A CHOICE OF NEEDS OR NUMBERS

Gov. Cuomo blames school job cuts on spending, not aid

JIMMY VIELKIND CAPITOL BUREAU
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Friday, May 13, 2011

ALBANY -- Are school layoffs inevitable?


The governor and legislative leaders cut state aid to schools by $1.2 billion in this year's state budget, and a recent Times Union survey found Capital Region districts responded by proposing 700 job cuts, including 340 teachers and 34 administrators.


Cuomo said in March that layoff predictions were a "threat" and "a political game." And Wednesday, he continued to insist he is not responsible for any job losses.


"It's not just about more money. ... You bloated the front office," Cuomo said. "That's what this is about: a bloated management, a bloated bureaucracy of supervisors."


Cuomo cited state Education Department data showing that since 1996 the number of students has dropped 4 percent while costs have risen, and there are 10 percent more teachers and 34 percent more "supervisors."


"That's patently wrong," said Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium. The figure Cuomo cited, he said, is misleading because it includes people like guidance counselors, nurses and social workers.


For months, the governor has attacked school superintendents' compensation -- a third of superintendents make more than Cuomo's $175,000 salary, and he proposed a cap that would save $15 million. But in the end, school officials say, the real costs and cuts involve teachers.


Administrators are an easier political target because they lack the numbers and lobbying clout of teachers.


"It's popular to point to administration in school districts, but what we spend on the central office is a very small part of most districts," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "You could wipe out every cent and it wouldn't be enough to match what the school aid cut was, and I think districts have been looking for ways to minimize the impact on instruction and personnel."


According to a February report from the Education Department, New York had 219,333 teachers at over 700 school districts during the 2009-10 school year. There were 4,775 principals and 5,541 assistant principals, the same report found. There are 32,749 "other professional staff" that "devote more than half of their time to non-teaching duties." Since 2007-08, the report says, schools have shed over 2,000 teachers but gained 39 assistant principals and 114 principals, driven in part by the break-up of schools in New York City.


The State Comptroller says "administration," which covers salaries and benefits for anyone making more than $120,000, is generally 2.4 percent of a district's budget. When you include legal work, accounting and other administrative staff, New York State School Boards Association spokesman David Albert said, it's generally 10 percent of a district's budget.


Albert, Timbs and Lowry cited increased state mandates for special education, which lawmakers have long acknowledged but have been slow to rein in. Cuomo has convened a Mandate Relief Redesign Team to examine state laws that drive local costs, and recommend solutions. But there are fewer students, emphasized Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto: "No matter how you cut it, enrollment has gone down but staffing at all levels has gone up at significantly greater rates." Vlasto added that all but a handful of Capital Region school districts have adequate reserve funds to cover the governor's proposed cuts. In the aggregate, he said, the reserve funds total $103 million and the cuts $73 million.


"It is illogical and misleading to suggest that our budget cuts directly caused layoffs," he said. "School districts have more than enough reserves to avoid layoffs without depleting those reserves and can find even further savings by finding other efficiencies, working with their unions on givebacks."


But district superintendents and school board officials say they're loath to invade the reserves, especially as they brace for the loss of federal funding next year and to protect themselves against unforeseen expenses -- like a lawsuit or a broken boiler. In many districts, administrators say, reserves have already been depleted. Cuomo called on citizens to scrutinize district spending.


"My suggestion would be, before people go and vote, they ask," he said. "They ask these questions: how many supervisors? How much are they paid? How many teachers? Can we shrink the bureaucracy? Can we be more efficient can we be more effective? Because we don't have the rate of increase -- the money -- to continue to fund the way we have been."


PULLOUT:


"It's not just about more money. ... You bloated the front office. That's what this is about: a bloated management, a bloated bureaucracy of supervisors."


Gov. Andrew Cuomo on expected school layoffs