Principals learn hard lessons in risk management

BY JOSH ROGERS  |  It all seemed settled. After months of parent anxiety, school officials said they had found kindergarten seats in Lower Manhattan for the last of the 148 stranded children. The feeling of relief may have lasted five seconds.

That’s when the Downtown principals, who stepped up to solve the waitlist problem, shared the budget risks and pressures that came attached to the solution.

Ronnie Najjar, principal of P.S. 89 in Battery Park City, said she feared the pending “day of reckoning,” namely Oct. 31 when her school budget could take a severe hit if her enrollment drops unexpectedly, because students transfer late to either their zoned school or a gifted and talented program, or they move away.

Najjar, who is taking on two extra kindergarten classes, said she worried she would have to send a teacher packing, and be forced to cut her budget if enrollment drops.

“I’m concerned with the reality of the budget….It is a scary situation with D.O.E. We have been cut more than ever and asked to do more with less,” she said June 14 at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s School Overcrowding Task Force.

After the meeting, Najjar said the number crunchers do not accept excuses and give no credit for being “a good girl.”

Her neighboring school principal, Terri Ruyter of P.S. 276, said she appreciated Najjar “bending over backwards,” to take waitlisted P.S. 276 students, and didn’t want the good deed to be punished.

“When you open a new class it’s not free,” said Ruyter. “You have to buy extra books, you have to buy extra chairs the right size, you have to buy extra tables…. It’s really, really expensive to open a class.”

And any parent ever frustrated by how quickly their children outgrow shoes, has no idea what a principal goes through. Ruyter said a kindergarten chair costs $100, and represents a down payment on a six-year commitment.

“Those little guys grow and those chairs aren’t the right size anymore, so you have to get bigger chairs down the road, so it’s an ongoing expense,” she said.

After the meeting, principals estimated it costs between $15,000 – $20,000 to furnish and stock a new classroom.  Additional students potentially add to the budget, but principals have to return money if enrollment drops, putting the potential budgetary risk of a new class at about $100,000.

Nancy Harris, principal of Spruce Street School, said that she and Najjar both owe a few hundred thousand dollars covering the last few years, and Ruyter said P.S. 234 in Tribeca took a tough budget hit last year for taking an extra class.

That’s one of the reasons some of the Downtown principals agreed to enroll 29 kindergarten students per class over the mandated 25.

Ruyter said one of the problems is that the Education Department’s Office of Portfolio, which finds places for waitlisted students, is separate from the budget office, which holds principals to the bottom line.

Portfolio officials at last month’s meeting said that they would try and help the Downtown principals if their budget worries came true.

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One Response to Principals learn hard lessons in risk management

  1. Trust me, I understand how hard it can be. Although, we should be the type of person who takes very seriously his job of making sure that each child has the opportunity to learn. This is all new to the child. We want it to be the best experience it can be. That will draw the child into a love of learning and onto college. That is everyone’s job, that the child has a great experience of going to school.

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