Success Academy, New York City’s largest charter network, has begun laying off employees — the first known local charter organization to cut staff amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Across its 45 schools and administrative offices, the network is laying off nearly 4% of its “non-core positions” that don’t include teachers, according to Liz Baker, a Success spokesperson. The network did not say how many employees that represents.
On top of that, the network is also firing 24 teachers due to performance issues. Success Academy “regularly addresses performance issues, and there were two dozen teachers out of a system of thousands that were let go for low performance,” Baker said in a statement.
It was not clear if those educators will be replaced.
The staff reductions reflect an uncertain economic future as the coronavirus threatens tax revenue and philanthropic dollars, key sources of funding for charter schools. Across the country, some school districts have already begun to furlough staff and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced funding cuts to district schools.
In a letter to staff obtained by Chalkbeat, Success CEO Eva Moskowitz said the organization has undertaken a series of cost-saving measures, including “slashing our renovation budget for next year,” not filling open positions, and cutting back on events.
“Unfortunately, like every other organization in the city, Success Academy is hurt by this economic disruption,” Moskowitz wrote, adding that the network is expecting “tens of millions of dollars” less in state funding.
Some positions were being restructured, consolidated, or eliminated, but those moves would only affect “a small percentage of the enterprise,” she said
“These are extraordinary circumstances,” Moskowitz added, “and we must take necessary steps to strengthen the overall organization, while also continuing to improve our schools and expand network capacity.”
One network employee who was laid off and spoke on condition of anonymity said employees were not offered severance, though healthcare benefits would extend into the summer.
“Success Academy is an incredibly well-resourced organization,” the staffer said. “For them to offer no financial assistance for laid off employees in these economic conditions speaks to what the executive office values, which is certainly not its employees.”
Success officials did not immediately respond to a question about severance packages.
One former Success official said the staff cuts could foreshadow staffing shifts in the rest of the city’s charter school landscape.
“I think Success does do a really good job of seeing around the corner,” said the official who still works in the charter sector and spoke on condition of anonymity. “Are they reading the moment a little bit more in advance and some of the difficulties that are coming down the line for the whole sector?”
Success, for instance, was the city’s first big charter network to announce its move to remote learning, making the call two days before the de Blasio administration closed the city’s district schools. The organization has also launched a more regimented approach to remote learning, with caregivers asked to help monitor hours of daily instruction even among the network’s youngest students.
The move to reduce staff is likely to raise eyebrows, as the network has a reputation for spending lavishly on everything from advertising and rallies to executive compensation. Moskowitz earns roughly $890,000 a year, according to the organization’s most recent tax filing.
Success officials said there have not been salary reductions for remaining employees.
Some of the city’s other large charter networks have not yet laid off employees. Representatives of KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First said they have not cut staff.
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