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As major budget cuts loom, we track where the money goes

New York City is facing major cuts to its public schools, but there’s debate about exactly where in the Department of Education’s budget they should fall.

According to Chancellor Joel Klein, the only way to make a dent in the DOE’s budget is to lay off teachers. Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew has repeatedly rejected this idea and suggested that fewer no-bid contracts, payments to consultants, and a new retirement incentive, are the way to go.

Part of the challenge in figuring out where to make cuts is the haze surrounding where money is spent in the first place.

A breakdown of the department’s budget (below) for the current school year offers a broad outline of the DOE’s major spending areas, showing that pension costs, student transportation, and school facilities are budget heavyweights. But how the largest pot of money, the some $11.9 billion that goes to district principals, gets spent is largely unknown. Principals are required to report how they intend to spend the money, but the department doesn’t disclose where it ends up.

It’s unclear how much the department will have to cut out of next year’s budget. Governor Paterson’s proposed budget puts the figure at $418 million, but it’s probably closer to $600 million.

That’s because Paterson’s budget counts capital funding as operational aide, even though money for capital improvements can’t be used for operational costs. His budget also creates new costs for the city without counting them as reductions in state aid. For example, the state currently pays for special education summer school, but it could push that $80 million bill over to the city’s budget, a new cost that’s not counted as a loss in aid in the governor’s budget.

Last year, Albany gave the city about $9 billion (including Contracts for Excellence money), and in the worst case scenario, the city could get about $8.4 billion next year.

One way or another the cuts will have to be made. Help us lay out the facts by emailing tips@gothamschools.org.