Hundreds of New York City education department employees have signed an open letter calling on city officials to dramatically scale back funding for the NYPD and ramp up investment in education programming — an unusually public rebuke of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed budget.
“The priorities of our city and state in this budget are clear. Children last, NYPD first,” the letter states. “We demand that the governor, mayor, and city council pass a budget that puts children first during this crucial time. That means drastic increases to public school and social service budgets, and sharp cuts to the NYPD’s budget.”
The open letter is notable partly because education department employees are often reluctant to publicly criticize the mayor, who has control over the school system, and often fear retribution for speaking out publicly. So far, the letter has earned the signatures of over 110 school administrators, 400 teachers, and 50 central and borough support office staff.
Separately, a similar letter has been circulating among hundreds of central office staff and over 200 current and former de Blasio staffers have also called for reductions to the police department’s budget to finance social services.
The educators’ letter makes several policy demands, including anti-racist teacher training, recruiting a more diverse teaching force, moving control of school safety officers to the education department instead of the NYPD, and abolishing “culturally biased” teaching exams.
The push to reduce the police department’s scope comes in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death has prompted protests across the country and in New York, where police officers have responded with force, often using violence of their own to disperse demonstrators, many of whom have gathered peacefully.
The educators’ demands also come as students have been forced to participate in school remotely since March 23 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a situation that many worry will lead to learning loss for the most vulnerable students that may require significant investments to overcome when buildings reopen.
But the coronavirus has also blown a hole in the city and state budgets, which de Blasio has said is forcing significant cuts to city agencies, including a $827 million cut to the education department, representing about a 3% reduction next fiscal year. At the same time, spending on school police, who are supervised by the NYPD, is set to increase slightly next fiscal year (though the police department’s overall budget is set to be cut by less than 1%).
So far, the mayor has resisted calls to significantly reduce spending on the police. “I do not believe it is a good idea to reduce the budget of the agency that is here to keep us safe,” he said at a Friday press conference.
The letter, which has gained over 600 signatures as of Friday afternoon, was launched by Michael Perlberg, the principal of Brooklyn’s M.S. 839. He said he was motivated to organize other educators to speak out because “there’s this feeling that we’re playing the same story over and over again,” referring to police violence against people of color. “And we’re not making any real progress.”
During his first year in a leadership position at a different Brooklyn school, Perlberg recalled feeling torn about how to respond to a mass “die in” and walkout among students in the aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
“I had to tell teachers they weren’t allowed to participate. I had to tell students the repercussions of leaving their classrooms, even though in my gut I knew those were the wrong things to say,” Perlberg said. “We’ve watched our black and brown educators have to shoulder the burden of this work and it just felt like I had to not be quiet.”
You can read the full letter here: