Faced with a nearly 50 million dollar budget shortfall for next year, Cleveland’s interim schools CEO is focusing most of his energy on the difficult task of downsizing. But the measures Peter Raskind is recommending have as much to do with shrinking demand as lack of money. The former head of National City Bank was the sole guest Wednesday on 90.3’s the Sound of ideas.
To say Peter Raskind’s reputation preceded him would certainly be true, but many would also consider it an understatement. Raskind, who’s 6 month contract calls for just one dollar of compensation, signed on to a similar stint with the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Port Authority in 2009, and was roundly praised for right-sizing the port and setting it on a realistic and sustainable path.
He says the challenge facing the Cleveland schools is difficult, but he’s determined to meet it, proposing 74 million dollars in cuts - well beyond the 47 million shortfall forecasted for next year.
RASKIND: “The strategy here is simply to try to set the district on a course that sustainable for at least a couple of years, so that we can lay the groundwork for returning our attention to what we should be focused on, which is educating Cleveland’s children,[[and also perhaps also lay the groundwork for the passage of a levy at some point, which long term does need to be part of the solution for the district.]]
Raskind says the overriding factor in laying that groundwork is the reality of shrinking enrollment. The number of Cleveland Public School students has fallen forty percent in the last decade – from 77 thousand to 44 thousand – due to population decline, and some defection to charter schools. And the CEO expects that to fall further.
RASKIND: “So this is going to be a consistent and constant challenge Are we concerned about it? Of course we are. And we’ll do our level best to not deteriorate the quality of the educational experience, but we really have no choice but to continue to adjust the capacity of the school district to what enrollment is and what enrollment will be.”
Raskind has proposed closing 7 schools – all of them on the east side, where most of the population loss has occurred. Under his plan, some of those building would be put up for sale. And he’s proposed laying off more than 800 personnel, including 650 teachers, and been called upon to defend that move as opposed to, say, cutting bureaucratic excess at the district’s downtown headquarters. He says there’s just not that much bureaucracy to cut.
RASKIND: “By far the lion’s share of expenses in the school district are out in the schools, not in the central office. We are in addressing the central office and there will be reductions in the central office, but I think the central office frankly is smaller than people tend to believe.”
Teachers’ salaries are the largest of all district expenses, Raskind says. Asked by Sound of ideas host Mike McIntyre to explain his views on collective bargaining reforms that look poised to pass in Columbus, he recalled his own father’s union membership as a garment worker, and said he is not against unions or collective bargaining. But he suggested that the structure of teacher compensation today was cast in a different era, and will have to change.
RASKIND: “It feels to me in certain respects kind of like the auto industry, where in the heyday these labor agreements were very workable and created a tremendous middle class in our country. But the heyday of the auto industry probably coincided with the heyday of urban education systems – the 50s and early 60s – and we’ve seen a steady decline since then.”
Raskind says the push by Governor Kasich to expand both charter schools and state vouchers to help parents pay for private schools will mean even fewer students and fewer dollars for the district, at least in the near term.
Meanwhile the Cleveland School Board and Mayor Frank Jackson continue their search for a permanent CEO, whom they hope to have in place by july 1st.