Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Step Forward?

New York City's public schools are about to undergo an interesting experiment:
Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein will slash 350 jobs from the bloated school bureaucracy to put more money into the hands of selected school principals, the pair announced yesterday.

At a press conference at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, Bloomberg and Klein said the job cuts, through attrition and possible layoffs, will raise $80 million.

Of that, $49 million will go to "empowerment schools," where principals agree to be held to higher standards in exchange for more funding and autonomy.

The rest of the savings will go toward creating a "leaner" bureaucracy to manage the empowerment schools, which will no longer report to regional or district administrators.

"Our hope is to downsize with attrition but make no mistake about it: The city is going to spend its money in education where it helps educating our kids," Bloomberg said. "Our public school system is not being run for the employees of the Department of Education."

The city principals union applauded the idea of giving principals more control but questioned whether the program will work.

"Many of the new 'empowerments' are simply functions that principals perform already," said principals union President Jill Levy.

She questioned whether it was legal to strip power from district administrators and said her union might consider filing suit. "This rather vague proposal smells of apple pie and cinnamon but leaves too many questions unanswered," Levy said.

The bureaucratic cuts are the first of what Bloomberg promised in his State of the City address would be $200 million worth of fat-trimming from the schools. He predicted additional cost savings in areas like school food and transportation.

Yesterday's announcement came on the fourth anniversary of Bloomberg's takeover of the city schools. The mayor said, "We're ready to begin devolving more power, decision making and accountability to individual schools."

Of 350 schools that applied to become empowerment schools, 331 were accepted.

Those schools have until June 19 to sign formal agreements entitling them to $150,000 in new money plus full control over $100,000 that previously came earmarked.

The empowerment schools are an expansion of a program previously called the "autonomy zone" that this year had 48 schools participating.
I hope that this works out. My chief concern at this point is that the Mayor's plan seems to say nothing about also holding parents and students accountable for putting forward an effort to learn what is being taught. In all too many of New York City's public schools, (such as this one) the learning evironment and attitudes exhibited by students is anything but positive.

Stay tuned
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