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A summer of school funding protests

New York Teacher
Teachers protest lack of school funding
Erica Berger

Hundreds of UFT members, parents and students gathered for a rally on the City Hall steps on June 24 to underscore the damage that budget cuts would do to their schools. The rally coincided with an emergency City Council hearing on the cuts.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who testified at a City Council hearing probing the DOE’s enrollment-based cuts in school funding, said it’s "the very worst time" for reductions as schools continue to struggle with pandemic-related issues.

After starting the summer break with the unsettling news about threatened staff and program cuts, the UFT, together with parents and education advocacy groups, spent the summer keeping the pressure on Mayor Eric Adams to rescind the city’s cuts to school budgets for the coming year.

But to everyone’s dismay, the school year approached with the cuts still in place even though the mayor has $4.34 billion in federal education funds he has not spent and Albany has given New York City an unprecedented amount of school aid.

In the final full week of school in June, thousands of UFT members took action at their schools during the union’s #FundOurSchools Day of Action on June 22 and participated in a rally on the City Hall steps on June 24 as the City Council held an emergency public hearing on the cuts.

Protesters kept the pressure on at a rally in Foley Square on Aug. 4, the day that a lawsuit filed by two educators and two parents regarding the cuts was heard nearby in state Supreme Court. 

Parents and UFT members also showed up at community events in all five boroughs throughout the summer to pass out leaflets to public school families explaining how they could protest the cuts.

Learn more about the #FundOurSchools campaign »

In an Aug. 11 letter to the mayor, Schools Chancellor David C. Banks and the city Department of Education, UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote that the unnecessary cuts have caused principals and staff to scramble. “At a time when the DOE is asking us to do more for our students and communities, it’s unbelievable that it is choosing to give us less,” he wrote. “After the most difficult years in the city’s memory, this is a slap in our face.”

Summer School Funding
Bruce Cotler

Nicholas Cruz, the UFT director of community and parent engagement, speaks with parent Sandra Botson during Harlem Week in August about the impact of school budget cuts.

Close to 1,200 city public schools are expected to see cuts to the primary source of their individual budgets for the 2022-23 school year, according to New York City Comptroller Brad Lander.

Special education teacher Cristine Maisano, the chapter leader at MS 297 in lower Manhattan, along with colleagues and community members, also wrote a letter urging the school’s Council member, Erik Bottcher, to support a proposed City Council resolution calling on Adams to rescind the cuts.

“I don’t think I’ve ever spent a summer fighting for money for education before,” she said.

While the $2.2 million cut to school funding for MS 297 is less than the initial June estimate of $2.9 million, it’s still a huge loss, Maisano said. The principal had to give excessing notices to 10 staff members in June and some found jobs at other schools. “I think when a principal has to excess, it makes the whole undercurrent of a school feel unsteady, so a few other teachers ended up leaving, too,” Maisano said.

The school’s projected enrollment is 500 — significantly higher than the 380 students the DOE initially had calculated — but there is still only enough money for one school counselor and one social worker, and that is not enough to meet all the needs, Maisano said.

Mayor clown cartoon
Olivia Singler

The UFT shared this cartoon on social media in July in response to Mayor Adams’ dismissive characterization of the protesters.

Music teacher Paul Trust, one of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city and the DOE regarding the education budget, was excessed at the end of the school year from his position at PS 39 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The music program wasn’t something the school leadership wanted to cut, he said, but it came down to art or music.

“Historically it’s the arts that get axed because principals aren’t going to cut the core classes or blow up class sizes,” he said. “You need these enrichment subjects like art and music in order to provide a well-rounded education.”

Amanda Walsh, who teaches 5th grade at PS/MS 108 in East Harlem, said her principal appealed the size of her school’s initial cut, so the DOE restored some funding and the school only had to excess three teachers.

But PS/MS 108 has ongoing needs that are not being met, she said. The middle school has not had music and foreign language in a few years, and its art teacher was excessed. An outside organization teaches gym class for elementary students.

To fill the gap, PS/MS 108 teachers incorporate art, music and more physical activity into their classes. “The teachers have to take on extra responsibilities in order to give the kids what they deserve,” Walsh said.