When Mayor Mike Bloomberg hired Joel Klein as his School Chancellor in 2002, one of their first initiatives, Klein recalls in Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, was to dismantle the “sclerotic, politically-controlled bureaucracy” at the Department of Education’s central office, which Bloomberg labeled a “rinky-dink candy store” and a “disgrace.” Klein quickly began the process of relocating the miasma that existed in downtown Brooklyn to Tweed Courthouse in lower Manhattan, right next to City Hall. The patronage mill that once included 6,000 central office and regional staff was replaced with “a culture based on merit and innovation.” Middle management positions were eliminated. Funding was directed to schoolchildren and teachers instead of paper-pushers.
Today NY1 reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio “is spending a lot more on its staff at headquarters.” According to the preliminary budget released Tuesday, “the city would be spending 70 percent more on education bureaucrats than under Mayor Michael Bloomberg four years ago.” This reversal of Bloomberg/Klein’s “Students First” program has provoked concern from UFT leader Michael Mulgrew:
“We’ve seen a trend lately of central spending going up. Personal, outside contracts are starting up again, and it has us greatly concerned,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
In 2013 the city, reports NY1, spent $123 million on central staff at Tweed. The Mayor’s budget projects that those costs will spike this year to $210 million.
Not only has the number of bureaucrats climbed, but other costs — “travel, office equipment and printing.” — are up 34 percent. The Mayor defended the increases, attributing the expansion of central office expenses for his new initiatives, like “computer science for all,” which Alina Adams derided here as “not even up to the level of a free, online course.”
There’s no money tree in Manhattan and that cash has to come from somewhere. According to Mulgrew, it will come from diverting money intended for classroom to reallocations for administrators and clerks.
Children First? Sounds more like Bureaucracy First. Or, as Charles Dickens commiserated in David Copperfield, “Britannia, that unfortunate female, is always before me, like a trussed fowl: skewered through and through with office-pens, and bound hand and foot with red tape.”