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School safety agents likely to stay immune to budget cuts

City school officials are scouring the budget for ways to close a budget gap that could be as large as $600 million. But one realm is likely to escape their scrutiny: the city’s force of more than 5,000 school safety agents.

That’s because it’s not clear who controls the $300 million school safety budget, which is set for a $5 million increase next year. The Department of Education says the police department does, but the NYPD claims it just manages the funds the education department sends them.

City Council financial analysts laid this conflict out in a report presented to the council at a DOE budget hearing late last month. According to the report (pdf):

The refusal of each agency involved in school safety to take accountability for the division’s budget does nothing to assure one that the school safety budget should be left untouched, while other key service areas should be cut.

Responsibility over budgeting is one of several murky details in the relationship between the DOE and the NYPD over the school safety force. The relationship is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding between the departments that critics charge lacks clear lines between principals’ and the agents’ power to discipline students.

School safety expenses are going up next year because raises mandated by the school safety agents’ contracts with the city, the Council report states. The DOE’s payments to the police department could increase further because of a lawsuit the agents’ union, Local Teamsters 237, filed last month for higher wages and back pay. The union contends there is a gender-based wage disparity between school safety agents, whose force is 70 percent female, and the predominantly-male special officers who do similar work in hospitals and city social services departments.

Funds for school safety agents are included in the DOE budget, but the department passes the money along to the police department’s School Safety Division. DOE officials said today that the police department oversees the school safety budget, including determining how many agents should be assigned to each school, because the agents are NYPD employees.

The police department did not respond to questions about how the budget is administered, but according to the City Council report, the NYPD “claims they operate the division within the bounds of the resources provided by the Department.”