Council scrambles to stop education cuts

Education advocates, public school teachers and parents have filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that New York lawmakers improperly approved the controversial education budget.

The suit, filed on July 17 with the New York Supreme Court, alleges that DOE Chancellor David Banks improperly utilized an emergency declaration to circumnavigate public hearings and failed to provide sufficient evidence about the size of the cuts.

The New York City Council voted for the budget on June 13, ten days before the Panel for Education Policy—the governing body for the Department of Education—voted on June 23. The lawsuit seeks to place an injunction on the current budget allowing for a revote on the budget in August.

“In at least twelve out of the past thirteen years, since at least June 2, 2010, several different New York City Schools Chancellors have invoked a similar ‘emergency’ using the same boilerplate language in order to immediately adopt a budget prior to a vote of the City Board (Panel for Education Policy) and prior to the City Council vote,” the complaint reads.

A large part of the city’s education budget is determined by the Fair Student Funding formula, which allocates resources based off of enrollments and disenrollments. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio prevented cuts to schools over the last two years by utilizing federal funds to cover the fluctuations in enrollments.

Overall 1,100 schools are expected to receive cuts from their budget totalling to $469 million, while 354 schools will be receiving increases to their budget, according to an analysis by the Comptroller’s office.

Over the last two years, enrollments in NYC public school have dropped by 80,000. Public school enrollments are expected to drop by 30,000 more students this fall, according to data shared with the New York Post.

Plaintiffs include Sarah Brooks, a special education teacher at P.S. 169 in Sunset Park, Melanie Kottler, a parent with a rising 2nd grader at P.S. 169, Tamara Tucker, a parent of two children at P.S. 125 in Harlem, and Paul Trust, a music teacher at P.S. 39 in Park Slope, where the music education program is under the chopping block.

“I have students who have gone on to the finfest conservatories and those who have formed the loudest of rock bands. All this will go away with these budget cuts,” Trust said in a statement. “I can only hope that this will not be the last year I am able to continue to serve the school community I love.”

On Monday July 18, a day after the suit was filed, members of the New York City Council rallied outside the Department of Education, to protest the cuts with advocates despite a number of the councilmembers previously voting for the budget.

“As more information was released, it became clear that the cuts to school funding were far more overreaching than originally communicated,” Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez, who voted for the budget, said in a statement. “I take responsibility for my vote, and demand the Mayor and the Chancellor also take responsibility for the thousands of students whose education will be diminished by these funding cut, by fully restoring education funding before August 1st in a moment when we need it most.”

“Principals in my district have repeatedly shared that in FY22, COVID stimulus funds enabled them to fully fund academic intervention programs, support for English Language Learners, and music and arts programs for the first time,” Councilwoman Shahana Hanif said in a statement. “These programs are not superfluous, but essential to student’s holistic development.

M.S. 839 Teacher Frank Marino, whose school was slated to lose $226,557 after a 1.66 percent drop in enrollment, echoed similar sentiments in an interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star last month.

“It’s always the schools [getting cut], we should be at this point, as teachers and students and families demanding more. And yet again, we’re here on the defensive, fighting for the bare minimum fighting for our school to have an art program,” Marino said.

Members at the rally suggested that Mayor Adams could utilize reserve funds to cover the cuts made to the budget.

“Since day one, the Adams administration has been committed to uplifting students throughout the five boroughs. As was reflected during the budget process, there are more city funds in DOE’s FY23 budget than last fiscal year,” City Hall spokesperson Jonah Allon told The Brooklyn Downtown Star. “While enrollment in public schools dropped, the city has maintained the unprecedented commitment to keep every school from every zip code at 100 percent of Fair Student Funding.”

Pol Position: Council Members ‘Punished’ for voting against the budget

The New York City Council passed the $101 billion spending plan on June 10, following the nearly unanimous decision by its membership, which voted 44-6 in favor of the budget.

But, according to City & State, six of the members who voted against it were treated with a nasty surprise.

The six ‘nay’-saying members—Tiffany Cabán, Sandy Nurse, Alexa Avilés, Chi Ossé, Charles Barron, and Kristin Richardson Jordan—were not credited for projects they supported and received on average less for organizations they supported than the members who voted yes.

The Council Members who voted against the proposed spending plan were initially surprised that they had been left out of the $41.6 million discretionary funds, known as the “Speaker’s Initiative to Address Citywide Needs,” allowing them to allocate additional funding towards specific projects and causes.

However, it was later revealed that several of the council members did in fact receive money from the discretionary fund for their projects, but their names were simply not listed on the budget document next to projects they supported.

Based on initial reports, Cabán said that she planned to designate $150,000 in funding for the Variety Boys and Girls Club, which provides after-school programming for approximately 4,000 children in Western Queens. However, it appeared they would no longer receive it.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter, calling the potential cut in discretionary funding “punishment” for Council Members opposed to the budget because of cuts in education, while increasing spending on police and incarceration.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “To punish a council member for objecting to cuts in education and housing, NYC leaders are defunding a local Boys & Girls Club as ‘punishment.’”

Speaker Adrienne Adams replied, telling Politico that the allocation loss for the Variety Boys & Girls Club was an “oversight” that would be rectified.

Costa Constantinides, former City Council Member and chief executive of Variety Boys & Girls Club in Queens, later told The New York Times that while he had hoped that his organization would receive $150,000 from the budget, he was confident that Adams would sort out the issue.

“That would have been a really harsh cut if that were to stand,” Constantinides said. “I think we are all working together to find a great resolution.”

In the interim, thanks in part to Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to help restore funding to the program, the Variety Boys and Girls Club continues its efforts to raise money to help serve the children in Queens.

Shootings down, major crime up, cops say

Mayor Eric Adams credited the anti-gun crime unit he brought back earlier this year for a downturn in gun crime at a press conference in Brooklyn on Monday.

Recent NYPD stats show that shootings across the city were down 6.5 percent compared to this time last year. However, NYPD data also shows that major crimes—a category that includes seven different kinds of felonies including rape and grand larceny—-were up a whopping 38 percent from last year. Murder was the only individual major crime category that showed a citywide decrease of nine percent.

The anti-gun crime unit, dubbed the “Neighborhood Safety Team”, is a revamped version of the city’s plainclothes unit, which was disbanded due in 2020 to its involvement in shootings across the city. According to a 2018 report from the investigative journalism outlet, The Intercept, while plainclothes officers represented only six percent of the force they were responsible for 31 percent of all fatal shooting incidents.

Mayor Adams made good on his campaign promise of reinstating the unit back in January.

Adams stated that the teams will avoid previous mistakes by requiring officers to turn on their body cameras when interacting with the public and wearing windbreakers that make officers more identifiable as cops.

The Neighborhood Safety Teams have seized 105 firearms and effected 115 gun arrests since their start in March, according to NYPD.

“If we do the work to get it to the grand jury, to get that indictment, to make that arrest — then the other team must do their part,” Adams said at the press conference. “If we do the work to get it to the grand jury, to get that indictment, to make that arrest — then the other team must do their part.”

Mayor Adams placed blame on Albany lawmakers for not passing stronger restriction to bail reform.

“We would have liked to receive more, like the dangerousness standard. That’s so important. You have one of these guys that come in front of you or someone is arrested nine times. I think the judge should make the determination, this person presents an imminent threat to the city,” Adams said.

However, a report from progressive comptroller Brad Lander published last March, found that bail reform was not responsible for the increase in crime.

Adams noted that he will be pushing for the dangerous standard to be included in the next legislative session.

Pol Position: State lawmakers to decide on Mayoral Control

The debate over mayoral control of New York City public schools remains a hot-button issue in Albany, as the Adams administration continues its push for a four-year extension. Adams has had a lot on his plate–in addition to his efforts to revive New York City following two years of the COVID-19, efforts to increase public safety amid a surge of gun violence nationwide, and efforts to construct affordable housing amid a homelessness crisis, he also found himself confronted with criticism from parents, students, and teachers regarding the mask mandates and COVID vaccination requirements.

But not all was lost. During his tenure, Adams helped restore funding for Gifted & Talented programming, introduced Asian American history into school curriculums, and helped usher a deal with Albany lawmakers to turn on speed cameras 24/7.

Mayoral control gives Adams the authority to hire and fire the Schools’ Chancellor along with nine of the 15 members on the Panel for Education Policy. It is a policy that has been around for the last twenty years, and yet despite support from Gov. Hochul, state lawmakers have indicated they may look to reduce the extension to a single year.

According to Chalkbeat, last month, Adams joined Chancellor David Banks for a rally on the steps of City Hall to plead his case with state legislators to continue and grant the administration the authority to oversee the city’s school system.

“The chancellor and I have laid out a bold new vision for our children and for the families that attend our public school system,” Adams said. “This is the first time in history where we have two men who grew up in the public school system with two different experiences — one dealing with a learning disability, another dealing with the Gifted and Talented program.” State Senator John Liu also told Pix11 News that while Adams will likely keep mayoral control, he expects changes to strengthen the ability of parents to give input and could even allow lawmakers to hold Adams accountable over his performance.

“The likely outcome will be a system in which the mayor still has control, and therefore, we can hold him accountable for school success or failure, but a system that also provides a meaningful mechanism to bolster parental input,” Liu, who chairs the Senate’s committee on New York City education, told Chalkbeat in a recent interview. “That is the main issue — that parents feel they have no way to engage, that their suggestions and complaints aren’t even heard.”

Although it seems likely that state lawmakers will approve the revised extension, there are a number of issues facing the nation’s largest school system that still need to be addressed.

One key concern is chronic absenteeism in schools. Thanks largely to the pandemic, the rate of absenteeism over the past year has reached its highest level in over twenty years. Student enrollment is down, class participation is down, and keeping teachers in the City school system has been a struggle.

Another major concern is parent involvement. Several parents are in favor of returning control of city schools to the state in light of recent decisions by the Department of Education Chancellor Banks. The recent dismissal of District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto and District 24 Superintendent Madelene Chan had parents in a frenzy over Adams-controlled DOE, which they feel did not consider the input of parents before making such a major decision. DOE officials have since stated that they plan to allow the Superintendents to reapply for their jobs, despite the likelihood that they will be replaced.

However, some say that the effort of the Adams administration to be more inclusive has been an improvement from years past.
With mayoral control set to expire, New York State lawmakers have until the end of session to decide on Mayoral Control.

Pol Position: In a Florida State of Mind

GOP electeds in Florida have passed a controversial new law prohibiting public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

Since it was introduced back in February, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been criticized by numerous human rights, free speech, and Gay rights advocates due to the homophobic nature of the law, which attempts to censor speech regarding LGBTQ+ identities.

News of the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation reached a breaking point in March when it made national headlines, after employees with the Walt Disney Company staged a walkout protesting the legislation and demanding the company cease from making political donations and commit to a plan that would protect the rights of its staff.

Since the protest, the company has vowed to donate $5 million to organizations like the Human Rights campaign and others dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ employees, and have started discussing ways it could better serve this community in the future.

Yet, despite widespread opposition, the legislation was signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said that passing the legislation “will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”

This didn’t sit right with New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who referred to the law as “political posturing,” citing that its divisive agenda aims to “demonize” members of the LGBTQ+ community.

In response to the “Don’t Say Gay” law, Adams announced that he would be posting up billboards around several major cities across the “Sunshine State,” including Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach, to remind Florida residents that NYC does not discriminate.

Of course, Gov. DeSantis fired back with false claims that the billboards were spent on the taxpayer’s dime. However, these were proven untrue as Adams stated that the campaign was funded through private donations.

“This is the city of Stonewall,” Adams said during a recent press conference. “This is the city where we are proud to talk about how you can live in a comfortable setting and not be harassed, not be abused.”

DeSantis has repeatedly defended the legislation, zeroing in on the restriction over what can be taught to children in Kindergarten through 3rd grade, and shifting attention away from what many believe to be intentionally vague language restrictions on the instruction of topics not deemed “age appropriate.”

He responded to Adams attacks with over-the-top remarks about free speech and the mask mandates in schools–a topic which he was so personally vehement about that he issued an executive order banning them from schools. DeSantis had even gone so far as to threaten to strip funding from schools in Democratic counties that defied him.

“They’re saying you can say whatever you want, but they’re the ones who will force a mask on your face and muzzle you in public,” DeSantis said, directing his attention at Adams.

“I like rivalries with other states,” Adams remarked. “Florida can bring it on.”

But the real question we’re left asking ourselves is who really loses from the passing of this law? It’s certainly not any of the cis-gender lawmakers. It’s the teachers and students who are impacted by it.

Needless to say, Mayor Adams has a solid point… such a proposal would never fly in the state of New York. There are countless teacher’s unions and pro-Gay activism groups that would have swiftly put a stop to it before it even reached the floor.

And although Hizzoner didn’t spend any taxpayer money to put up these signs, he certainly has spent a lot of his time and attention directing his focus towards Florida’s hateful agenda by furthering this contest of wits with DeSantis.

Meanwhile, Adams has himself been under scrutiny from the LGBTQ+ community over decisions to appoint three people to office who have previously expressed homophobic remarks.

One activist went so far as to tell ABC News that he was “very disappointed and outraged” by the Mayor’s appointments, but ultimately decided it was best to move onward, finding there was a lot more they could do by working together.

Suozzi considering joining Adams at City Hall

Northeast Queens might be looking for a new congressman.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams revealed this weekend that he has asked Congressman Tom Suozzi to join his administration at deputy mayor.
Suozzi, who before being elected to the House of Representatives served as Nassau County executive and mayor of Glen Cove, campaigned hard for Adams before the Democratic Primary in June.
Suozzi says he will give the offer serious thought over the Thanksgiving holiday.
It would be a raise for Suozzi, at the very least. According to the Post, as a congressman he makes $174,000 a year. Dean Fuleihan, the current first deputy mayor, makes nearly $300,000. You’re probably thinking the same thing we are…Dean who?!
It’s not the only post that Suozzi is eyeing. He also said that he would decide by the end of the month if he plans to run in the Democratic Primary for governor next year. He would join a crowded race of bold-faced names, including current Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Oh yeah, and maybe Mayor Bill de Blasio, who formed an exploratory committee to determine whether he would have a viable shot at competing.
If Suozzi decides to accept Adam’s position, it would likely help Hochul’s chance at earning the governorship from the voters as opposed to being gifted it by Andrew Cuomo’s ego and busy hands. Hochul and Suozzi would likely be competing for the same suburban voters.
In a recent Zoom call with reporters, Suozzi said he would run a moderate campaign, and distance himself from some of the rhetoric coming out of the far left.
Suozzi recently took a stand against the more progressive factions of the party when he endorsed the write-in campaign of Byron Brown for mayor of Buffalo after he lost in the Democratic Primary to Democratic Socialist India Walton.
Many progressives were upset that Brown was even continuing to campaign.
It looks like Monday is shaping up to be a big day of decisions for Suozzi.

Good luck Eric!

Dear Editor,
Congratulations to mayor-elect Eric Adams. We all need to offer our support for the incoming mayor, even if we did not vote for him.
Adams will have a lot on his plate. He has many issues to address, like crime and guns on the street, affordable housing, homelessness, mental health issues, rising food costs, vaccine mandates, and much more.
Adams is a blue-collar worker who fully understands the problems of the poor and the issues facing the common men and women of this great city. As a retired captain of the NYPD, I think he will support our Finest.
I hope he succeeds for the good of us all.
Sincerely,
Frederick R. Bedell, Jr.
Bellerose

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing