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Mayor threatens to cut school budgets

New York Teacher
Tina Puccio

Tina Puccio, the director of the UFT’s Member Assistance Program, asks the City Council to help fund the program for the first time, during the union’s legislative breakfast on May 4.

As Gov. Kathy Hochul considers signing state legislation to reduce class sizes in New York City, Mayor Eric Adams is threatening cuts to next year’s school budgets even as he sits on billions of dollars of federal education aid.

Adams told principals to expect large cuts to their school budgets for next school year due to the drop in enrollment. This year, many New York City public schools were able to have class sizes comparable to the rest of the state, but the threatened budget cuts would roll back those gains.

The mayor’s executive budget includes $375 million in cuts to education, offset by some federal funds. But New York City has spent only $3 billion of the $7.6 billion it received in federal stimulus funding for public schools. Gov. Hochul has committed to foundation aid increases for New York City that will add $1.3 billion in annual state aid for city schools by 2024.

“The city has the money,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Educators and parents fought for federal funds to stabilize schools as we moved through the pandemic. This additional funding was supposed to hold schools harmless.”

Throughout May and June, UFT members and leaders have been pressing City Council members to reject the Adams administration’s proposed cuts. They have also been talking up the union’s education programs and other budget priorities in Zoom lobbying sessions with Council members, emails, virtual lobby days, phone calls, budget testimony and the #OurKidsNeed Smaller Class Sizes campaign.

With 35 new City Council members this year due to term limits, UFT members have held meet-and-greets where they have explained the union’s priorities. The UFT’s Brooklyn borough office did so at a social gathering. Manhattan members had a lobby day with their Council members via Zoom on May 16. In the Bronx, new City Council members have accompanied UFT reps on school visits and asked how they can help.

The City Council has until June 30 to negotiate a final city budget with the mayor for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Besides lowering class sizes, the UFT is also advocating for city funding to hire more school social workers, counselors and psychologists and to support six UFT initiatives or programs that benefit tens of thousands of students, educators and their families.

A top priority is the UFT Teacher Center program, for which the union is seeking $10 million to sustain current programming and add up to 15 more school-based sites next school year.

The union is asking the city to provide funding for the first time for its Member Assistance Program, which responded to increased demand for mental health support by providing free counseling, workshops, support groups and other services to members in 2021. Hundreds of people are on the waitlist for services, according to MAP Director Tina Puccio.

The union has asked the city for funds for the Positive Learning Collaborative, which teaches social-emotional learning and provides positive behavior and therapeutic crisis interventions; United Community Schools, which offer wraparound social services to address the issues that can hamper student achievement; the BRAVE anti-bullying hotline for students; and the Dial-a-Teacher homework help program.

The UFT also supports city funding for Broadway Bridges, which provides inexpensive Broadway tickets for high school students, and Teacher’s Choice, which reimburses educators for out-of-pocket spending on classroom supplies.