Incoming schools Chancellor David Banks faces a Herculean challenge on his vow to shake up the Department of Education and its massive bureaucracy.
In the last seven years under Mayor de Blasio, the DOE’s annual budget has ballooned from $20 billion to a whopping $31.6 billion – the size of Peru’s government spending, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. That is not counting another $5 billion in pension costs.
The staggering headcount of managers, analysts, supervisors and specialists — who don’t step foot in classrooms — working in Tweed, the DOE’s downtown headquarters, or in borough or district offices, has risen to 5,100 from 3,500 since 2014, IBO tallied.
Of these educrats, some 2,240 received salaries between $100,000 and $200,000 last fiscal year. Another 44 collected more than $200,000, payroll records provided by the watchdog Empire Center show.
In his acceptance speech after Mayor-elect Eric Adams tapped him to lead the nation’s largest school system, Banks addressed the bloat as he blasted the DOE, noting that 65 percent of black and Hispanic kids lack proficiency in math and reading.
“That’s a betrayal and we ought to be outraged by that,” Banks declared.
“If everyone at the Department of Education went home and all the kids just went to school you could get those same results,” he charged. “So what is the value added for having thousands of people who work at Tweed, thousands of people in these high-paid positions?”
Banks said he will move staffers “closer to where the action is.”
“Here’s the question that will be asked of everybody who works throughout this department: If you left and your job disappeared tomorrow, would that change anything that’s going on in any of our schools? Does it change the life of any young person. … Because if it does not, why do we continue to support that? Change is coming.”
Banks’ predecessors have also pledged to overhaul the DOE with mixed results.
“Every chancellor comes in with promises to cut the bloat, and then finds it difficult to do — or finds the bureaucracy advantageous to enhance their power,” said Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center education professor David Bloomfield. “On the other hand, Banks has always been school-focused. So if anyone can concentrate on school support, instead of centralizing authority, it would be him.”
He added, “The chancellor should walk through the buildings, see who’s sitting in the chairs, and check whether their work is essential to his goals or has become superfluous.”
DOE officials insisted that “every central staff member is critical” to support students and schools, by providing legal, IT, finance, procurement and personnel services. Field offices support academic, budget, human resources and operations planning, they said.
While the overall DOE budget has swollen, the proportion of central and school support costs has remained stable, the DOE notes, growing from 2.5 percent to 2.7 percent.
But outgoing Queens Councilman Barry Grodenchik, a member of the education committee, applauded Banks’ zeal to scrutinize spending.
“I was happy to hear him talking about attacking the bureaucracy. I don’t think anybody can say we’re getting our money’s worth for the education we’re getting,” Grodenchik said.
DOE insiders expect Banks to eliminate the “executive superintendents,” created in mid-2018 by ex-Chancellor Richard Carranza to supervise the community superintendents required by law to oversee schools.
The executive superintendent salary has risen from $190,000 to $209,000. Fringe benefits add 42 percent, or $87,780, to the annual cost of each, the IBO said.
Carranza handed out generous raises to favored execs. He also waived job postings and other rules to hire pals in California and Texas for six-figure jobs, critics complained — including a woman he moved in with after quitting, and the ex-head of a company that made millions in sales of digital systems to NYC schools.
“Why does a group of 32 district superintendents need another level of supervision when there are deputy chancellors above them?” asked Staten Island Councilman Joseph Borelli, also on the education committee. “You have to question what they are actually producing for the children.”
DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer countered, “Our executive superintendents play a key role in overseeing our districts and schools, making sure academic and social supports are delivered to the students who need them. They are phenomenal public servants.”
Since Chancellor Meisha Porter replaced Carranza, who abruptly resigned in February, the original nine executive superintendents have quietly dropped to six. Two retired, and two filled a second slot. “We recently consolidated a few portfolios to provide greater efficiency,” Styer said.
But in August, Porter appointed then-Manhattan Executive Superintendent Marisol Rosales to a newly created post of Senior Deputy Chancellor with a $241,000 salary. Rosales was tasked to focus on “academics, early childhood education, enrollment, school climate and wellness,” the DOE said.
The chancellor’s salary is set at $363,346.
DOE spokeswoman Jenna Lyle disputed Banks’ accusation that the Karl Marx-quoting mayor has mismanaged the mammoth agency.
“Every dollar in our budget improves educational opportunities for the million children that our city serves and under this Mayor’s tenure,” Lyle said in a statement. “Over the past eight years, we have made bold investments to put students first and the outcomes will be felt for generations through greater equity among schools, higher graduation rates and test scores, quality early childhood education for all, and more.”
As president and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation, Banks oversaw a network of six all-boy public schools, grades 6 to 12, one in each NYC borough and one in Newark.
In a choice that signals a possible clash with the city teachers’ union, Banks has named Daniel Weisberg, the CEO of a non-profit that focuses on teacher quality and a former DOE labor official under ex-Mayor Bloomberg, as his first deputy chancellor, a position that currently pays $241,000.
Additional reporting by Conor Skelding