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CMSD, facing big deficits, plans cuts, including after-school, summer learning programs

Cleveland Metropolitan School District headquarters.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Metropolitan School District's headquarters located Downtown. The school district plans to make cuts at its central office.

As it looks to cut tens of millions of dollars to present a balanced budget to the state, Cleveland Metropolitan School District administration is considering some layoffs and cuts to after-school and summer learning programs, in a draft plan presented to the board of education Tuesday.

The district is contending with the ending of more than $450 million in federal pandemic relief and is faced with the prospect of a $143 million deficit at the end of the next school year, leaving it with a negative $18.3 million cash balance.

CEO Warren Morgan, in a Tuesday call briefing reporters on the district's budget reduction plans, noted the district needs to present a plan to balance its budget by the end of the month. He said he wants to preserve the district's "academic core" as much as possible. As such, he said the plan does not directly call for reduction of teaching staff or staple academic programs.

The plan does call for completely zeroing out the district's support for after-school programming provided by non-CMSD partners, a program that was started with COVID-era pandemic relief funding to help catch students up. Morgan said this move will save the district almost $34 million over the next two years, but will not affect programs directly run by CMSD.

"If you're thinking of any of our sports programs, some of the arts and music that we do at some of our schools, you know, some of the clubs and activities that are run by our teachers, that is not being impacted here," he said.

What it will impact, however, is 93 programs offered by district partners like the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cleveland, the YMCA and Horizon Education Centers. Dave Smith, executive director of Horizon and a member of a coalition of concerned providers and parents, said the after-school programs were a big help for parents and students.

"CMSD’s Afterschool programs have consistently kept students safe, perform better academically, while allowing parents to work," he said in a Tuesday email. "The news that the CMSD Afterschool budget has been zeroed out is a setback for the 93 schools and over 7,200 scholars. However, the coalition Clevelanders for Afterschool, is committed to look elsewhere for funding. A solution would be a future school levy that includes funds dedicated to support Afterschool Programs. This would increase CMSD’s ability to be the first choice for Cleveland students."

When asked why the district spent federal pandemic relief money on programs that it wouldn't be able to continue, Morgan noted he's only been the district's CEO for about seven months and said he wasn't sure if the district's previous administration had settled on a plan for how to contend with the fall-off of pandemic relief. He said any programs the district is continuing will be absorbed into the district's general operating costs.

"We found that last year, I think most of our operations team was paid out of ESSER [pandemic relief]," he said. "Nurses were paid out of ESSER. That is something that's since been corrected."

The Cleveland Teachers Union in a Tuesday statement welcomed Morgan's plan's to focus on preventing "cuts from reaching the classroom door."

Here's a brief look at other cuts the district is proposing:

Summer programming

The district had significantly boosted its summer learning program through federal pandemic relief., and will now cut that back. But Morgan said the district will still be providing more funding for that program than it had prior to the pandemic; about $6.6 million a year, compared to about $15 million in 2023, $10 million in 2022, and $4 million in 2021.

"We still want to have some investments in summer schools, but we are going to make some reductions," Morgan said. "We also are working with our city partners, Cleveland Public Library, the city of Cleveland, also other summer jobs and internship programs, where maybe it's something we are not responsible for, in terms of where we're running the program, but we want to message that out to our families as other avenues and alternatives that our students can do during the summer."

This will save the district about $32 million over the next two years.

Cuts at central office

Morgan is proposing the district cut 25 positions at the central office administration level, a move which he said will likely include a mix of cutting actual staff and also positions that have been kept open. He styled that as "phase one" of cuts, which would save about $5 million. He said the administration is going to continue to evaluate places where it can make cuts.

A second phase of central office cuts will be needed, with Morgan estimating the district will need to cut another $40 million. He said budget "chiefs" at the central office level will be in charge of determining what those cuts will look like; it's not clear what those cuts will include, but Morgan said that could more deeply impact school operations.

"There are some programs that are housed in central office, that there's somebody in central office that is responsible for, that support schools," he acknowledged. "This [means] they [cuts] could have an impact at schools. And what I mean by impact school, it may not be a staff member at a school, but it could be a program."

Teacher contracts

The school district and Cleveland Teachers Union will be negotiating a new contract in 2024, which typically includes budgeted salary increases. Morgan said the school district is only budgeting within its “locus of control,” meaning, only what it has in front of it; increases have not been negotiated yet.

That said, due to the way the district handles its budget, principals have control over their own buildings’ budget. Morgan said. The administration did not include an increase in those budgets for the next two academic years, despite previously planning for a 2% increase each year, he added. That could lead to individual buildings making decisions about laying off teachers or not filling positions. The district currently has 175 open teacher positions, officials said during the briefing.

What about the MacKenzie Scott grant?

The district received a $20 million general-purpose grant from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in late 2022. Dubbed the "Get More Opportunities Fund" under former CEO Eric Gordon, the district had planned for the money to be used to pay for things that the district normally couldn't afford, like help with students getting their driver's license or field trips to other cities or countries. As Ideastream Public Media previously reported, the CMSD Board of Education voted in November 2023 to adjust language to allow the district to use that money for more general purposes. The district has been criticized for what some argue appeared to be going back on a promise.

Morgan during the Tuesday briefing said the district has always housed that grant out of its general fund, even before the board made that vote. He said with the looming deficit, the district can't justify taking $20 million out of its operations to pursue the originally stated purpose of the "Get More Opportunities Fund."

Kevin Stockdale, chief financial officer, said the district is still using that money to continue some things that benefit students.

"The one-to-one technology program is something that was added with ARP-ESSER funds initially," Stockdale said, "and while we're making reductions to it, we're going to continue the program. So that's an example of something that we're able to, maintain because of this gift that is part of the general fund."

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.