From the desk of Superintendent John Carmello:
April 24, 2020
As many of you already know, education aid from the State was one of the first financial casualties of the pandemic. There is no question – this will have a significant negative impact on our district. In light of that, I thought it was important to send this letter out to try to explain our current budget situation and the impending cuts that are needed to close the $2.9 million gap we are now facing.
First of all, please understand that this has been one of the most agonizing three weeks we have had here in Troy in over a decade. There are no good choices for closing a $2.9 million gap. A gap this large cannot be closed by “tightening our belts” or “trimming around the edges.” A gap of this size requires significant reductions in staff – 25 in all. When you reduce 25 positions, there are certainly going to be some repercussions and impact to students. We have been analyzing the entire budget line by line, and reviewing every program and position we have in the district. We have been looking for where we can reduce positions that might have a smaller impact than other places. We have been looking for programs or services that we can deliver in a different way and still support our students. After our comprehensive review, we made the painstaking decision to cut the reading teachers.
We realize this has caused some concern in the school community and that, on the surface, this may sound counterintuitive. Let me be clear – reading will continue to be taught throughout the district by highly qualified and certified teachers. Reading and writing are critical skills that our students need to be successful in school and in life.
Four years ago, we made a commitment as a district to strengthen our reading and writing instruction. We have participated in intense and comprehensive training with some of the most prestigious professional development people in the country out of the Teachers College, Columbia University. The focus is on improved core instruction from the classroom teacher to teach reading and writing, and to support the struggling readers. The research shows us that, as long as class sizes are low, like they are in Troy City Schools, the greatest improvement in reading and writing, even for those most struggling readers, comes as a result of the work of the classroom teacher. In fact, there are many successful schools in the state that do not have reading specialist positions at all, but provide reading instruction in the manner that we are planning for 2020-2021. With this budget, we are committed to keeping class sizes low to allow for the classroom teacher, through rigorous core instruction, to reach and support all students. We will do everything in our power to support those teachers so that every student can be successful and reach their full potential.
We make every decision in this district with the “what is best for students” mentality. While cutting the reading teachers is certainly not ideal, we have analyzed and reviewed the alternatives, and found that this is the choice that we feel is the least bad out of all the bad choices. Again, there are no good choices to close a $2.9 million gap.
Some people have reached out and asked me why there were no cuts to administrative positions. That answer is straightforward. I offered a deal to all the bargaining units, which said that if everyone took a pay freeze and changed their health care co-pay structure, we could save every single job. There would be no layoffs at all. I made it clear that this would be a great way to show our unity and our willingness, in difficult times, to rally together for the students and for each other. The administrators were the only ones that agreed to that change. Therefore, the savings we realized from their agreement to this plan saved the administrative positions. Unfortunately, this savings was not enough to save the other positions we are now forced to eliminate.
Lastly, the most frustrating part of all of this is that there was nothing we did to cause this budget situation. We take pride in our proactive approach in planning for future budgets. Unfortunately, this was beyond our control due to the extraordinary and unprecedented times we are in as a nation. Even more of a concern is that we might not be out of the woods just yet. The talk from the Governor’s office is that more cuts to education funding are looming and, depending on the level of those cuts, our programs could be decimated, making our district completely unrecognizable. I am obviously hoping that this does not occur and that further cuts from the State do not materialize, but if they do, we will have to go back to the table and review everything again to find even more places to reduce. I will certainly keep everyone informed if that does happen.
We will continue to be transparent throughout this process and I encourage you to visit our website at www.troycsd.org/budget to review our budget presentations. The next Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 5, and will be live-streamed to the public. A link to view this meeting will be shared prior to the meeting.
We will get through this….together. We will find a way. And we will do everything that we need to do to continue the positive trend of improved student outcomes throughout the district.
Mr. John Carmello
Superintendent of Schools
Troy City School District
475 First Street
Troy, New York 12180