In a week that is usually marked with celebratory "stepping-up" ceremonies and the excitement of summer break approaching, many principals at New York City's public schools have also begun to announce painful staffing decisions after Mayor Eric Adams enacted cuts to many local school budgets for next year.
Teachers across the city have been notified they are being "excessed," or are at risk of being excessed, after principals received their preliminary budgets in early June. Excessed teachers will lose their positions at their current schools but remain on the education department's payroll and enter a pool of potential hires for schools seeking staff.
Parents have been organizing to alert families to the cuts, which are tied to declining enrollment. The Department of Education said some additional funding will be available for schools later in the coming months. The City Council’s education committee will hold a hearing on school budgets on Friday.
Overall, the city’s public school system has lost more than 83,000 students since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Recent figures indicate total enrollment is about 920,000 students. For the past two years, the city used federal stimulus money to keep funding stable despite enrollment declines. And it still plans to use stimulus money to phase in cuts over the next two years. But schools are now starting to see some reduction because they’ve lost students.
The education department said schools face a combined $215 million reduction.
But parents and educators have been alarmed by preliminary budget data that seem to indicate even larger cuts are in store – totaling more than $1 million at some schools. Some principals have also warned that the city’s enrollment projections for their schools are lower than what the schools themselves are expecting, which could lead to their schools being underfunded next year.
Education department officials said some stimulus funding and grants will be added to school budgets soon. Still, some educators warned that, by the time additional money is allocated, it may be difficult to hire teachers back and undo the staffing decisions principals are being forced to make now.
The city still has billions of dollars in unused federal stimulus dollars, and many parents argue this is the wrong time to reduce resources at all, given the academic, social and emotional challenges students have faced during the pandemic.
“It’s really devastating,” said Frank Marino, a humanities teacher at MS 839 in Brooklyn, which is set to lose approximately $500,000 and has already excessed several teachers.
At PS 110 in Brooklyn, the principal sent a notice to families on Tuesday this week, alerting them of a $325,000 budget cut that will be met with the loss of two aides and three teachers, including the art teacher.
On Wednesday, educators across the city handed out fliers at drop-off and pick-up alerting families that the decrease in funds is causing cuts to staff and programs.
They encouraged parents to speak up at Thursday’s meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, an oversight panel that weighs in on contracts and funding decisions.
Parents and educators have planned “Stop the budget cuts!” rallies at City Hall for Friday to coincide with the council hearing.
Mayor Eric Adams has pushed back against critics, saying it’s wrong to use the word “cut” to describe the changes.
“We did not cut the budget for public schools,” he said on Fox 5’s “Good Day New York” last week. “We reallocated the money based on the student population.”
Education department officials have called it a “rightsizing” of school budgets.
Funding for schools comes from different revenue streams. The city has actually increased its contribution to the education department by more than $700 million, but overall funding for the department has gone down by about $1 billion because so much more federal funding was allocated last year.
Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said not all schools are facing reductions; some with increased enrollments will even see more funds.
“It’s really varied out there right now,” he said. “Some schools are feeling more pain than others.”
For example, parents and educators have reported their schools are losing core subject teachers, special education teachers and arts instructors. Some expect to see cuts to enrichment programs.
“The worst I’ve heard is 11 teachers [at one school] being excessed, and that’s a lot of lives displaced,” Cannizzaro said. “Quite often these are your younger, enthusiastic people who you want to see make careers out of this and not get discouraged. So that’s kind of heartbreaking.”
Cannizzaro said principals will be able to appeal the enrollment projections and get additional funding, but the timing of those adjustments could make it harder to hire staff.
Christine Montera, a teacher at the East Bronx Academy, said her school will have to excess as many as 10 teachers.
“One of the biggest concerns is the amount of support we’ll be able to give students," she said. Core funding for her school is being reduced by over $1 million, she said, which does not include the additional stimulus funds and grants that the education department has promised will come later.
Montera said she’s concerned there won’t be enough staff to cover special education classes that require two teachers, that class sizes in general will balloon and students will lose the momentum they’ve gained after a more normal school year. “We spent much of this year assessing,” she said. “Now we’re ready to implement and accelerate learning.” She said staff cuts will make that harder.
In the past, Adams has said he hopes city schools will regain students and that education budgets will grow again.
But Virginia Avetisian, a parent at a Bronx elementary school, worries reducing school budgets will encourage more families to leave the system and the city.
She said several teachers at her daughter’s school are being excessed, including the music teacher of 16 years, and that the band program is ending.
“They’re taking the programs that add joy and creativity to school and cutting that,” she said.
“We chose public school. We don’t want to go to private school. We didn’t move to the suburbs. We love the diversity and the experience and just the overall environment that our kids would get from a public school. And we want to stay here,” Avetisian said. “But if they’re going to cut everything, we will stick it out and supplement, but I know many other people are going to leave.”