New York City Mayor Eric Adams confirmed he was in talks with City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams over funding cuts to public schools based on declining enrollment that have already led some principals to eliminate teachers and warn of larger class sizes when the next school year starts in the fall.
“There is no agreement thus far,” Adams said at an unrelated press conference at Gracie Mansion. “I have had fruitful conversations with the speaker about how do we deal with the crises we’re having in education, around the decrease in enrollment and some other real financial crises.”
The negotiations were first reported by NY1, which said that $250 million could be restored to school budgets.
The Adams Administration cut $215 million from schools due to enrollment declines as part of the city budget in June, but City comptroller Brad Lander has said that schools are facing a net reduction of at least $372 million.
“These are tough decisions. But that’s what is expected. I have to make tough decisions,” the mayor said.
Parents and educators have ramped up pressure on the mayor, including interrupting his public appearances with protests in recent days, and have urged him to use some of the city’s remaining federal stimulus money to restore funding to schools despite a decrease in student numbers.
Adams met with a handful of those parents at City Hall on Monday afternoon after they had demonstrated outside a Restaurant Week event in downtown Brooklyn that morning. Parents and teachers have also filed a lawsuit requesting a temporary restraining order on the cuts.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Adams repeated his warning – one he and his administration has made consistently in recent weeks – that federal stimulus funds will not always be available. The Department of Education is currently phasing in the total reduction in funding based on lower enrollment using some federal money to soften the blow over two years.
“Everyone talks about these federal dollars,” Adams said. “But they’re not understanding the federal dollars are going to run out.”
“It may sound good as a soundbite,” he added. “But it would be irresponsible if I ignore the real crisis we’re having in school funding, and I can’t do that.”
It is not yet clear how the city would distribute any additional funds, or how much the amount reported would alleviate the pressure on principals to reduce their offerings.
Some City Council members who voted in favor of the city’s budget said on Monday that they now regret the decision and apologized to parents.
“We didn't get it right”, said Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, who represents parts of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood. “I invite the chancellor and the mayor to say that they also didn't get it right. It's okay to say we f***ed up.”
The total amount cut from school coffers appears to be even higher than the amount detailed in the budget passed by the City Council in June because of additional projected enrollment declines in the city’s public school system. Adams administration officials have said they expect the overall number of students to continue a downward trend that was accelerated by the pandemic.
Officials projected that 30,000 fewer kids will be in the system in the fall, but some principals have said the enrollment projections for their individual schools are too low; they expect their numbers to hold steady or increase going into the fall. And even at schools where enrollment is going down, parents have railed against the cuts. They report arts teachers, social workers, general education teachers, school aides, and language programs are being eliminated.
While not all schools are facing cuts, the majority are. An analysis by the city comptroller’s office found that 1,166 schools are seeing their budgets reduced. The analysis found the average cut faced by a school is $400,000, while some are facing upwards of $1 million.
Parents and educators argued that now is not the time to shed staff and programming, because – after two years of pandemic-driven disruption and trauma – students need those resources more than ever.