An appellate court will officially allow the city Department of Education to move ahead with hundreds of millions in cuts to school budgets, new filings show.
The decision on Tuesday found that the city “failed to comply” with procedures outlined in state law when it approved the city education budget. But it tossed out a lower court order that vacated current spending levels at the agency, which would have put the entire spending plan to a revote by the City Council.
The court decided that requiring another vote months into the school year would “‘have a broad unsettling effect’ on the DOE’s operations and be detrimental to students and teachers alike.”
One judge during oral arguments compared the remedy ordered by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank in August to “putting a tourniquet around your neck for a nosebleed.”
The city’s cuts are a small share of the Education Department’s $31 billion budget, but a large chunk of allocations controlled by school principals. The school-level reductions amount to an average of 8% of what principals get to spend on staff and programs, according to the city comptroller office.
As a result, schools had to let go of hundreds of teachers still on city payroll, and cut arts and after-school programs. A recent report from the advocacy group Class Size Matters also showed the number of kids in classrooms across most grade levels increased this school year, with fewer teachers to staff them.
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It was not immediately clear whether the plaintiffs, two teachers and two parents, will appeal the latest decision to the state’s highest court — or if the appellate division’s order will mark the end of the litigious battle to reverse the cuts.
“Without a restored budget, my daughters will continue to lack art and music in their schools, and the school at which I worked for 13+ years will continue to lack a full-time music instructor,” said Paul Trust, a plaintiff and music teacher who was let go from his former school due to the lack of funding.
The city appealed the extraordinary August decision that sent its multibillion-dollar education budget back to the drawing board, which put a temporary pause in place as the appellate division considered the case on its merits.
In the meantime, the Education Department tweaked school budget policy so that principals won’t have to give back some funding midyear if fewer students than projected enrolled this fall. The gaps will be covered with $200 million in federal COVID aid, though the stimulus dollars won’t undo the cuts from the summer.
“While we are disappointed that the Council will not have the opportunity to hold a revote to restore these damaging cuts, we believe that the lawsuit put an additional spotlight on the irresponsible actions of city officials making these cuts in the first place, and that going forward, they will have to abide by the state law when it comes to their budgeting procedures,” said Laura Barbieri of Advocates for Justice, representing the plaintiffs, in a statement.
Schools Chancellor David Banks said he was pleased the court agreed the initial decision “sowed disorder and confusion and had a broad and unsettling effect upon the city.”
“We will continue to manage our school budgets equitably and efficiently to uplift every child in NYC Public Schools,” read the statement.