Hundreds of people stood and cheered last Thursday when the School Board announced that Superintendent Clifford Janey will be leaving.
Cheered? I just wanted to throw up.
Should Janey leave? Probably. Is this the right time? I don’t know. One thing’s for sure, though: this isn’t the right way.
It may have made some School Board members feel good to throw stones at Janey over the past few weeks. It may have made some people feel good to humiliate him last week with their cheers. But as teachers-union president Adam Urbanski says, “Once a decision has been made to let someone go, it’s not too much to ask to let him go with dignity.”
Six of the seven School Board members decided that Janey should leave. They hope this will defuse the emotions surrounding the budget problems. Maybe it will. But removing Janey won’t solve all the problems. And it may compound some of them. For starters:
The School Board has to quickly hire an interim superintendent --- and start looking for Janey’s replacement. This is a very tricky time for that work. Whatever budget the board adopts this month, it will be only a piece of paper. The interim superintendent will have to implement that budget --- move staff around, guide schools through the loss of librarians and counselors (if that’s what we’re facing). And help schools deal with the influx of students from programs like Josh Lofton and SHAPE, which serve students with some of the most intense needs.
The interim will have to lobby for more state aid. And supervise budget adjustments when we learn what that state aid will be. And start preparing the next budget.
The interim will have to hire new administrators. Forty-eight people --- including some of the district’s most highly respected principals --- are retiring this year. That’s 17 percent of the district’s administrative staff.
And that doesn’t count the administrators who will lose their jobs to budget cuts – somewhere between 20 and 70, administrators-union president Dick Stear estimates. While those cuts will save money, the district will be losing history --- the knowledge those administrators have --- at a time when a new superintendent will need that history.
The district will also have to hire some new teachers; how many isn’t yet known. The budget crisis is forcing layoffs of more than 500, but there’ll undoubtedly be some vacancies in positions that aren’t being abolished. Urbanski guesses maybe 150.
Who hires the teachers? The district’s human relations department --- which, says Urbanski, is losing three of its top people to layoffs.
And Patti Malgieri, head of the Center for Governmental Research and a close observer of the school district, points out one of the biggest challenges for the interim: helping the district “re-establish financial credibility.”
Then there’s morale, which Dick Stear calls “terrible.” “It has never been worse,” says Urbanski, “in Central Office or in the schools.”
Part of the morale problem, no doubt, is due to the looming budget cuts. It’s hard to be upbeat if you’re afraid you’re going to lose your job. Or if you’re keeping your job, but your working conditions will get worse: class sizes will grow, and you’ll take on the role of librarian or guidance counselor. And you’ll be getting a new class of students who are falling behind and didn’t have the benefit of summer school.
But my sense is that the attacks on the school district and its personnel --- from the public, from other elected officials, from business leaders, even from some School Board members --- are also taking a toll.
The School Board needs to rally the community around the school district --- around teachers and administrators and service workers. These are the public’s employees, for pete’s sake: public servants in some of the nation’s toughest (and most underpaid) careers. We don’t encourage them to do a good job --- we can’t encourage them to care for our children --- if we dump on them all the time.
There are tough days ahead, and not just over the next few months. Dick Stear thinks this year’s state clampdown on school spending may be just the beginning.
Adam Urbanski’s assessment of the district at this time: “We’re in big trouble.”
“Doyle fears ‘devastating effect’ if graduates are not employable,” read the headline on a recent Democrat and Chronicle article.
“If we can’t get our work force out of the city school kids,” County Exec Jack Doyle told the D&C, “we’re going to be hurting.”
But Doyle wasn’t issuing a community call to action. He wasn’t suggesting that state legislators act immediately to solve the City School District’s budget crisis. He wasn’t urging a regional program to tackle the concentrated poverty of the school district. He wasn’t offering to give the school district more of the county sales tax.
No indeed. He was yelling at the School Board --- and at his favorite demon, Mayor Bill Johnson. Shape up! Shape up!
The district absolutely must get its financial act together. And no, money isn’t the ultimate solution. Frankly, we’re asking the district to do an impossible job: to overcome the effects of concentrated poverty.
But the district does have to have enough money to pay teachers competitive salaries. It does have to have enough money to provide the programs and services that the state and federal government mandate but don’t pay for.
It does have to have enough money to train its teachers, to keep its buildings in decent shape, to provide crossing guards. And some of us believe it needs enough money for things like elementary-school librarians, art and music classes, sports, unique programs like Wilson International Baccalaureate, AP classes, School of the Arts, School Without Walls.
Some of us believe the district needs to be able to reduce class sizes, pay aides --- do whatever it can to cope with the catastrophic effects of concentrated poverty and racial segregation.
Money won’t make those problems go away. But without adequate funding, the problems will be worse. Much worse.
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