"Do more with less" is more than the bureaucratic mantra of this season of The Wire.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and school chancellor Joel Klein have sent out word to principals that school budgets needed to be cut--immediately. On Bloomberg's watch, schools will be absorbing $99 million of $180 million in cuts to the Department of Education this year. Chopping 1.75%--an average of $70,000 per school, but for some schools as much as $447,587--with no notice has sent principals into desperate, furious tailspins. Teachers are incensed.
--Immediate cancellation of after-school programs. "What it means for my kids is they won't have a place to go after school," the Queens principal said. "They'll get into trouble or hang out at McDonald's."
--A Manhattan middle school may have o slash a program that's improved math scores by reducing eighth-grade classes from 30 kids to 23.
--A Queens principal is about to scrap plans to buy interactive technology for his students that he had already trained his staff to use. "I just wish we could've known earlier," he said. "I wouldn't have sent people for staff development on computers."
--At a Bronx high school, the principal lamented, "Basically, my whole tutoring program, my whole p.m. school is gone because I will have no money. For a lot of kids, this is their last opportunity to graduate high school in a timely manner, or to graduate at all."
Since Chancellor Joel Klein is an appointed appendage of the mayor, he is useless as an independent advocate against these kinds of brutal school-level cuts.
Bloomberg doesn't see any problems. He said the cuts would have "no impact whatsoever," adding, "I know of no organization where you couldn't squeeze out 1.7 percent, or even a lot more."
Here's a message for the simplistic CEO: you can "squeeze out" 1.7 percent or 5 percent or 20 percent from anything. But it won't have "no effect whatsoever." This is not about keeping a stock's price afloat; you are cutting kids' after-school programs, guidance counselors, smaller classes, computers. Erasing these entities will incontrovertibly have an effect, and a terrible one at that.
That's not to say there isn't room for cuts in the Department of Education. Students could probably do without the legions of high-priced consultants running professional development sessions. And they absolutely need a reduction of the standardized testing mania that has gripped city schools.
No child's education will be hindered if he takes fewer high-stakes tests. Regrettably, Bloomberg's ill-considered budget cuts keep in place a draconian testing regime while ripping out many of the support struts that enable students to achieve on those tests--and in life.
Dan Brown is the author of The Great Expectations School.