Confessions of an Urban Principal/At Last
by Frank Murphy
Installment 6 of 9
Finally the numbers for next years budget have been carved into stone. First thing this morning I met with the staff from the finance department. This was the last step in the school budget process. They had set up shop on the main floor of the district’s former Pedagogy Library.
Finance analysts were position around the room at temporary workstations. I was directed to one of these locations. The individual assigned to work with me, inputted the budget figures that I had prepared into a master program. Department directors were present in order to lend assistance and to monitor the process. Representatives from the Title One and Special Education offices carefully examined how the funds from these revenue streams were utilized. These money sources couldn’t be used in a manner other than one, which complied with legislative and regulatory intent.
The principals from the Temple Partnership Schools were the first group of administrators scheduled for the day’ session. My review went smoothly. The analysts didn’t raise any serious objections to my budget plan. I spent a total of two hours with them. There were significant cuts to our instructional program. The seventh and eighth grades would be back to a thirty-three to one student teacher ratio. The third and fourth grades weren’t much better off, with a twenty-eight to one ratio. I spent nearly every available dollar in order to secure as many teaching positions as possible. In doing so, I choose to go another year without an assistant principal.
I have devised a plan that will reduce the student to teacher ratio to twenty to one in third, seventh and eighth grade for half of the day. This will necessitate a creative redeployment of several of my expressive arts teachers, the gifted teacher, and the technology teacher. The fourth grade will still have thirty students in a class. The remaining grades will have a student-teacher ratio of twenty-four to one for the whole day. The final version of next year’s budget eliminates two teaching positions. Our instructional program will be weaken by these cuts. But I am confident that these wounds will not be fatal.
The last person I met with was Larry. He checked to verify that the district’s reduced size initiative was addressed in my budget. Larry also checked to make sure that the number of teachers I identified on my allocation sheet was covered by my budget funds. According to him, one teacher was not accounted for in my calculations. I told him that the cost of this position will be charged to a federal school improvement grant. Larry said he would have to see something in writing before he could authorize this position.
When I got back to the school, I called the budget analyst who was charged with overseeing this grant. She assured me that she would send a memo to Larry. She also provided me with some unexpected good news. The funds from this source had not been authorized until the beginning of December. This year only half of the teacher’s salary who is filling this position will be deducted from this fund. This means that there is twenty thousand dollars available now that can be used to purchase books and supplies. The biggest concern I had with my budget was that it allotted a meager eight thousand dollars for next year’s textbooks and supplies. With this unexpected windfall the materials problem was solved.
Finally next year’s staffing and spending blueprint is complete. I am done anguishing over it. We will learn to live with the consequences of these decisions.
Shortly after my arrival back in school, I met with Mr. Sanchez, Luis’s father. He assured me that I would have no more trouble from his son.
“I’ve had another long talk with Luis. I try and talk to him all of the time. He is hearing from me about how to act. He isn’t going to be in trouble for the rest of the year.”
“Knock on wood. Let’s not jinx him. Never is a pretty strong word to use. Mr. Sanchez, if you say he will have a lot less trouble, I’ll be satisfied. It is hard for someone to change how he or she acts overnight. “
“You’re right, it takes time. He’s changed though. Luis has changed a lot. You wouldn’t believe how he acted before he came here.”
Luis came into my office. The boy was in a good mood. We talked. We laughed. He told me himself that he wasn’t going to get into any more trouble. I sure hope that he doesn’t. I want to see him at the eighth grade graduation.
I started the morning off by attending a Temple principals’ meeting at one of our partnership schools. When we were done, John asked for a ride back to his office. It was an unusual request. Usually he walks, so I figured he wanted a private moment. My guess was right. John had more bad news for me.
A central office administrator had told him, that the district intended to terminate Temple as the manager of Meade. When our school was returned to district control, it would be placed in the Corrective Action Region. John said, that he didn’t favor this plan. The president of the University wasn’t happy either, concerning this development. But it didn’t appear as though he would protest the decision.
He had told John, “What is the point of managing a school if the district feels it can do it better? We took on managing schools in order to help the district. If they don’t want our help…”
The possibility that the president won’t fight to keep control of Meade puts me in serious jeopardy.
Our conversation was brief. John had a lunch engagement. I dropped him off at a restaurant near Temple’s campus.
This latest news packed a powerful wallop. Once again, I experienced what is becoming an all too familiar sinking feeling in my stomach. When I arrived back at the office , I didn’t have much time to think about it . There was much work to do. Dr. Rider, the community activist, had launched another attack. I needed to gather together documentation that would rebut her latest allegations.
Dr. Rider is now representing Ms. Judith Wilson. Rider sent a scathing letter filled with inaccurate statements to the Chief Academic Officer. She said I was abusing my power as the principal of Meade School. Rider claimed that I suspended the older brother of the party of five and his sister for a total of 22 school days. She also asserted that the school police officer and I had attacked Ms. Wilson’s son.
It was a lengthy letter. In it Dr. Rider restated all of her former defamatory statements regarding my character. She rehashed the allegation that I won’t allow a Home and School organization to be formed and she reiterated all of Christe Sim’s prior complaints.
A copy of this letter had been faxed to me late yesterday afternoon. Immediately after I received it, the calls from the central office started. Despite the fact that I have already sent them a massive amount of documents concerning Christe’s escapades, they wanted more information. The case file for Philip was in the legal office. I wondered if any of the administrators to whom I report have the ability to pull information together on their own. I spent the afternoon going through files and faxing information to the Chief Academic Officer’s Office.
It is March 17 and I should be shouting hurrah for St. Patrick’s Day!
But I don’t t feel like a lucky Irishman.