Thursday, August 4, 2022

NYC parents, teachers, and kids win in court to halt budget cuts to schools!

 


What a morning!  First there a huge rally at Foley Square, with parents, teachers and advocates inveighing against the grotesque budget cuts to schools.  Tamara Tucker, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against these cuts, spoke first, and her photo at the microphone is above.

Tamara and I left the rally at about 9:40 AM, and quickly walked over to the courtroom at the NY State Supreme Court, 80 Centre St., room 308 so as not to miss our chance to witness the oral arguments in the case before Judge Frank.  The courtroom was already half full, mostly with reporters and city attorneys, and soon would fill up completely before the hearing started.

Among the parents I noticed aside from Tamara were Tom Shepherd and Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, two PEP members, and NeQuan McLean, CEC16 President.  Tom and NeQuan had also provided us with affidavits about how the public process in adopting the budget had been contrary to what’s required by state law.

The court officer said that we had to wear masks unless we were vaxed or boosted in the last six months,.  A few people went up to show their vaccination cards; I kept my mask on even though I’ve been recently boosted.

Jill Jacobsen, reporter for NY1, showed up with a cameraman, and submitted a piece of paper requesting that  theyvideotape the proceedings.  The Court officer came back and said the Judge respectfully declined the request.  (I didn’t know that was possible in NY courtrooms, did you?)

Judge Frank came in and jokingly said, “My Gosh!  So many people in the courtroom!”  He immediately launched into the substance of the case.  He thanked both sides for their papers, said he was on a sharp learning curve on the issues involved, and focused on the Emergency Declarations that the DOE had been using to short circuit the PEP vote, for at least ten years out of the last twelve.

He asked the City’s attorney, Jeffrey Dantowitz, about the latest Emergency Declaration issued on May 31, what did it say?   Did it mean the PEP didn't have to vote before the budget is determined?  Dantowitz said that it did, but that in any event they did eventually vote to approve the budget later, even if this was after the Council voted to adopt the budget. 

The pro bono attorneys for the plaintiffs, Laura Barbieri and  Arthur Schwartz from Advocates for Justice stood up and said the Emergency Declaration was obviously invalid; it described no explanation of any actual emergency, and no affidavit from the Chancellor was submitted  to attest to an emergency.  Arthur said, “It’s not like 9/11 or Covid just happened.”

Judge Frank pointed out that as we had reported in our Memo of Law, year after year, the DOE has issued Emergency Declarations with boilerplate language, and that they appeared to be issued just to dismiss the importance of the PEP vote.  Even the Chancellor said at the PEP meeting that their vote didn’t matter.

Dantowitz said their vote did matter, and that groups like Class Size Matters had put out messages about the budget cuts before both the City Council and the PEP votes, and these bodies had still voted to approve the budget.  A vote is necessary eventually from the PEP, he said, because the Emergency Declaration only lasts so long. (60 days I believe). 

The Judge pointed out that the Council could have voted after the June 23 PEP meeting, but Dantowitz claimed that was too late for schools to start planning for next year.   He added that a tremendous number of issues need to be negotiated with the Council (which doesn’t explain why they seemed to rush the vote earlier than the June 30 deadline).  He pointed out that the budget had been “overwhelmingly adopted” by the Council and read out a quote from the Speaker attesting at the time to how wonderful the final budget was.

He also cited a NY Post article, that reported how budget had been held up for a few days because of the proposed budget cuts to schools, and that we have to look at the budget in its entirety, and not just the education budget.

Laura said that if the education budget had been posted online and presented for public comment on April 26, the same day as the Executive budget was released, there would have been 45 days of comment and still voted  before the City Council voted on June 13.  (In my affidavit, I pointed out this could have been happened by June 10.) .  Or, she said, the Chancellor could have called an Emergency vote of the PEP as Chancellor Klein did in 2009 when the Council was about to vote on the budget before the PEP, and then-Manhattan PEP member Patrick Sullivan alerted the DOE to the fact that this was illegal.  (For more on Patrick’s central role in the genesis of the current case, see today’s Daily News.)

This idea seemed to resonate with the Judge, who repeated that the Council did not have the benefit of hearing from the 70 people who spoke out against  the budget cuts at the PEP meeting on June 23.

Dantowitz kept on saying that it was “pure speculation” that the Council would have voted differently, but the Judge seemed to lose patience with that argument. 

Judge Frank said that next question is, assuming the process was “kaput”,  can I tell the Council to revote, or does that violate the separation of powers?  Arthur and Laura cited past cases when the Court has instructed the other branches of government what to do when they flouted state law or the constitution.

Laura stood up and pointed out that  41 of 50 Council members signed a letter that they regretted their vote and were not told about the impact of these cuts.  Many have since said they were misled by DOE who insisted that only unfilled position would be eliminated as a result, but now we know that at least 700 teachers have been excessed.  This is “material misrepresentation,” as she put it.  The Judge said he would consider whether to instruct the Council to revote, or instead allow them the opportunity to do so.

The City’s attorney got very upset as it was becoming clear that he was losing his case, at least as far as Judge Frank was concerned.  He said, “I don’t want…” and the Judge interrupted, “I know you don’t want any of it.”  

 Then the discussion became what the Preliminary Injunction would say, would it be based on the previous TRO that said last year’s budget would be in place until the Council revoted, or something else?

As far as returning to last year’s budget, the city’s attorney said,  “That ship has left the port.  Plans are being made, goods ordered, to revert to last year’s budget would be detrimental.”  He argued that the plaintiffs should have filed the case on June 13, as soon as the Council vote happened.  “Relief is inappropriate; we ask that the preliminary injunction be denied.”

Laura said that even as late as last night, the DOE added money to school budgets by allowing them to repurpose $100 million in recovery funds that now could be used for teacher salaries, and quoted from a press statement from the Speaker, that this $100 million offer was “inadequate and  misleading.”  The City’s attorney insisted that was “not new money, but they were simply robbing Peter to pay Paul” (something I tweeted critically last night!)  He offered to have the City agree to carry out the budget process properly in future years, as long as there didn’t have to be a Council revote this time.

 Dantowitz also claimed that the DOE budget couldn’t be invalidated without invalidating the entire city budget at the same time (which is absurd.).  He muttered something about the need to balance the entire budget etc.  Laura pointed out that there are billions of dollars in the city’s reserve as well as unspent education funds from last year, according to the Comptroller.

Finally , the Judge asked both sides to prepare papers on how the preliminary injunction should be written.  The city's attorneys have till the end of  today; the plaintiff’s attorneys have until the middle of day Friday.  He said he would issue his decision by the end of day on Friday.  

I hope the City doesn't appeal which would drag out the process even longer, as Laura says below.



Monday, August 1, 2022

Lawsuit and rally to restore the budget cuts to schools; this Thursday August 4 starting at 9:30 AM


The lawsuit to restore the budget cuts to schools and provide the City Council with another vote on the education budget will be heard this Thursday, August 4 at 10 AM in the NY State Supreme Court, 80 Centre St. in Room 308.  Please join us in the courtroom to show your support.

Before the hearing at 9:30 AM, there will be a rally to restore the cuts in Foley Sq., just a block away.  If you join us there, we can walk together to the courthouse at 9:45 AM sharp.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

City strikes out so far in legal pleadings over budget cuts; freezes budgets & then unfreezes them; while at least 700 teachers have been let go.

Check out more about the lawsuit on this week's Talk out of School podcast, as explained by attorney Laura Barbieri and me, and two of the plaintiffs, Tamara Tucker and Paul Trust, hosted by Daniel Alicea.

The City has engaged in much legal wrangling, all unsuccessful so far, since Judge Lyle Frank granted a temporary restraining order against the school budget cuts last Friday, July 22 in  the lawsuit Tamara Tucker et.al. vs the City of NY, filed by parents and teachers on July 18. 

The City's  attorneys  asked the Judge for permission to file papers to vacate the TRO, and they submitted their papers on July 25, with the petitioners filing theirs on July 26.  The Judge turned down the City's request to reverse the TRO the next day, on July 27.

Then the City submitted an appeal to the Appellate Court to nullify Judge Frank's court order.  They actually filed two requests as the first one was incorrect on the proper procedure, along with more affidavits and yet another Memo of Law.  Brief oral arguments were heard at 12:30 PM yesterday, Friday, July 30.

What's peculiar is that at about the same time that oral arguments were being heard by the Appellate Judge, the DOE new COO, Emma Vadehra, sent an email to Superintendents that the DOE was shutting down their access to their schools' Galaxy budgets:


The reaction was fast and intense.  Principals expressed outraged that they couldn't access the budget lines to order books and plan programs.  Advocates and parents pointed out that the freezing of school budgets was totally contrary to what the court had ordered -- that no more cuts should be made to school budgets and that the budgets would be based on this year's spending levels, until the Judge could hear the case on August 4.  

Clearly, this was an attempt by the City to manipulate the Appellate court and/or the court of public opinion that the chaos and disruption that DOE claimed over and over again in its court documents was indeed occurring -- even though this was the result of the City's actions not the TRO.

In any case, at 3:30 PM, the Appellate Court Judge Bahaati E. Pitt, rejected the City's request to vacate the TRO.  

Meanwhile, the outrage only grew at the DOE's refusal to allow principals to access their budgets.   Laura Barbieri, the attorney for the plaintiff asked me to post the following statement on Twitter:


At some point, either late in the afternoon or into the evening, after a rash of negative articles and angry tweets, the City finally realized that the smoke and mirrors they had hoped to accomplish with the budget freeze hadn't worked.  At about 9: 25 PM last night, the Chancellor sent out the following email:


The Chancellor made no explanation of why this freeze had been imposed in the first place, or had now been ended.  In fact, there were no changes in the law or orders of the court since Judge Lyle Frank made his original decision to accept the Plaintiff's request for a TRO the week before.  Moreover, Banks erred in saying that "the appeals court has scheduled a further hearing on our motion" to vacate the TRO, as no such hearing has been scheduled.  

All the Appellate Judge did, as is standard procedure after rejecting the City's appeal, is to state that they can now try again by appealing her judgement to the full Appellate Court on August 5 if they insist--  which is after the August 4 date when Judge Lyle Frank will hear both sides' arguments in the Supreme Court.  

A lot of confusion for nothing and now the city has struck out four times; twice by Judge Frank and twice  -- for each of their appeals -- by Judge Bahaati E. Pitt.  It's not looking good for their side.  Most all the legal papers are here.

What's rather damning is that among the literally hundreds of pages of legal documents that the city has filed, nowhere do they actually contest the central claim of the lawsuit -- that the adoption of the education budget was done in a manner contrary to State Law, with the City Council voting before the Panel for Educational Policy (still known as the Board of Education in state law.)

Meanwhile, a DOE document was leaked on Friday, showing that at least 700 teachers have been excessed so far as a result of the budget cuts, which means they have been told by their schools that they are being let go. The NY Post wrote about this late Friday here.  

The full DOE powerpoint is below; and contains a lot of confusing data in an apparent effort to convince whoever saw it that many of these teachers will be hired elsewhere.  

It does show that over the last couple of years, the number of excessed teachers entering the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool has shrunk.  Yet that is likely a result of the fact that for the last two years, the DOE told principals they if they hired these teachers, the DOE would cover their salaries centrally.  As Deputy Chancellor Weisberg said at the June 28 Council hearings, and confirmed in this document in the final slide in a somewhat garbled manner, that is no longer the case.  

Since the vast majority of schools have seen their budgets cut significantly, it is likely that the ATR pool will sharply increase once more, as it did during the Bloomberg/Klein years.  Since all these teachers will receive their full salaries anyway, the question remains what actual savings these egregious cuts at the school level will  achieve.


Saturday, July 23, 2022

Judge grants temporary restraining order to block budget cuts! To find out more, join our briefing Monday at 4 PM.


Great news! Late Friday afternoon, Judge Lyle Frank of the State Supreme Court granted a Temporary Restraining Order to block the devastating school budget cuts, in response to the lawsuit filed by four parents and teachers on July 18, Tamara Tucker vs. City of New York. A press release is here, along with a copy of  the court order. This big win for NYC kids was reported in NY1,Gothamist, the NY Post, Daily News and many other outlets.

On Monday, the city will file papers arguing against the TRO, and on Tuesday, the pro bono attorney for the plaintiffs, Laura Barbieri of Advocates for Justice, will file reply papers. On Thursday August 4 at 10 AM the case will be heard at the NY State Supreme Court, and the public is invited to attend.

Meanwhile, Laura and I will be holding a briefing via Zoom this Monday, July 25 at 4 PM for those who are interested in joining the lawsuit as plaintiffs or just want to hear more about the case. You can sign up here.

While the Council is said to be negotiating in private with Mayor Adams to allow at least some of the budget cuts to be restored,  it was revealed that the Mayor demanded as a condition that the Council agree to lock in school budget cuts in future years if enrollment continues to decline.  

This would be completely unacceptable and possibly illegal -- especially if Gov. Hochul signs the class size bill, which would require the DOE to send more funding to schools. The Fair Student funding formula is aligned to excessive class sizes and must be totally revamped in any case.

Speaking of class size, our petition​ to Governor Hochul urging her to sign the bill now has more than 9,000 signers. Please sign it yourself if you haven't already and/or share it with friends and allies.

More soon, Leonie

Monday, July 18, 2022

Lawsuit and rally to restore the budget cuts to schools, which the Mayor calls "a rumor"


Update: the lawsuit was covered by the Daily News, AM New York, Chalkbeat, NY Post, Brooklyn Eagle, and CBS radio.

Also much thanks to Laura Barbieri and the crew at Advocates for Justice, for working so hard on this lawsuit pro bono and doing it so quickly! 

This morning we filed a lawsuit on behalf of four parents and teachers to halt the Mayor's budget cuts to schools, and to require that the City Council has another opportunity to vote.  

The lawsuit is based on serious procedural errors committed by the Mayor and Chancellor, by allowing the City Council to adopt the education budget before the Panel for Educational Policy had an opportunity to hold a hearing on the cuts and vote on the education budget, which state law requires must happen first.

Instead, the Chancellor declared an emergency to immediately send the diminished funds to schools,  before either of the Council or the PEP had a chance to vote on them.  In this way, he attempted to short circuit the legally mandated process.  

We found that in twelve out of the last thirteen years, several Chancellors have invoked the same bogus "emergency" with the same boilerplate language -- without detailing what actual emergency existed.  Here is a press release with more detail and quotes from the plaintiffs; and here are the legal documents.

Even earlier in the day, there was a rally to protest the rally in front of Tweed, organized by the Progressive Caucus of the NYC Council, where many parents, advocates and Council Members spoke about the havoc these cuts would cause to schools and students' lives. 

Among the speakers were CM Alexa Aviles, who voted against the budget, as well as five CMs who had voted to approve the budget:  CM Shahana Hanif, Lincoln Restler, Jennifer Guttierez, Shekar Krishnan and Carmen de la Rosa all apologized for their votes, and promised that going forward, they would not approve any more budget cuts to schools.  They also said they were demanding action by the Mayor by August 1 to restore the cuts.  

In the afternoon, a bunch of parents including Reyhan Mehran buttonholed the Mayor outside an event in Brooklyn, where the mayor called the cuts a "rumor."  

They later met with the Mayor at City Hall,  where he was surrounded by a bunch of aides. After they described the awful effect these cuts would have on their schools and the system as a whole, the Mayor apparently said he couldn't say much about the issue because of the lawsuit, but that they had no idea how hard he works to benefit NYC children and how hard these choices are.  

Reyhan responded with, "Just don't make these choices then.  Restore the cuts now.

A video is below of this morning's rally, with speeches from the Council Members as well as parents and advocates.

Rally to Restore the Budget Cuts - 7.18.2022 from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Mayor Adams called protestors "clowns" and blamed Albany for his budget cuts to schools last night


This protest at a Harlem town hall against the Mayor's huge budget cuts to schools was reported briefly in the NY Post, but not what the Mayor actually said about these cuts, which he blamed on Albany.  

The Mayor claimed that "There's something called fair student funding, which is a wrong equation that we're fighting Albany to fix." 

Yet neither the Governor nor the Legislature have anything to do with his budget cuts to schools, or to Fair Student Funding, which is a formula devised by Chancellor Klein in 2007.  Indeed, the Legislature is sending $1.3 billion extra to our schools over three years, regardless of any enrollment decline. 

( Update: Sue Edelman on twitter just pointed out out that his claim they are paying 100% of FSF is also incorrect, as they cut the  allotment of about $25 per student in the formula, with as much as twice that much for kids with disabilities and other challenges.   DOE explained this as resulting from the FSF formula is pegged to the average teacher salary, which they claim has diminished in the past year, without refusing to disclose the actual amount of  the decline.)

See for yourself.  Check out what happened at about at 10 min. into the video, and also below.

 (Shouting in background of protesters from Make the Road NY, MORE caucus of the UFT, and New Yorkers for Racially Just Public Schools, who are dragged out of the room. ) 

Mayor Adams: You know, see, see this is the clown. This is the clown. And this is what we are up against people. 

People want to spend time being disruptive. That's what people want to do. But we got to stay focused and not get distracted. That's what we must do. Be focused and not distracted. Because people want to spend time on what they disagree on, and not spend time what we agree on. That’s what we have to be. So all that noise. All that noise, that's what folks don't understand. 

Listen, they are new to this. I'm not new to this. I'm true to this. I'm true to this. So because you are the loudest, does not mean you are saying something. Your ability to sit down and say, how do we work together because you can disagree with something, but you don't disagree with people should not be living in the state that they're living in now. And so if there's ever been a moment in history, if there's ever been a moment in history that personifies Esther 4:14. This is the moment God made me for such a time like this. I'm the right man for the right time to do what needs to be done in this city. 

Then, at about 38:40 minutes into the video:

Next table, Pastor Gil Monroe. 

Pastor Gil Monroe: Good evening and we're sorry for our friends. When will the budget of the DOE of $2 billion be restored,  cuts be restored? 

Mayor Adams: This is such, this DOE conversation is such an important one. You know because people have hijacked the conversation, so here’s what's happened with the with the Department of Education.

We have a massive hemorrhaging of students. Massive hemorrhaging when a very dangerous place in a number of students that we are dropping. There's something called fair student funding, which is a wrong equation that we're fighting Albany to fix.

But we are paying 100% of fair student funding. This is amount of money each child is allocated from Albany. If you have 1000 children in school, each child per child gets $1 Match attached to it.

We had a substantial drop in students in schools. So you start out with 1000 for argument's sake, you drop down to 600. Albany is saying we only pay you for 600. We're not paying you 1000. 

And so when we said to our schools, we said listen, they're cutting off our funding, the fair student funding. So we're not going to cut you off right away. We have stimulus dollars. We're going to use a stimulus dollars to keep you whole,  we talked about last year, but you got to start adjusting to have the 600 students. We came this year, we said we still not going to cut you off we're going to give you three fourths of the amount that we normally give you. 

But next year because of the stimulus dollars, we got to give you 50% of the dollars that we normally give you. But the year after, we have no more federal dollars. Then we get hit with other things that Albany is putting on us without giving us the money for, so what we did is slowly adjust based on the student population and the money that's coming from Albany. So we need your help to tell Albany, let's change the equation based on the number of students we have in our school, so we won't lose your money in our schools. 

We're gonna base it on with Albany is doing, we are creatures of Albany, they give us our fair student funding. Now we would like the bad guy because we don't want that I adjust with Albany is doing to us. We need Albany to do the right thing and make sure we get the fair student funding increase so that we can put the money into schools. Right now we're keeping them as whole as possible with the federal money is going to run out and when it runs out, we don't we no longer have that cushion that we had. So it's not our desire to cut any money. We that's why we did only three fourths this year. Next year, we got to do 50%.

But then we got we got to fall off the cliff if we don't get the support that we need from Albany.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Anger and distress among parents, elected officials & advocates at Gov. Hochul refusing to sign class size bill

NY Post article about this is here;

For immediate release: July 1, 2022

Contact: Marina Marcou-O’Malley: 518-894-6834, marina@aqeny.org 

Leonie Haimson: 917-435-9329; leoniehaimson@gmail.com

 

Anger and distress at Gov. Hochul refusing to sign class size bill

Parents, education advocates and elected officials reacted with dismay and alarm at the fact that Gov. Hochul signed the mayoral control bill last night without also signing the class size bill, A10498/S09460  at the same time.

“It is inexcusable and unfathomable that the Governor would refuse to sign the class size bill when she signed the Mayoral control bill. The legislature passed this bill almost unanimously. The only thing standing between smaller class sizes and a better learning environment that students desperately need is the Governor’s signature. Parents fought for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and won. The Governor recognized the need to act on that and delivered two years of funding for Foundation Aid, so that, among other things, class sizes can be reduced. Thirty years after the CFE lawsuit was filed , class sizes are worse, not better. We urge the governor to sign the bill and signal that she continues to recognize what needs to happen for our students’ sake,” said Marina Marcou-O’Malley, Policy and Operations Director for the Alliance for Quality Education. 

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters said, “The fact that the Governor signed the Mayoral control bill without signing the bill that would require him to reduce class size at the same time is particularly outrageous. There can be no accountability without smaller classes for NYC kids, which the State’s highest court said were needed to provide them with their right to a sound basic education under the State’s constitution.  Smaller classes are also the top priority of K12 parents nearly every year on the DOE’s own surveys, and the class size bill passed 59-4 in the State Senate; 147-2 in the Assembly.  It is particularly outrageous that the Governor has chosen to renew the Mayor’s control unconditionally,  just at a time when he is slashing the budget for schools, causing class sizes to increase rather than decrease and students to lose critical programs and services."

“New York City’s parents are sick of our children’s education being used as a political bargaining chip. We passed the class size legislation with a considerable bipartisan margin, and thirty-eight elected officials from Congress, the state, and the city, as well as over 7700 petition signatories  urged the Governor to sign the class size bill this week. There was no such groundswell for the renewal of Mayoral control. Signing it into law would be such an easy win for the Governor. The last-minute, late night negotiations have become a pattern in this administration’s first term, and it is hurting our children,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos.

“Large class sizes were a main driver behind the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit I brought against New York State with parents in 1993. The 2007 court ruling found that, ‘tens of thousands of students placed in overcrowded classrooms is enough to represent a systemic failure,’” said Senator Robert Jackson. “New York City governance must make class size reduction a priority. It is a shame that the class size reduction legislation was not signed into law with Mayoral Accountability. The resulting impact of school budget cuts will harm students further as class sizes increase, affecting educational outcomes. I urge the Governor to follow through on the state’s obligation under the CFE ruling and sign S9460 into law.  Answer the call of families across the city, sign that bill!” 

“We ask that the Governor sign the class size bill as soon as possible, which would also help to limit the Mayor’s damaging cuts to school budgets, which if left unchecked will further undermine the ability of NYC children to receive the quality education that they desperately need now more than ever before,” said State Senator Julia Salazar (SD-18).

The Governor must make good on her promise and sign the class size reduction bill. It was part of the deal for renewing mayoral control. The Mayor's dyslexia initiative needs smaller classes to be effective. As a former teacher of deaf students, I know just how critical smaller class sizes are to students’ ability to succeed. Small classes improve outcomes for all students, especially those of color and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Parents and educators are reeling--stretched to the limits by the pandemic and now with school budget cuts--and we can't let them down,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

As eminent education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch concluded, “ Governor Kathy Hochul is double crossing the students, teachers, and parents of NYC.”­­­

###

 

 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Our rally/press conference this morning, urging Gov. Hochul to sign the class size bill as soon as possible


This morning we held a press conference at City Hall Park, along with State Legislators, advocates, parents, teachers and Congressman Jamaal Bowman, urging Gov. Hochul to sign the class size bill as soon as possible.  

This bill was passed with overwhelming support in the State legislature on June 3, and whose enactment would help prevent or minimize some of the drastic cuts to schools that the Mayor and the Chancellor have proposed.  Thirty eight elected officials, including from Congress, the Legislature, and the City Council have signed a letter, asking her to do so.

The presser was organized by Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, who are both mothers with children in the NYC public schools and are distraught about how their schools will be losing teachers and programs next year due to the Mayor's savage cuts.

 Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas

 

Chris Nelson, a parent at Arts and Letters school in Brooklyn spoke about how her son has finally been able to have the benefit of smaller classes this year, as a result of the enrollment decline, and has thrived as a result; and how destructive it would be to force class sizes upwards again.

Rep. Bowman was eloquent about how as a former principal, he knows how crucial class size is to the quality of education students receive, and how unfair it is that children in part of his district in Scarsdale are provided with far smaller classes than the Bronx children in another part of his district.

He added that these cuts will hamper the city's ability not just to improve education, but also public safety, health and the city's economy -- and that they are inexcusable, given the $8 billion the federal government has sent to NYC schools to help our students recover from the multiple disruptions and traumas of the pandemic.

 

Senator Jabari Brisport, a former teacher, agreed that smaller classes were desperately needed in the city schools; and Sen. Robert Jackson spoke about his twenty-year effort to ensure education equity for NYC students, first as the original plaintiff in the CFE lawsuit and now as the original sponsor of the class size bill last session.  

Zakiyah Ansari of AQE spoke about their fight to get full Foundation Aid to NYC schools, which was finally achieved and will be fulfilled over the next two years, to the tune of $1.3 billion, and smaller classes should be the result of that successful struggle.

Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon spoke as former special ed teacher and attorney, and an expert on dyslexia.  She pointed out that the Mayor's literacy initiative, while laudable, will not work with large class sizes.  

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon

Rep. Bowman,  Sen. Brisport, our petition and me




My brief speech and  a copy of the petition we emailed to the Governor tonight is below, signed by more than 7,000 of her constituents.  

 

Many of the petition signers added comments and explanations of why it is critical that she sign the bill now, to prevent these cuts and begin the crucial process of reducing class size now.


 

 

 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Angry questions from Council Members met with incredible claims by Deputy Chancellor Weisberg at the budget hearings yesterday

Speaker Adams, Ed Chair Joseph & Oversight Chair Brewer

The budget hearings yesterday were pretty explosive. I've never seen so many Council Members at hearing at once, including the Speaker, so angrily question the DOE, furious about how many teachers  have been excessed as a result.  Several of the members had children in public schools and related how their principals had come up to them, distressed because they had to lay off their teachers and lose their arts programs or other valuable services to kids.

Speaker Adams asked Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg if he had anticipated the impact of these cuts on schools.  He responded, yes, but implied it was no big deal, and this happens every year.  He made two unbelievable claims:  one, that the numbers of teachers excessed this year were fewer than during the previous two years, though he couldn't supply a figure.  

He also claimed that he didn't expect any Absent Teacher Reserve to be created as a result, because all these teachers would somehow find positions elsewhere, even though he admitted the vast majority of schools had seen cuts.  Indeed, he asserted that NYC schools would be hiring "thousand of teachers."

Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg and DOE CFO Lindsey Oates
 

DOE Chief Financial Officer Lindsey Oates admitted that many other budget lines were cut in addition to Fair Student Funding.  She also admitted that there were $4.5 billion in unspent federal stimulus funds that the DOE intended to use elsewhere.  She then claimed the leaked internal DOE briefing we  posted that revealed an additional $1.1 billion that schools hadn't spent and were told to return to Central because  “These are real dollars that could be used for other purposes.” was merely a "training memo" and that it didn't mean what it said.

 CM Restler
Perhaps the angriest Council Member appeared to be Lincoln Restler, who said he was "red hot mad" , held up a list of the millions of dollars cut from the schools in his district, and said that the DOE had assured the Council that the cuts would only affect vacant positions.  

There is some evidence for this in the Council briefing sheet,  which reports "Administration maintains that this budget action aligns DOE’s budget with actual headcount ...and that the 3,227 [teaching] positions are vacant."  

Sadly, too many reporters have echoed this false claim by DOE,  except for Jill Jorgensen of NY1, who accurately reported that if enacted, the Mayor's Preliminary budget would cause schools to lose actual teachers when the budget was first released in February.

CM Shekar Krishnan asked why the Chancellor wasn't there to answer their questions.  Weisberg said that he and Oates were better equipped to address the sort of "technical" issues that the hearings dealt with.  Krishnan pointed out that the $215M in Fair student funding cuts were less than 1% of the entire DOE budget, and he was incredulous that the funds couldn't be found to reverse them.  CM Brewer insisted that if they gave her a spreadsheet with all the details of DOE spending, she could find enough funds in a few minutes. 

Many other members pointed out that these cuts would surely increase class size, the opposite of what the law required just passed by the Legislature, which obligates NYC to be lowering class size starting next fall.  Weisberg responded that they had people working on such a plan, in case the Governor signs the bill.  Really!

One of the main sponsors of the state legislature,  Senator Robert Jackson proclaimed, "These cuts must be

eliminated, no ifs, ands, or buts! Schools should not be penalized for having a reasonable student teacher ratio." He urged the Council to "Stand up & fight back. Time is now!"
NYC Comptroller Brad Lander


NYC Comptroller Brad Lander testified
that the FSF cuts were larger than DOE had reported, and amounted to a net reduction of $372 million—and for schools losing money,  a total of $469 million, with an average FSF loss of  $402,456.  

He also cited our finding that the "FSF reductions are just a piece of the estimated $1.7 billion in Galaxy school budget losses facing our schools. Unfortunately, given limited transparency on what those overall budget losses represent, we cannot fully assess what that $1.7 billion means for our schools."  

We have heard from principals and from the DOE itself that any funds added to Galaxy budgets after the June 13 date on which we did our calculations cannot be used to pay for staffing in any case.  

Lander also pointed out that with rising tax revenues, there was no reason that the city couldn't sacrifice some its own surplus to fill the gap:

It is also important to remember that, while enrollment has been declining, the City tax revenue and State aid that provide the vast majority of school funding is not based on the number of students. So reductions in enrollment could be an opportunity—with the funding and space we already have— for reductions in class size that we’ve long desired.

In our testimony below, we reported how 98% of schools or 1,535 lost Galaxy funding, while only 29 schools gained funding. The average cut per school was $1.1 million, or 13.9%.  We also explained how unnecessary these cuts are given the huge budget surplus and reserves that the DOE and the city currently has.    

Cuts to schools are always tragic in my eyes, but are especially inexcusable when the city is flush with cash and our kids need the close attention and support of their teachers more than ever before. 

Nearly twenty years ago, by cutting school budgets and closing schools, Bloomberg/Klein/ and their labor chief, Dan Weisberg, caused the excessing of thousands of teachers, creating something called the Absent Teacher Reserve fund, while paying their full salaries at more than $100 million per year- even at a time of rising class sizes.  Clearly they hoped that the political backlash to this ridiculous wasteful policy would be strong enough to force the union into allowing these teachers to be fired. 

We argued strenuously that these teachers should be allowed to teach, and put back into the classroom where they belong, and eventually under Mayor de Blasio, DOE allowed  teachers in the ATR pool to be placed back into classrooms.  

In 2017,  as head of TNTP, the organization founded by Michelle Rhee, Weisberg inveighed against providing these teachers with permanent positions, and again last year, when he argued, "It trumps the interest of kids."  

Is it really better for kids to let their class sizes increase while their teachers are paid to stay home ?  Despite all his claims that there will be no ATR pool again, I suspect there will be and he will resume this tired old argument and wasteful practice now that he is Deputy Chancellor, unless these awful school budget cuts are reversed.

Anyway, if you want to hear more of the trenchant questions asked by Council Members and the often clumsy deflections by Weisberg and Oates, you can follow my twitter feed from yesterday @leoniehaimson or watch the video here.  

Our written testimony is below.