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Mulgrew challenges DOE to increase school budgets

UFT President Michael Mulgrew tells the City Council that it’s time to start rei Miller Photography

UFT President Michael Mulgrew tells the City Council that it’s time to start reinvesting in the city’s public schools.

With new money coming from the state and an improving city revenue picture, the Department of Education must finally start rebuilding ravaged school budgets, UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the City Council on March 27.

Schools should see more resources, class sizes should go down, and pared-back after-school and enrichment programs must be restored, he testified at the Council hearing on the city’s preliminary expense budget for next year.

“This needs to be the year when we finally reject the disinvestment that has so decimated our school communities,” Mulgrew said.

Earlier in the hearing, Chancellor Dennis Walcott confirmed that next year’s DOE preliminary budget, which will go up by $183 million or about 1 percent, does not include any teacher layoffs. But he also said it is “unlikely” that schools will see any increases at all, due to rising costs.

Mulgrew took time to thank the Council for fighting to prevent teacher layoffs last year, but he challenged the lack of a significant funding increase in the mayor’s preliminary budget for next year.

Class sizes are the largest they have been in decades, Mulgrew said. The DOE plans to spend more for outside contractors, more on charter schools and less on school-based guidance counselors.

“It’s clear the city made its budget decisions based on its political priorities,” he testified.

Indeed, the Independent Budget Office released a budget analysis the following day that found that planned city spending on general-education classroom instruction would actually decline by $203 million under the mayor’s proposed budget.

The DOE budget includes an expected net loss of 1,117 teachers next year through attrition, even as enrollments are expected to grow and the state budget includes a $292 million increase for New York City schools next year.

“How do you do this with a state increase?” Mulgrew demanded.

Mulgrew suggested that the city cut 10 percent from the contracts budget and use the money saved to hire more teachers and guidance counselors. And he urged the Council to restore child care slots and after-school programs that the city is threatening to cut, saying those cutbacks would have a “profoundly negative impact on our schoolchildren.”

Council members and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson told Mulgrew that they appreciated his leadership in identifying the DOE’s huge failure to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursement for special education services over the last two years. Council members also sharply questioned the DOE on class-size increases, spending on outside contractors and the city’s desire to spend money on merit pay and hiring incentives while allowing teacher headcount to decline.

The day before, on March 26, the Council held a hearing on the DOE capital budget. UFT Vice President Richard Farkas welcomed the School Construction Authority’s plan to build 31,574 new seats, 5,000 more than it originally planned, in 19 districts and two boroughs at the high school level. But he warned that even this big number falls short of the need, especially since many schools are overcrowded and many more have temporary trailers that have become all but permanent.

“Overcrowding and class size issues remain some of the most critical needs of our schools,” Farkas testified.

A final city budget is due by June 30. Schools should get their individual budgets for next year in mid- to late May, the DOE’s chief financial officer, Michael Tragale, testified.

Read the full remarks by Mulgrew and Farkas.

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