NYC school budgets in limbo with the start of classes weeks away

Tensions between the mayor’s office and the Council appeared to grow following the ruling, as the two sought to lay blame for the school budget crisis at each other’s feet.

“It has become clearer than ever that DOE lacks transparency and accountability and removed hundreds of millions of dollars more from school budgets than it ever conveyed in the city budget,” Council speaker Adrienne Adams said in a statement on Friday.

Speaker Adams has claimed that education department officials misled Council members prior to their budget vote about what impact the cuts to spending would have. According to her office, schools are facing $365 million in total cuts — well above the $215 million the mayor outlined in his budget.

Council sources have said administration officials promised no teachers would lose their jobs, that only vacant positions would be eliminated, and that all programming decisions would be left up to principals. Correspondence between Council members and education department officials that was reviewed by Gothamist supports that claim. Council members said that, if they are able to allocate additional funding, they want a clear promise from the administration that it would go directly to the schools that have seen their budgets reduced.

“The Council is considering a full range of legal actions to take in the coming days to ensure DOE permanently restores school budgets, is accountable to the public, and completely transparent about all relevant budget information and detailed accounting of the status of its remaining federal stimulus funds,” Speaker Adams said in her statement.

In response, Mayor Adams’ press secretary Fabien Levy said in a statement later on Friday that the mayor and schools chancellor “are committed to providing every available resource to our students to provide them with the best education possible, and that is what this budget does .”

Levy emphasized that the Council had ample opportunity to vet the budget when they voted for it in June, weeks ahead of the July 1 deadline.

“The funding in the budget has been clear for months and was negotiated, reviewed, and voted on by the City Council with full transparency,” he said. “And let’s be clear about the facts — this budget includes more city funding than ever before and is responsibly adjusted to address both declining enrollment and the end of federal stimulus funding, all of which is currently allocated. There is no secret pot of funding, and the City Council knows this.”

The budget passed by the City Council in June allocated $700 million in additional city funds for schools overall, but also included some of the enrollment-based cuts to individual schools. While the city’s funding contribution was higher, the overall education budget was lower because it included fewer federal stimulus dollars.

Last week, the Adams administration offered schools more flexibility in how they can use stimulus funds, saying federal “academic recovery” money could be put toward teacher salaries. The administration also said it was sending money to schools that proved they needed more to cover mandated services.

Several Brooklyn principals who spoke to Gothamist but who did not want to be named out of fear of retaliation said they have been able to patch together enough funds to make their staffing work, but have no money left for supplies.

On Monday, Marilyn Mendoza, an organizer with Make The Road New York, confronted Adams outside an event at the Queens Museum to ask him to restore funds to schools. In response Adams said, “We are going to do everything to make sure our schools are open and our children are educated, like I’ve committed my life to doing,” he said.

“Can you do one thing for me?” the mayor then asked. “Pray with me to make sure this is a safe city and make sure we do the best for our children and families.”

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