With the first day of school only weeks away, the status of class sizes, how many teachers will be working, and which extracurricular activities will be kept are still up in the air in the city’s public schools.
New York City’s school board is appealed a judge’s order last week temporarily halting the planned $215 million school budget cuts set to take effect this fall.
Those cuts are expected to affect 1,200 public city schools — about two-thirds of the system. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, city schools have lost 73,000 students.
The cuts were part of a deal between the city council and Mayor Eric Adams, creating an outcry by those demanding more funding for schools, not less.
Two parents and two teachers filed a lawsuit against the city over the budget cuts on July 18, earning a temporary restraining order blocking the cuts by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Lyle Frank just a few days later.
In the meantime, the school spending plan continue under last year’s budget, with a meeting planned for Thursday to try and figure out what to do. Especially if this all isn’t resolved by the time school starts Sept. 8.
Those battling the budget changes say it’s not just about cuts. It is about the lack of oversight by the education board, which they say didn’t get to vote on the plan first.
“New York state education law clearly specifies a mandated process by which the New York City Board of Education must vote to approve the education budget prior to the city council vote, but in this case the city council voted to adopt the budget 10 days before the board voted,” according to a lawsuit summary.
The suit demands the council and school board revote to ensure a legal process is followed. Nearly 70 parents and teachers spoke out at the recent education board meeting, detailing what they described as the profoundly damaging impact the cuts will have on their school.
“The explicit language of state law requires that these egregious budget cuts be halted and reconsidered by the mayor and the council, because the law was not followed,” said Laura Barbieri, an attorney with Advocates for Justice, who represents the plaintiffs.
Barbieri told The Riverdale Press, schools could face more cuts than what the administration detailed due to declining enrollment as the school year begins.
Based on a formula Adams is using to determine how many teachers should be at particular schools, city comptroller Brad Lander said the actual cuts could grow to $469 million.
If the budget cuts go as expected, some teachers will finally learn if they will be “excessed.” Adams labels those “excesses” as adjustments — teachers are losing their positions, the mayor said, not their paycheck.
One plaintiff, Brooklyn elementary school music teacher Paul Trust describes himself as one of Adams’ “adjustments.”
“My students thrive and are empowered through music,” he said, in a statement, “Many continue to pursue their passion in middle school and beyond.”
In the meantime, his school is losing its entire music program because of more than $500,000 in cuts.
“I hope this will not be the last year I am able to continue to serve the school community I love,” Trust said.
Similar cuts are planned for P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil.
“I’m really angry about them (cuts) because it’s honestly really unfair,” said Emma Hoff, a 10-year-old student at the school, who protested the proposed cuts last June.
“We have about two extracurricular activities in our school, and that is band and choir. And we’re losing one of those.”
The school claimed more than $900,000 — or 16 percent — of its budget would be lost.
“For my daughter, academically … it wasn’t her thing,” said Barbieri, the Advocates for Justice attorney. “But she was good in art, and thank God for her art teacher because that’s how she blossomed.”
Extracurriculars are beneficial for students, especially in a time of stress, Barbieri added. Sometimes, children need the time to rest their brain from reading, writing and mathematics.
P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen will lose more than $850,000.
Barbieri claims that it will not affect anything for the school system. Schools and teachers can continue to make arrangements, even though nothing is official.
“For example, just think of the word ‘budget’ — a budget is a plan,” she said. “ They can plan to spend, but they’re not actually spending money until September.”
Schools Chancellor David Banks argued in an affidavit on last week’s court appeal that the restraining order is vague and places school preparation in limbo.
“I am gravely concerned about our ability to assure the orderly opening of schools this September,” Banks said.