Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Dodging the DOEnuts ...

Last week was fairly consequential for the NYCDOE.  They seemed to have gotten caught lying about student enrollment. They then lost the first round of a lawsuit. The NYPost simpy stopped using their enrollment data in publishing their own articles and then they got caught cheating when they froze all schools out of the Galaxy system. That's a rough week. 

This week is proving to be just as consequential. On Thursday, a court will decide whether the DOE and NYC ignored legislative rules when they cut school budgets. A small group of protesters are planning an anti-NYCDOE rally outside the courthouse on the same day in support of ending the budget cuts. On Monday, the Comptroller of NYC released a report indicating that the city has (and is refusing to spend) $4.4 Billion and that was covered in the press on Tuesday. And throughout this whole week, negotiations to restore the cuts continue with the City Council. This is a rough week for them as well. 

At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to schools with virtually none cut from the central bureaucracy down at the Tweed Courthouse and their several dozen "Satellite" locations.

The leaders of our school district want to cut money for schools (the NYCDOE is considered one school district in New York State) in the face of all common sense. In their zeal to get what they want, team "Get Stuff Done" has looked clumsy, ill-informed on the most basic of issues and ill prepared to proceed should they lose. They showed their true colors last week. It ain't very pretty and they have another week to get through. 

Below are just a few of the doenuts that spilled out last week and a few for this week as well. 

🍩 #1 

The first one came after a parent discovered that the DOE was fudging their student enrollment numbers for next year. City Hall and Tweed are trying to convince the public that the city has lost 240,000 students.  This is big. If you want to take money from schools in NYC, you will have to convince the public that tons and tons of students have left. This parent discovered (through data analysis) that they haven't left. The DOE simply ignored four major groups of students when they calculated. The parent discovered the students from D75, D79, as well as all pre-K students (including 3K and 4K) were simply not counted in data that was released to the public. The parent used data to conclude otherwise and shared that in a series of tweets. I wrote it up into a blog post so you can read about it in its correct context.  You can catch up on that story here. 

🍩 #2 

The New York Post then published a piece that didn't even bother to use enrollment numbers shared by the DOE, opting instead to side with IBO data. That data shows only 73,000 students have left city-run schools. I had to stop what I was doing to write about that one as well. You can read it here. Register is down by 6.7% this year. In admin school, the professors teach the students all about budgeting. There is a whole course about it.  One thing that is taught is that student enrollment goes through ebbs and flows. In any one given year, a school district can lose or gain 3%-8% of their enrollment register.  It's part of the game. 6.7%  register loss is nothing to sneeze at. But it is nothing to cause panic over either. 

I shouldn't divert from the main point, though: The New York Post did not feel comfortable enough to publish basic enrollment data provided by an agency of the New York City government. Let that sink in, please.  It is an indication of exactly how little the press has come to trust the city hall  and the NYCDOE.

That would have been enough for one week during the summer. But the doenuts just kept on coming! 

🍩 #3 is going to take a minute to explain...

A parent group had sued the DOE for enacting budget cuts that were not passed by the DOE's governing committee -the PEP. The lawsuit led to a temporary restraining order (TRO) instructing the DOE to restore funding levels until a full decision could be rendered. 

The department responded to the TRO by (read carefully now) freezing the software that principals use to pay their bills! That was their response. They froze the Galaxy software and stopped all of that machinery from operating. They just stopped it all.  This happened during summer school and on the day that secretaries were to enter per session (which is how summer school teachers are paid). 

In their explanation to principals as to why Galaxy had been frozen, they cited advice from DOE lawyers. This prompted the lawyers who were on the other side of the lawsuit to quickly to respond with a press release, saying "There is no crisis except what has been manufactured by the City's lawyers". The statement goes on to and, in fact, ends with a very harsh accusation:

"The TRO explicitly states that the DOE is enjoined from making any further cuts and spending at levels other than at the prior year's levels ... What they are doing by freezing galaxy budgetentirelyurely aimed at creating havoc for principals where non should exist." 

That is one heck of an accusation to make but it is where that discussion stands. It is a very weird juxtaposition all around. 

Now I can't say that I disagree with the broad strokes of the new mayor and chancellor are trying to do: The Department of Education has become a $36 Billion beast that is beyond any one person or group's control. This city agency, aptly located in New York's very symbol of graft and corruption, is just too darn big. Nothing this size, save for the US military, can be managed well. There is only one thing to do with a beast this big: You have to starve it. You have to slash. You have to cut. You have to take money away and then make the beast beg for its money back. You have to starve that beast at every turn. 

Clumsily, however, they attempted to starve schools -and schools are not the beast. 

And when faced with a TRO, they sought to punish school budgets, not the beast. Clumsy.

Adding to their clumsiness, someone down there at Tweed was caught lying about enrollment numbers. Maybe they figured that the public wouldn't pay much attention during the summer months? I just don't know. But someone down there probably figured they could get away with under counting students (by 240,000). Whether they are able to get over on the inaccuracy remains to be seen.  But it too was someone's very clumsy move. 

Also unraveled is the amount of cuts schools are facing! The city insists it is cutting only $215. One repoidentifiedied $312 million. The mayor's own executive budget identified $306 million as the number. Then they were seen attempting to cut closer to $375 million. Brad Landers' report identified closer to $469 million being cut (see here). These type of inconsistencies aren't the result of any evil tactic. These are just clumsy moves. 

And between now and Thursday, City Hall is still in negotiations with the City Council to have this budget issue resolved through legislative means. That's right. It may not even come down to the court decision in Thursday. This whole thing could be settled, between the mayor and the city council, before then.  An agreement such as this may render any court decision useless. 

Look for a resolution that splits the difference. 

Whether it comes from a court decision or an agreement between the mayor and city council, the name of the game is going to be compromise. He's the mayor. He's the chancellor. This is what they want. That will count for something. But, given that they have understated their student enrollment (by about a quarter million) and have overstated the amount of money they are looking to cut (but about another quarter million), look for the final agreement to be tilted toward the mayor and chancellor. 

So where are? Taken as a whole, City Hall / Tweed were less than honest with how much they wanted to cut (They announced $215 million vs the almost $500 million that has now been published!). They were less than honest with why they wanted to cut the budget (They claimed 760,000 lost students when the number seems closer to 73,000). The press is steering clear from their data out of mistrust and they have eroded the trust that was given them by school based officials (they were supposed to end the chaos. Not add to it). Whatever the budgets are for next year, it will be the result of Tweed/City Hall being told what to do (either from a court or from an agreement). They don't have a good track record of doing things that they are told to do so I expect any agreement that is reached this week to be ignored just as soon as they are politically able to do so. None of this disqualifies them from being educators of the year but they aren't disqualified from earning a doenut of the year either). 

This coming year is already going to be a mess. To be clear, schools will suffer from whatever staff shortages or issues that have manifested over this summer for the entity of next year. So to a large extent, much of the damage has already been done  -and that seems to be exactly what they want. 

But why? I can't avoid offering some commentary over my next two posts. In one, I'll have to talk about how the DOE has weaponized budget and staff in the past. And, in another, I'll have to talk about an odd sort of Lemon Dance that the NYCDOE has played with ineffective administrators for decades. The lemons are dancing as we speak. They are dancing from Borough Support Centers straight to a school near you and I think it's a good time to talk about that. It has everything to do with the budget cuts that schools are facing.  So stay tuned.

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