due to the pandemic, and its return could mean more financial hardship and disruption for some schools still reeling from the effects of a first round of enrollment-based budget cuts over the summer.

In some schools, the mid-year belt tightening has already taken its toll, even if it’s only about a month into the school year.

The principal of PS 222 in Jackson Heights, Queens, told parents last week that “due to … declining enrollment, it has become necessary to rearrange our freshman classes at this time. The reorganization results in the deletion of your child’s class,” according to a copy of the letter from the director Posted by Susan Kang, a parent from the eliminated class.

Kang said his son was devastated to lose the teacher he had spent weeks knowing and feared the disruption would increase behavior problems and slow academic progress.

“Young children at this age bond very quickly with their teachers,” Kang said. “I imagine there will be more behavioral issues because of this change…it seems unnecessarily cruel.”

At a college in the Bronx, four teachers were overwhelmed this week alone, the teachers’ union confirmed.

“It’s really upsetting for the kids,” said a school staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “And then you have the rest of the staff, now we have four fewer people for the blankets.”

The fact that the departures happened almost a month into the year, after the school had already spent weeks “establishing routines”, made it particularly shocking, the staff member added.

The Department for Education declined to say how much money under-enrollment schools would have to pay back or how many teachers have been over-subscribed since the start of the school year. Excess teachers remain on the Department of Education payroll, but must find employment at another school.

Department of Education spokeswoman Jenna Lyle said: ‘Under our employment agreements, teachers must be notified by September 30 that they may be required to play a role in another school due to enrollment changes. If there is the possibility of a staffing adjustment based on enrollment, managers often use this notification as a way to responsibly plan ahead.

But longtime Queens High School principal Mike Athy, who recently retired after 14 years, said from his experience it was “unusual” that so many principals grapple with the possibility of excess. as part of the mid-year fiscal adjustment.

“In my particular case, I have never issued a September surplus letter in 14 years,” he said, adding that he had heard from several managers in recent weeks who said they were encouraged to issue notices of surplus.

For schools facing large enrollment shortfalls, the mid-year clawback can force principals to choose from what looks like a set of bad options.

A Bronx principal was told two weeks ago that he will owe the Department of Education about $750,000 due to about 75 fewer students enrolling than expected. That would mean an excess of seven to eight teachers he just hired this summer after a wave of departures. He plans to defer the debt until next year, even though district officials have urged him not to.

“It would literally destroy the school’s curriculum, not to mention the excess of all the new teachers we brought in who brought fresh energy, fresh blood and new life to the school,” the principal said. , who runs one of the city’s community schools, which serve a larger number of high-needs students.

Other principals said they were also determined not to overstaff midway through the school year and instead planned to carry a budget shortfall into next year. Some school leaders are waiting and hoping that the Ministry of Education will cancel the debt, as happened last year.

A few directors are pounding the pavement, trying to recruit new students before the October 31 enrollment count.

The Bronx principal said that since receiving a letter about his $750,000 deficit, about 10 new students have enrolled, reducing his debt by about $100,000. Hoping to enroll more children, he plans to spend the rest of the month promoting the school “on social media, getting brochures, putting flyers out on the streets.”

But taking on a budget deficit carries its own risks, said Athy, the former director.

Education Department budget officials must approve the arrangement and can impose restrictions such as spending limits on after-school programs for schools that go into the red, Athy said.

Still, for many principals, it’s a more appealing prospect than cutting staff in the middle of the school year.

At the other end of the enrollment stick, schools with more students than expected get additional funding through the mid-year adjustment. But the extra money comes late enough in the school year that it’s hard to spend it effectively, Athy said.

Hiring new teachers in the middle of the year can be difficult, and fitting new recruits into an already set schedule can lead to more disruption.

To complicate matters, the Education Department often does not announce whether schools with budget surpluses can carry over their extra money next year until spring, increasing pressure on principals to spend the money immediately.

“If you’re a director and beat the projection… you don’t know whether or not you should carry that over to the next fiscal year, or… buy all the copy paper in North America,” Athy said.

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Reema Amin contributed.

Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering New York’s public schools. Contact Michael at [email protected].

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