|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 |
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!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.