New York City council members are demanding the Adams administration “immediately restore” funding that was cut from public school budgets for the coming school year, and fill the gap using hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent federal stimulus funds.

“Principals, schools, and teachers must make important decisions within the next month, and your continued inaction is hampering their ability to make the right choices for students,” council members wrote in a letter Tuesday sent to the mayor and schools chancellor.

The letter was signed by Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and 40 of her colleagues on the 51-member council – the latest in a series of tense exchanges over school funding.

At a forum on public safety in Manhattan on Monday, the mayor referred to a demonstrator against the cuts who had interrupted his speech as “a clown,” and he has continued to argue that school budgets must start reflecting enrollment, which has been declining for years, including a precipitous drop during the pandemic.

For the past two years, the city used federal stimulus money to hold school budgets steady, despite the decline in students. But city officials have said it’s time for schools to start making adjustments. Schools are facing $400,000 cuts on average, according to the City Comptroller; some have to slash more than $1 million.

The mayor’s office and the Department of Education did not immediately respond to the City Council’s letter.

Cuts roil communities

The budget cuts have inflamed school communities, where principals are eliminating teacher positions and worry they will be forced to increase class sizes for the fall, despite the fact that state lawmakers passed legislation last month that would significantly reduce class sizes over the next five years if Gov. Kathy Hochul signs the bill into law.

Our communities and young people are reeling from the effects of the pandemic. DOE’s significant reductions to school budgets will hurt those with the greatest needs - Black and brown students, those from low-income communities and families, students with disabilities and English language learners.

City Council letter to Mayor Eric Adams

“Our communities and young people are reeling from the effects of the pandemic,” the council members wrote. “DOE’s significant reductions to school budgets will hurt those with the greatest needs - Black and brown students, those from low-income communities and families, students with disabilities and English language learners.”

They said the budget reductions are exacerbated by what many principals report are overly low enrollment projections that don’t reflect their current student body.

“By underestimating enrollment budgets that typically get adjusted over the course of the year, the DOE disrupts sensible school budget planning,” the council members added. “Schools should not be required to go through an appeal process to get the resources they need.”

The council’s letter emphasized that the city still has billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds available to support schools, including $761 million that – according to the Independent Budget Office – was allocated for the past fiscal year, but not spent.

They called on the mayor to restore the funds and “commit to a formal process with school stakeholders, including the council, that leads to concrete changes in school budget policies and the funding formula by next fiscal year’s city budget and school budgets.”

Council members have said the administration was not transparent about the scale of the cuts as they negotiated a final budget agreement last month, while administration officials said Council members must take responsibility for the financial plan they signed.

Facing deep cuts

But cuts to individual schools appear to be deeper than those outlined in the budget.

While the Adams administration said it would be cutting $215 million from schools as part of the city’s overall budget, education officials later revealed that that number was based on last year’s enrollment decreases.

Individual schools are now facing additional cuts based on even lower projections for the coming academic year, although officials said that money will be reallocated to other schools with higher enrollment.

Activists for more education funding have been making their case directly to the mayor.

At the mayor’s speech on Monday night, demonstrators chanted “Education is a right! That’s why we have to fight!” Several were ejected by the mayor’s security detail.

“I was not escorted, I was shoved out,” said Matt Gonzales, a member of New Yorkers for Racially Just Public Schools. He said a social worker who just lost her job at a school and an organizer with Make The Road New York were also removed.

Mayor Adams dismissed the protestors. “See this is a clown,” he said. “And this is what we are up against. People want to spend time being disruptive. That’s what people want to do. But we’ve got to stay focused and not get distracted. … I’m not new to this. I’m true to this.”

Later in the speech, Adams said the city needed to “make smart financial choices.”

“We also have to do better with what we have,” he said.

Fed bucks won’t last

In testimony before city council last month, education department officials said that restoring the funding to schools with lower enrollment would require diverting money from other priorities, including the expanded summer school program and 3K.

They emphasized that the city is using stimulus money to phase in the enrollment-driven reductions over two years. They warned, however, that federal funds will eventually run out, and schools need to prepare now or face a fiscal cliff in the near future.

“For years, even before the pandemic, if a school lost students, their budget went down,” Schools Chancellor David Banks said in a roundtable with reporters at the end of June. “If they gained students, their budget went up. It really wasn't that complicated.”

“So we made a decision to begin the process of weaning the schools off of the stimulus funding,” he said. “It was our decision to, as we say, rightsize the budget for our schools. And next year, you may see further cuts unless we have an increase in enrollment, but you won't see the full-on dramatic shortfall in one year.”

Toll on teachers

Teachers who lose their positions will remain on the city’s payroll and have to look for openings at other schools.

“The good news is no teacher is going to lose their job,” Banks said.

Paul Trust, a music teacher who has been “excessed” from an elementary school in Brooklyn where he has taught for 13 years, said “pickings have been slim.”

“I have applied to every available position within about an hour’s commute,” he said, adding that he’s only found two openings in Brooklyn and Queens.

He said the music program at his school will be eliminated.

“I feel like it’s a mix between a slap in the face and a stab in the back,” he said.