Mayor Eric Adams met with a small group of parents opposed to the budget cuts at public schools Monday. In a recording of the meeting obtained by Gothamist, the mayor did not commit to restoring the money, but said he was listening, adding that he could not respond more directly because of a lawsuit filed yesterday.
Protesting parents have dogged Adams at speaking events across the city in recent days. Last week, they interrupted a speech by the mayor – prompting him to call one activist a “clown." Parents followed Adams to another event in downtown Brooklyn on Monday, loudly chanting, “restore the cuts.”
“I love this city and I love the children and families of the city,” Adams said in the recording. “The tough choices I have to make, they keep me up at night, but I’ve got to make these choices. I was elected to be the mayor, I got to take the brunt that goes with it. I think our actions are going to show you how committed we are, and it takes a lot of discipline for me not to respond to what we're doing right now.”
The city budget that lawmakers agreed upon in June included $215 million in cuts to the education department to reflect lower enrollment at schools. On Monday, a group of parents and teachers filed a suit against the city seeking to overturn the city budget, and calling for a revote.
One of the parents who attended the Monday meeting at City Hall was involved in the suit.
“There are parents all over the city that are very concerned about the cuts that are happening,” said Jessica Flores, a parent at PS 9 in Brooklyn, which she said is losing $1 million.
“We as parents, we have just pulled our children – and our children have pulled us – through a pandemic,” she said. “These cuts are too drastic and they’re really hurting kids in a profound way at this time.”
Parents are reporting that their schools are shedding subject-matter teachers, special education instructors, arts teachers, literacy coaches, bilingual educators, counselors and social workers. Some principals have also announced larger class sizes and cuts to staff.
Since the budget passed in June, education officials have said the initial $215 million in cuts only represented last year’s decline in enrollment. For the coming school year, the agency projected an additional decline of 30,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, causing many individual schools to face even steeper cuts. Some principals, however, said the enrollment projections the city made for their schools are too low, driving down budgets more than they should be.
The city comptroller’s office estimated that, overall, schools are facing net cuts that are $150 million more than those the city outlined. The average reduction is $400,000 per school, Comptroller Brad Lander said, though some schools are seeing reductions of more than $1 million. A smaller portion of schools’ budgets were holding steady, or even increasing.
City schools have lost more than 85,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade during the pandemic. Over the past two years, the city used federal stimulus money to hold school budgets steady despite the decline, and the Adams administration said it plans to use remaining federal dollars to phase in the cuts so schools don’t face the full impact of enrollment-based reductions all at once.
But Adams has consistently said schools needed to start making adjustments for shrinking enrollments now in order to avoid an even steeper reduction once federal funds are fully exhausted. Still, some principals have said the enrollment projections for their schools are too low.
“None of us want to be here,” Flores said. “We want to be at Coney Island having hot dogs or whatever it is that people do in the summer. We don't want to be here asking for money again and asking for the social supports, the teacher, the art teacher, the things that every kid should have.”
Jordan Feigenbaum, another parent at PS 9, warned that the budget cuts will perpetuate the enrollment problem.
“If we cut further we’ll lose more families,” Feigenbaum said.
Adams’ spokesperson Jonah Allon said in a statement Tuesday that, despite the cuts, the education department was fully funding schools in accordance with the formula the city uses to allocate money per pupil – known as Fair Student Funding – which has also come under renewed scrutiny by both education advocates and lawmakers since the cuts were first announced.
“Since day one, the Adams administration has been committed to uplifting students throughout the five boroughs, Allon said. “While enrollment in public schools dropped, the city has maintained the unprecedented commitment to keep every school from every zip code at 100% of Fair Student Funding."
An original version of this article misstated that none of the parents who met with Mayor Eric Adams were involved in the lawsuit to prevent the cuts to school budgets from taking effect. One parent has filed an affidavit in the case.
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.