After a bruising battle last year over school budget cuts, Mayor Eric Adams reversed course Thursday on a plan to slash an additional $80 million next year from the coffers of schools that lost students during the pandemic.
In his preliminary budget, Adams announced plans to delay the previously scheduled cut, giving a temporary reprieve to schools who lost students during the pandemic and are still struggling with the effects of last year’s cuts. Some families, educators and advocates, however, argue that Adams should have gone even further by restoring the cuts he made last year.
“We heard from families [that] some schools need more time to adjust in order to avoid disruptions to students,” Adams said. “So despite the fiscal challenges we face, we have added an additional $80 million to that funding pool for next fiscal year.”
In addition to the delayed cut, Adams announced a $47.5 million investment to help secure school buildings by ensuring that all the doors lock, and front doors are equipped with cameras and buzzer systems, a major priority of schools Chancellor David Banks.
The proposed $80 million cut that Adams reversed on Thursday ties back to a heated debate over funding and school enrollment that came to a head last summer.
Schools generally lose money when they lose students, but former Mayor Bill de Blasio paused that rule during the pandemic, using hundreds of millions of dollars in federal relief money to plug the gaps.
Adams began scaling back that extra financial support when he took office, cutting the pot by more than half this year, and planning to chop it in half again next year, before zeroing out the aid in fiscal year 2025.
But on Thursday, even as he warned of strong fiscal headwinds and cut agency spending, Adams announced that he’s planning to suspend the planned $80 million cut to school budgets next year.
Still, Adams emphasized that he believes it’s important to return soon to “developing school budgets based on the number of students enrolled in the school and the needs of those students.” Budget officials noted that federal relief money will run out next year, meaning the city will face critical decisions about spending.
Some advocates expressed relief about the decision to hold school budgets level. Others blasted the mayor for making cuts elsewhere, including rolling back a planned expansion of preschool for 3-year-olds.
“Mayor Adams continues to propose austerity measures that harm children, families, schools and communities,” said Amshula Jayaram, campaign director of Alliance for Quality Education, an organization that advocates for more school funding. “At a time when our children need intense social, emotional and academic support, Mayor Adams continues to trim services for students.”
An Adams spokesperson didn’t immediately say whether the administration is still planning to entirely cut the pandemic relief for schools with enrollment drops in fiscal year 2025.
The mayor will release an updated version of his $102 billion proposal in April, known as the executive budget. The City Council must approve a final budget by July 1.
Education department still expected to cut costs
Despite the temporary reprieve on enrollment-based school cuts, the education department, like agencies across the city, is still expected to slash expenses in order to help the city balance its budget.
Adams cited a “perfect storm” of financial challenges brought on by a slowing economy and lower tax revenues, unexpected expenses related to the arrival of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers, and additional costs that come with renegotiating contracts with labor unions.
In Adams’s November financial plan, he proposed diverting $568 million in federal COVID relief money originally slated to expand the 3-K program to cover other education department costs.
Adams and education department officials have argued that they are right-sizing the program, and shifting seats in response to 19,000 empty seats. On Thursday, budget officials said the city would open more seats if they found a need after their review of the program.
But the cuts have drawn criticism from members of the City Council, who will work with Adams in the coming months to agree on a final budget.
“The budget vision put forward by the Administration to cut funding for CUNY, libraries, social services, early childhood education, and other essential services for New Yorkers is one this Council cannot support,” Council Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan and Speaker Adrienne Adams said in a statement Thursday morning criticizing the November financial plan.
Budget officials said the education department will be expected to eliminate 390 vacant positions, none of which include teachers or administrators.
Adams pledges $47.5 million to equip schools with locking front doors
The preliminary budget also includes a proposed $47.5 million to equip schools with locking doors and cameras that allow school safety agents to monitor who they’re letting in the front door.
Banks has raised the issue of locking front doors frequently in conversations about school safety and in the wake of last year’s elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas.
The number of guns confiscated from students at city schools jumped last year as teens expressed fears of dangerous commutes, though none of the guns were used in schools.
There have also been several reports of intruders getting inside city school buildings in recent months, putting families and educators on edge.
Adams said the new technology will “allow all the other school doors to be locked, but put a camera with a buzzer system on the front door that allows the [school safety agent] to sit there and see the person before they let them inside the school … we’re looking to put it in all our schools.”
An Adams spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a question about the timeline for rolling out the technology to all schools.
Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at email@example.com.
Reema Amin is a reporter covering New York City schools with a focus on state policy and English language learners. Contact Reema at firstname.lastname@example.org.