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A Judge Halts New York City School Budget Cuts, For Now

More than $200 million in cuts to New York City public schools have been put on hold by a Manhattan judge, the latest move in an escalating fight over how to fund schools that involves Mayor Eric Adams, the City Council and an increasingly vocal and enraged group of parents and educators.

The judge’s move came last week, even as Mr. Adams is apparently negotiating to reverse some of the cuts with the Council, which is desperately trying to walk back its own 41-to-6 vote in June to pass the budget.

Justice Lyle E. Frank of State Supreme Court in Manhattan issued the temporary injunction in response to a lawsuit filed by parents and teachers. It contended that the Department of Education had made a procedural error and violated the law when it presented the budget to the Council before allowing the Panel for Education Policy, a governing body largely appointed by the mayor, to vote on it.

In his executive budget for fiscal year 2023, in April, Mr. Adams proposed $375 million in cuts to public schools for the upcoming school year, although the administration had planned to offset some of those cuts using federal pandemic relief funds.

But now, the 2021-22 school budget will remain in effect until the court makes a final decision, most likely in early August, when a hearing will be held. The city filed a motion to remove the order, said Amaris Cockfield, a City Hall spokeswoman.

“Make no mistake, the budget was duly adopted by the City Council and is in accordance with all charter-mandated protocols,” she said in a statement. “We hope the court will grant the city’s application expeditiously so that our schools can continue the necessary work in preparation for September.”

The cuts would affect about 1,200 city public schools, or two-thirds of the system, according to a Chalkbeat analysis. Principals, teachers and students have protested for weeks against the cuts, arguing that they would be forced to slash teaching positions and enrichment programs just as school was starting to feel “normal” again after pandemic disruptions and as educators had hoped they could continue recouping pandemic losses.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, called the cuts “harsh and disruptive,” adding that schools needed to “be made whole.”

The Adams administration proposed the cuts because of declining enrollment across the public school system. The bulk of funding schools receive is tied to the number of students they enroll, and around 120,000 families have left the school system over the past five years, the vast majority during the pandemic.

The previous mayor, Bill de Blasio, used federal stimulus funds to bolster budgets for schools with declining numbers. But the Adams administration decided against following Mr. de Blasio’s lead because the federal money is temporary; it will be gone by fiscal year 2025.

Instead, the administration planned to only partially offset the funding declines as a way to begin starting “the process of trying to wean the schools off of the stimulus funding,” the schools chancellor, David A. Banks, said during a Panel for Education Policy meeting last Wednesday.

The cuts were in the budget that the Council passed in early June. Under this budget, schools would face $215 million in cuts during the 2022-23 school year and $295 million the following year and would be hit with the full $375 million cut in the 2024-25 school year.

But many City Council members changed course soon after they voted for the budget.

That’s when many principals received their budgets for the upcoming school year, and realized that they’d have to cut enrichment programs, such as art classes, or cut teaching positions in core subject areas and special education. The teachers would have been “excessed” — they would have lost their jobs at their school, but most would have still been on the Education Department payroll and considered for openings elsewhere.

Opponents of the budget cuts have argued that if schools lack enrichment programs or have large class sizes because of teacher cuts, then enrollment will continue to decline because families will be driven away.

City Councilwoman Sandy Nurse, who represents East New York and other neighborhoods in Brooklyn, said schools in her district would face $8 million in cuts. One school in particular, P.S. 214, would lose around $582,000. She said that meant the school would lose a number of teaching positions, a librarian and programming such as field trips, arts and computer classes.

“It’s just really important to emphasize that these impacts are not necessarily felt the same across the board,” said Ms. Nurse, who was one of the six Council members who voted against the budget. She said her district includes communities “that have really had disinvestments in public education over the years; these cuts mean everything.”

The judge’s action came after parents, teachers, and principals flooded the comment period during recent meetings of the Panel for Education Policy.

Dozens of parents and teachers testified at two recent meetings about the effects the cuts would have on their schools, including the loss of beloved teachers and counselors. Some have also followed the mayor to events around the city.

“We are tired of the manufactured scarcity when it comes to our children and their schools,” said Whitney Toussaint, a parent and member of Community Education Council 30, during last week’s Panel for Education Policy meeting.

The City Council held a hearing in June to discuss the budget cuts it had voted to support earlier that month.

Adrienne E. Adams, the speaker of the Council, who voted for the budget, said during the hearing that “the situation facing many of our schools, even before the pandemic, was not adequate or ideal.”

With these budget cuts, schools would have the “proverbial rug pulled out from under them,” Ms. Adams added.

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