Judge could allow NYC council to vote again on education budget


New York City failed to follow proper procedure when approving the roughly $31 billion budget for the Education Department, a Manhattan judge ruled Thursday, potentially setting up the city council to vote again on funding for the nation’s largest public school system.

While a formal court order is not expected until Friday, Judge Lyle Frank has indicated he will side with the two teachers and two parents who filed a lawsuit last month, which sought to invalidate the Department of Education budget and force City Council to take another vote.

The lawsuit claimed the city failed to follow proper protocols before council voted on the final budget, which included hundreds of millions in cuts to city schools. Frank agreed, arguing that the city had no good reason when it used an “emergency declaration” in May to circumvent rules set out in state education law.

“The declaration of emergency changes the law – you really should have a good reason,” Frank said. “It really should be because of COVID, because of something.”

Thursday’s hearing was the latest in a stunning backlash against Mayor Eric Adams’ $215 million cut to city schools due to declining enrollment projections. (City Comptroller Brad Lander estimated the cuts were closer to $370 million.) City schools have lost about 9.5% of K-12 students since the pandemic began and are expected to lose about 30,000 more students in the next school year.

Although the city council overwhelmingly approved the budget, many council members apologized for their vote after public outcry and are pushing the Adams administration to restore those dollars. The administration is staggering the cuts over two years, using stimulus dollars to soften the blow, and is arguing that cuts are needed now to avoid even deeper cuts if enrollment continues to fall.

The lawsuit seeks to fund schools at last year’s levels until the city council votes again. That would mean funding increases for 77% of schools but cuts for the rest, according to an analysis from the Comptroller’s Office. Laura Barbieri, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said her team could come up with language for the judge’s next order that would prevent any school from seeing funding cuts.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Laura Barbieri speaks with reporters outside a Manhattan court.

Jeffrey Dantowitz, a city attorney, argued that returning to last year’s funding levels — which were about $1 billion higher, backed by stimulus funding — would “damage” the city ​​because the financial situation is different every year.

School budgets were already in limbo because Frank had issued a temporary ordinance on July 22 prohibiting the city from cutting funding to schools. That ordinance remains in place, and while it may have affected principals’ planning ability, the city launched another curveball this week, releasing funding for schools it had previously withheld due to this lawsuit.

City officials did not immediately comment on Thursday’s hearing, and it remains unclear how the judge’s decision will impact planning for the next school year, which begins in about a month.

The judge wants to suspend only the Department of Education’s portion of the budget, rather than the entire city budget. He suggested he wanted to allow city lawmakers to decide next steps.

Frank’s decision was based on a narrow portion of state education law.

The education budget must first be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, or PEP — a council largely appointed by the mayor — and then move on to city council as it reviews the city’s full budget. However, as his predecessors had done, Schools Chancellor David Banks issued an “emergency declaration” in late May, about a month before the city budget’s deadline, allowing the department to education to send the budget to the council without the agreement of the panel. approval. His statement said there was not enough time for the panel to vote and hold a mandatory public hearing before the July 1 deadline for city lawmakers to pass the budget.

The judge seemed to agree with the trial’s argument that Banks did not give a valid reason for releasing the statement.

“I know it’s done all the time, but it’s called an ’emergency declaration’ – it really should be an emergency, not boilerplate language,” Frank told the court, adding that the city would have been able to find the time to organize a vote by panel if he wanted.

Dantowitz argued that it is not possible to “separate part of the budget from the rest”. He also pointed out that the PEP approved the budget when it finally voted in late June, as required by law, so there is no reason to believe the outcome would have been different.

Paul Trust, one of the plaintiffs, was a music teacher at PS 39 in Brooklyn, but was expelled from his school due to budget cuts. This meant he was fired from his school but could remain on the city payroll and seek another job in the system. His school saw more than $401,000 less than last summer for its teacher hiring and curriculum creation budget, according to an analysis by Chalkbeat.

“I think these cuts were unfair and the decision gives council the opportunity to right a wrong that was done,” Trust said after the hearing.

Reema Amine is a journalist covering New York City schools with a focus on state politics and English language learners. Contact Reema at [email protected]


Comments are closed.