Multiple New York City Council members gathered on the steps of the education department’s headquarters Monday to apologize for approving a budget that cut funding for schools — and to call on the Adams Administration to restore the funds.
“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 Adams administration has repeatedly criticized Council members for their opposition to cuts to school budgets that they approved early last month. Many new members said their first budget had been its own education, and they had learned new lessons in how deals are struck within city government.
“I made a decision that I thought would best equip me to have a seat at the table and the tools to fight back against and restore the cuts,” said Councilmember Shahana Hanif, who represents parts of Kensington, Borough Park, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. “It's clearer than ever that the table and the entire process in this body is severely broken.”
Councilmember Lincoln Restler, a veteran of the de Blasio administration, said he too had buyer’s remorse after voting for the budget.
“I am angry that these cuts are on the chopping block and I'm angry at myself that I didn't do more to stop it,” said Restler, whose district covers Greenpoint, parts of downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights. “And I'm sorry to every parent, to every teacher, to every student in my community that I didn't step up and fight back the ways that I should have during this budget process.”
Councilmember Carmen de La Rosa whose district includes Washington Heights and Inwood also voiced regret but vowed, “that this can never happen again.”
Amid chants such as “What good is swagger when our schools get the dagger,” parents, educators and lawmakers called on city officials to reverse the cuts by August 1st so that principals can retain or bring back teachers whose positions have been eliminated, and maintain key programming.
Parents and teachers also announced that they had filed suit in New York Supreme Court seeking to overturn the city budget, and calling for a revote.
The suit argues that the budget timeline this year violated state law because the education department’s oversight body - the Panel for Education Policy - did not have a chance to vote on the spending plan for schools until after the Council had already approved the final city budget.
Typically the panel votes first, but that step in the bureaucratic process was delayed this year when members initially rejected the very formula the city uses to determine school spending.
The city budget included $215 million in cuts to the education department to reflect lower enrollment at schools. But officials have since said those cuts only represented last year’s decline in enrollment. For the coming school year, the agency is projecting an additional decline of 30,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, causing many individual schools to face even steeper cuts.
The reductions in funding have already prompted some principals to announce larger class sizes and the elimination of arts programs, teaching assistants and other educators.
Adams administration officials have consistently said schools need to start making adjustments for shrinking enrollments. City schools lost more than 85,000 students in kindergarten and up during the pandemic. For the past two years, the city used federal stimulus money to hold school budgets steady despite the decline. For the next two years, the Adams Administration plans to use federal stimulus money to phase-in the cuts so schools don’t face the full impact of enrollment-based reductions all at once.
Still, some principals have said the enrollment projections the city made for their schools are too low, driving down budgets more than they should be.
According to the city comptroller’s office, schools are facing an average cut of $400,000, with some facing more than $1 million, although a small portion of schools’ budgets are holding steady or even increasing.
“This lack of funding will lead to cluster programs and enrichment being cut, class size increases, at risk counseling being cut, loss of academic intervention services, IEP services being reduced,” said Camille Caseretti, president of the Community Education Council in District 15
Many advocates at Monday’s rally said, even if enrollment is declining, schools should not lose funding.
“Let's restore these funds, but also let's invest. When was it a crime for our schools to have every single dollar that they needed?” Gutiérrez said.
Councilmember Shekar Krishnan, who represents Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Elmhurst, said the education department could move money around within the education budget right now to restore funding for schools “and they are choosing not to do so.”
Restler emphasized that billions of federal stimulus dollars are available to address gaps. “We can fix this today,” he said.
This story was changed to reflect the fact that teachers are also among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the city to prevent cuts to school budgets from going into effect.