Newark principals asked to find potential $5 million in savings

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 09, 2015

Hawthorne Avenue School in Newark. Principals at all district schools have been asked to cut a combined $5 million from their budgets by the end of the week, officials said.

 

NEWARK – Principals at public schools around the city have been asked to identify  a combined $5 million in potential cuts from their budget to help the school district close an enduring deficit.

Superintendent of Schools Chris Cerf stressed that the cuts were purely exploratory in nature, and would help determine how the district goes about bridging a gap estimated at $15-20 million. All principals were asked to avoid identifying any reductions to teachers or other affected salaried employees, he added.

Cerf also promised that he would minimize any losses from district schools by reducing central office staff first.

"When this process ends, I am confident that we will not be reducing the overall schools budget by ($5 million)," he said.

Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon said the proposed reductions would likely be focused on after-school programming or facilities improvements, which still affect a teacher's ability to perform.

He also said the cuts could feel misleading to parents, many of whom attend meetings hosted by principals to go over each school's budget before students returned to school last week.

"Does the principal have to have another meeting with community, or does the community hot have a say in this second round?" he said.

Newark Public Schools spokeswoman Brittany Chord Parmley said there were no plans for a new round of meetings as of Wednesday afternoon, but noted that no decisions about the budget had been made. Principals have been asked to submit their proposed reductions by the end of the week, but it is unclear when cuts might be finalized.

Principals have been instructed to target vacant positions in their school for removal from their budget, it is unclear how many remain across the district. Cerf recently placed more than 200 teachers who had previously been without a permanent assignment back to regular duty, and district officials said a qualified teacher has been placed into every classroom.

Charter schools operating in Newark are not subject to the cuts, according to Parmley. While the schools receive money from the district based on their per-pupil spending, all charter development and funding is controlled by the state.

Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) issued a statement on the potential cuts late Wednesday afternoon, blaming them on what he characterized as longtime mismanagement of the school district under state control.

"What has happened in Newark with the public school system is practically criminal. The students, parents and staff should not be punished because the state-appointed officials that have operated the district have fallen short," he said.

How the district will make up the entire deficit also remains to be seen. Abeigon said many schools were already operating without key personnel such as clerks, leading him to believe it would eventually be left with little choice but to thin the ranks of teachers.

"You have security guards picking up the phone. So how much more can they cut?" he said.

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