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School funding cuts spark uproar

Educators, parents and Council leaders urge restoration of $215M to protect programs and staff
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A crowd of people stand outside holding signs that read "Stop school budget cuts"
Erica Berger

Educators and parents are among the more than 300 protesters who rallied outside City Hall in Manhattan on June 24 to demand that the city Department of Education restore $215 million in school funding cuts.

Hundreds of protesters demanded that the city Department of Education restore more than $215 million in school budget cuts at a rally on June 24 outside City Hall, where the City Council was holding an emergency hearing to probe the reductions in the recently adopted city budget. The cuts will force reductions in staffing, programs and student support in hundreds of schools across the city.

The protest followed a Day of Action on June 29, when schools across the city took a stand against the budget cuts.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who testified at the hearing along with three educators, said there is no educational or fiscal justification for the cuts. Mulgrew noted that $4.6 billion of the $7.6 billion in federal stimulus funding received by city schools has not been spent. The purpose of that extra money is to help students recover from the pandemic, “not to be left in a piggy bank that’s going to be used for something else later on,” he told the Education and Oversight & Investigations committees.

A bald man wearing a suit and glasses holds up one finger with a crowd behind him
Erica Berger

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

In the past five years, the city’s public school enrollment has dropped by 120,000 students. Across the city, 1,166 schools, or roughly 77%, now face budget cuts, according to City Comptroller Brad Lander, who also testified at the hearing. The average Fair Student Funding cut per school is $402,456.

At a news conference before the hearing, Education Committee Chair Rita Joseph, a former Brooklyn teacher and UFT member, criticized the reductions, noting that the budget the Council adopted in June included a $700 million increase in education funding over current spending. 

At the same time, New York City awaits action from Gov. Kathy Hochul on state legislation passed earlier in June that would reduce class sizes in the city to 20-25 students, depending on the grade. The mayor and the chancellor oppose the legislation.

A Black woman wearing a denim dress stands at a podium with a crowd behind her
Erica Berger

Education Committee Chair Rita Joseph, former teacher and UFT member, criticizes cuts at a press conference before the hearing. The Department of Education “has the power to stop this” and the mayor “needs to get on board as a partner and fix this problem,” she said.

Teacher Emily Figueroa said her school, the Edward A. Reynolds West Side HS in Manhattan, is slated to lose $1.3 million. Six staff members are at risk of being excessed, including special education support staff, office staff and social workers.

“We are already a skeleton crew. People will have to perform multiple roles,” Figueroa said. “We are a transfer school that serves kids with the greatest needs. They will be getting an under-staffed and under-resourced school.”

Teacher Sandra Amede, the chapter leader at MS 61 in Brooklyn, said she expects the cuts to affect her school’s Special Education Recovery Services, ENL services and support for students in temporary housing. “These are the programs we expect to be impacted and they serve the neediest kids,” she said.

A 4th-grader from PS 24 in the Bronx, who attended the protest with her mom, Kat Oziashvili, got 71 people to sign a petition she circulated to protest the cuts. Her school will lose three educators, including the band teacher.

“They’re really great, and I don’t want to see anybody fired or excessed,” the student said.

Teacher Amanda Walsh, the chapter leader at PS/MS 108 in Manhattan, said her school’s budget was reduced by $700,000. One art teacher and two social studies teachers had received excess notices as of June 24.

“So, we don’t have art for middle school, we don’t have music for middle school, we don’t have foreign language for middle school,” she said. “Gym is the only special that they have. That’s how badly we’ve been cut.”

MS 297 teacher Christine Maisano said enrollment has fluctuated greatly at the new middle school in lower Manhattan, so the budget has as well. If the reductions stand, the school will lose $2.7 million. Maisano said two special education teachers, a veteran math teacher, one of two social workers, one of two counselors and one of two assistant principals will have to go next year. 

“The city is not investing in its schools, so families will leave,” Maisano said. “Is this ultimately a bid to privatize education? What is your end game? You don’t get a sustainable public education system this way.”