In New York, public school funding is tied to student enrollment, and students have been leaving city schools in droves for years. But during the pandemic, school budgets have remained largely intact, supported by federal aid.
Now the city says schools need to make cuts to account for steep cuts — to the tune of more than $200 million — and start preparing for even bigger cuts next year. This largely means the elimination of teachers.
Nearly 77% of schools in the New York District, or about 1,200 out of 1,600 in the system, have seen declining enrollment and are facing budget cuts after Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council agreed to a budget council for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget reversed a policy under previous mayor Bill de Blasio to keep funding for individual schools stable during the pandemic.
Hundreds of teachers are being fired or “broke” by principals and placed in a district-wide hiring pool, prompting an outcry among parents, educators and even some of the elected officials who voted for reduced budgets.
Mariscelle Bautista, a mother of two public elementary school students, said in public testimony last week that the city’s decision to ‘defund’ public schools was ‘outrageous’ and called on parents to step up and “possibly to exclude all such persons”.
Cuts to school budgets would hurt programs and services that have helped students affected by school closures and learning loss during the pandemic, Ms. Bautista said, including her own children.
New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks promised on Monday, the last day of the school year for students, that most, if not all, teachers will be expelled due to budget cuts based on enrollees in their schools will be able to find a position within the system before the start of the next school year.
Mr Banks, who is just six months into his tenure as head of the nation’s largest school system, said ‘no teacher in the entire school system will lose their job because of this right sizing’ .
Excess teachers are placed in the city’s reserve pool and become eligible for jobs at other schools. Mr Banks said the number of teachers likely to land in the reserve pool this year is comparable to numbers after the years before the pandemic. And with a mandate that schools hire those teachers first before integrating new ones into the system, “we expect all those excess teachers to be clawed back,” Mr Banks said.
“We have several thousand teachers to hire this year and we will hire them,” he said. “You’re not going to come back in September and see like dozens of people still sitting there.”
But Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s teachers’ union, said the decision to mix teachers between schools based on a “false narrative” of necessary budget cuts was “unacceptable”.
He said the city has $4.6 billion in unspent federal pandemic aid. “These funds should be used to give our students the learning conditions, including smaller class sizes, that they need to recover,” Mulgrew said. “Our students need stability.”
Mr Banks’ assurance that teachers will remain employed at the new schools does not address the destabilizing impact on students, said Crystal Hudson, a councilor from Brooklyn, who was among 44 of 50 city council members who have voted for the budget deal which included the cuts. .
“It is also time we reconsider a system that allocates resources not on a qualified determination of need, but rather on a stubborn belief that failing schools should languish,” she said in a statement, “punishing our poor and our working black and brown communities, while those with means prosper.
Mr Banks argued on Monday that adjusting funding to reflect changes in a school’s enrollment is nothing new, adding: “I was principal for 11 years, the first thing I did was to check the budget.”
But the idea that the cuts were an integral part of the budget cycle did little to satisfy parents, educators and elected officials, who expressed their displeasure at protests, on social media and at a Thursday meeting of the Panel For Educational Policy, a local council made up of people appointed mostly by the mayor.
Jessica Beck, a seventh-grade teacher at 75 Morton Middle School in Manhattan, testified at Thursday’s panel and said she was overwhelmed earlier this month when the school’s budget was cut by 43 %.
Ms. Beck explained how, in addition to teaching, she helped students buy art supplies, lunches and even books they wanted to read. “And during the month of June, I wiped away their tears and assured them that the future was hopeful even though I told them I was leaving,” she said.
She added, “As I reflect on how important relationships are to our students, I can’t help but think how insignificant and insignificant we have been when this administration has made budget decisions.”
Under the enacted budget, schools losing funds will see an average of $402,000 cut from their budgets, said New York City Comptroller Brad Lander.
“These cuts could mean going four sections from year one to third, increasing class sizes from 25 to 32, or losing their only art or music teacher,” Lander said. “While not all excess teachers will be out of work, schools will lose the small classes and enrichment programs students need to thrive.”
New York state lawmakers passed a bill this month that would force the city to reduce class sizes. That typically requires adding more teachers and would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, city officials said, which could lead to cuts to programs such as dyslexia screening and school nurses.
“Make no mistake about it, this will lead to significant cuts to these critical programs,” Mr Banks said in a statement at the time. “It shouldn’t be a choice that school leaders have to make.”