NY judge denies Adams administration’s request to implement school budget cuts as lawsuit plays out

NY judge denies Adams administration's request to implement school budget cuts as lawsuit plays out

A New York state Supreme Court Judge has denied the Adams administration’s effort to vacate a temporary restraining order issued last week that prevents the Department of Education from implementing cuts to school budgets for the coming school year.

Judge Lyle Frank issued the order Wednesday after the city filed a motion earlier in the week, arguing that delaying the cuts would be disruptive to school principals who are currently developing budget plans based on the reductions in funding. The decision is in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of parents and teachers who argue that the cuts will have a detrimental effect on students. The case will now move to a hearing scheduled for August 4th.

A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams, Amaris Cockfield, said the administration is disappointed in the court’s decision. It argues that delaying the cuts will be disruptive for school principals who are currently planning their budgets for the coming school year.

“We are exploring options to minimize the disruption to our schools and will continue the necessary work for New York City families,” Cockfield said

The budget cuts – initially set at $215 million in the city’s budget passed in June – are based on declining enrollment in the city’s public schools and are now expected to be much deeper as the education department projects even lower numbers of students.

City schools lost more than 85,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade during the pandemic and officials expect an additional decline of 30,000. City Comptroller Brad Lander has estimated that $370 million will be cut from school budgets, with an average of $400,000 per school, though not all schools are facing reductions in funding.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim the city violated procedural requirements in state law when it passed its budget in June. They argue the education department’s oversight body — which is made up of appointees by the mayor, borough presidents and parents — did not have a chance to vote on the agency’s spending plan until after the Council passed the budget, which they say is not in accordance with New York education law. The suit also claims city officials misled Council members by asserting that only vacant positions would be eliminated as a result of the budget cuts.

The parents and teachers involved in the suit have asked that the city budget as a whole be canceled and sent back to the City Council for a revote. Opponents of the cuts have called on the mayor to use remaining federal stimulus funds to fully fund schools at previous levels.

Adams has said the federal funds are limited and that the cuts to schools are necessary to reflect declining enrollment. In its response to the suit, the city argues that it’s “entirely speculative” to assume that the Council would have acted differently if the oversight body had voted first. It also claims the plaintiffs waited too long to file their case, and that the scope of the cuts have been “clearly known” since the mayor released his preliminary budget in February.

Principals have already begun to eliminate staff. Some have warned of larger class sizes due to the cuts and others have said that the city’s enrollment projections for their schools are too low, driving down their budgets lower than they should be.

Council members had been in negotiations with the Adams administration to restore $250 million in funding to schools. In exchange, the administration had asked city lawmakers to sign a joint statement acknowledging that future cuts to schools will be necessary if additional state or federal dollars are not made available, according to sources within the Council. Members of the Council refused and officials now say negotiations are on hold as a result of the lawsuit.

This story has been updated with additional comment.

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