Latest budgetary crisis makes parents see red - After dodging $99 million bullet, schools now face loss of $185 million

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Just three months ago, public schools narrowly avoided a $99 million budget cut. Now they could lose $185 million – and Brooklyn parents are fuming.

“I hate the fact that we even have to revisit this. We spent so much time last year dealing with the actual cuts and possibilities of cuts. It felt so good to think that we were able to now concentrate on the issues on hand in educating our children instead of having to deal with this,” said Jennifer Stringfellow, president of District 15’s Community Education Council (CEC), a volunteer parents’ group advocating for schools in Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park.

The $185 million cut was proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg who believes all city agencies must slash their budgets so the city can survive the current economic crisis.

The cut for the city Department of Education (DOE) represents 2.5 percent of the agency’s budget for this year and five percent for next year.

The DOE would not say how it would slash funding.

When the City Council nixed the $99 million cut in June, the tradeoff was that the DOE had to decrease its administrative budget for its Manhattan headquarters at Tweed Courthouse by $200 million. Considering that, there are concerns that schools will be on the chopping block this time around, a possibility that Brooklyn parents aren’t willing to accept.

“The signature issue of the Bloomberg administration has been education. If in fact it is the priority of that administration then they have to follow through on that and whatever cuts need to be made should be the minimus in education,” said District 15 CEC First Vice President Jim Devor, whose daughter attends M.S. 51 in Park Slope.

“I think that we should not consider education as something we can touch because the kids who are in the system today don’t get a second chance,” Stringfellow said.

Instead of taking money out of the classroom, the DOE should slash additional funding from the bureaucracy, parents argue.

“They’re continuing to spend millions on educationally unsound initiatives and this needs to stop. If we’re in dire economic crisis, Tweed has got to pull back on their relentless pursuit of standardized testing,” said Martha Foote, whose son attends P.S. 321 in Park Slope. “They need to end their practice of no-bid contracts. They keep spending money on outside consultants who don’t understand education or schooling and they don’t pay any attention to the teachers and principals and parents who have had no voice and who would actually let the DOE know what our priorities are for our children.”

Devor said the city should work to increase revenue instead of cutting budgets.

“Maybe the property tax rebates and reductions have to be reconsider­ed,” he said. “I’d rather see it coming from my hat as a homeowner than my hat as a dad of a middle school student.”

Bloomberg’s budget cut proposal must be approved by the City Council. Parents are now encouraging their local Council members to reject the cuts to education.

“The City Council – they were the biggest allies of parents during the last budget crisis,” Foote said. “They really stood beside us and allocated money back to the schools. I would expect our City Council members to put schools and the city’s security first on their list in terms of what needs to be protected. I understand this is a very dire situation but I would expect that they would act prudently and in the best interest of our children.”

City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, who opposed the last round of school budget cuts, said it’s “too early” to determine how the Council will vote.

“I don’t take this on face value,” he said. “First, we have to find out what the city’s real financial situation is and we have to figure out if this is truly necessary in any way and if the DOE would have to cut anything like that. I think the jury is still out on that.”

If the Council deems budget reductions necessary, de Blasio said money should be taken from administrative areas – not students.

“If there need to be cuts on DOE, the classrooms should be held harmless,” he said.

The Council should consider where the DOE spends “literally billions of dollars” on “consultants, testing programs, all of the sort of corporate infrastructure that [schools Chancellor Joel] Klein built over the last seven years.”

“I would dare say that’s a better place to cut,” de Blasio noted.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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