The city budget for the next school year could have ended up invalidated as illegal, were it not for a few pointed questions from a Manhattan father.
Patrick Sullivan, who in addition to being a dad is the only member of the citywide school board who regularly votes against the Bloomberg administration’s proposals, approached a City Council member this Monday after reading newspaper accounts that the mayor and the council had reached a budget deal. Stories said a vote was planned for this week (in fact, it’s happening today).
“I was kind of surprised, because we hadn’t approved the budget yet,” Sullivan told me today.
Indeed, the 2002 state education law that is under the microscope in Albany right now requires that school board members approve the city schools budget before the City Council can vote on it. But as the Council readied to vote in a budget this week, the Panel for Educational Policy had not yet voted its own approval — and wasn’t scheduled to do so until next week. (The panel members had been offered three briefings on the budget by school officials.)
Sullivan said that the lawmaker he spoke to did not realize the PEP had to approve a budget before a Council vote. “But I don’t really think it’s the council’s business,” Sullivan said. “It’s the education department’s business.”
He added of the Department of Education, “I’m particularly astonished that they would do this right now, when Albany is being asked to consider measures to increase the autonomy of the panel. It’s pretty remarkable, if you think about it.”
In a rush to make sure they were complying with the law, school officials called a hastily arranged PEP meeting for 10:30 this morning. Lynn Cole, who coordinates the school board, let members know about the meeting via an e-mail message sent out at 6:06 last night:
If you have questions this evening, please email me or call Photo (REDACTED). Please let me know your availability as soon as possible.
Javier Hernandez, who covered the meeting for the New York Times, reported that Chancellor Joel Klein said that he did not mean to go over the PEP’s head.
Mr. Klein said he never intended to hand over the budget without the panel’s signature. He had anticipated the Council would vote on it next week — after the panel had time to review it at its scheduled meeting on Tuesday, he said.
When the Council scheduled a vote this week, and legal questions about the panel’s role started to arise, the department decided to call the emergency meeting, Mr. Klein said.
“We wanted to make sure they had any action the panel would take,” Mr. Klein said.
Sullivan also made remarks at the meeting, before casting the sole ‘no’ vote to the budget, according to the Times:
“The folks and parents of Manhattan do not expect me to be a rubber stamp,” Mr. Sullivan, the lone dissenter, told the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who serves as the panel’s chairman. “The borough president didn’t send me here to be a potted plant.”