The New York City Department of Education has stopped public school principals from accessing their budgets for the coming school year in response to a temporary restraining order issued by a New York Supreme Court judge last week.
The order is preventing the education department from implementing cuts to school budgets based on declining enrollment. The judge’s order was made in response to a lawsuit against the cuts – estimated by the city comptroller to be over $370 million – that was filed by a group of parents and teachers.
The move is likely to create difficulties for principals as they plan for the start of the coming school year, which begins on September 8th, as they can no longer access the education department’s online platform known as Galaxy, a tool principals use to view their budgets and pay for staffing and supplies.
In a note sent to principals and school superintendents today, Emma Vadehra, chief operating officer at the education department, said the decision was made at the direction of the city’s legal counsel.
“We know that this is extremely inconvenient,” Vadehra wrote. “Please stand by for further communication.”
Nathaniel Styer, an education department spokesperson, told Gothamist that the city’s legal counsel “advised that this is what the [temporary restraining order] requires.”
In their suit, plaintiffs argued that the city violated state law when the mayor and city council passed the budget in June without a department oversight body approving the agency’s spending plan. They also argued in the suit that members of the Council were led to think that vacant staff positions would be removed as a result of the budget cuts. According to the suit, parents and teachers want the city budget to be sent back to the Council for a revote.
The Adams administration has argued in court that the temporary restraining order is disruptive to school administrators who are currently making hiring and programming decisions.
“Each passing day under the sweeping and ambiguous strictures of the [temporary restraining order] paralyzes DOE in preparing for the fast-approaching school year,” wrote Tahirih M. Sadrieh from the city’s law department in an application to vacate the order filed with the state Supreme Court’s appellate division on Thursday.
But the attorney representing the plaintiffs, Laura Barbieri, said the administration was creating the disruption by cutting principals off their budgets.
“The city’s lawyers have instigated this,” she told Gothamist. “It’s entirely manufactured by the city.”
The two sides were back in court today after Judge Lyle Frank denied an earlier request from the Adams administration on Wednesday to lift the temporary restraining order. The city is pursuing additional appeals ahead of a hearing scheduled for August 4th.
City public schools have lost more than 85,000 students since the start of the pandemic. School budgets are typically adjusted based on enrollment each year, but the administration under former Mayor Bill de Blasio used federal stimulus dollars to keep school funding stable during the COVID-19 crisis.
Now, Mayor Eric Adams has acknowledged that emergency federal funding will expire. He and Schools Chancellor David Banks have argued that school budgets need to be adjusted to reflect declining enrollment.
The administration has also argued in court filings that the order prevents it from allocating additional funding to the small percentage of schools in the city that have seen increased student numbers.
In an interview with Gothamist, Barbieri said she would be willing to negotiate with the city’s attorneys to modify the temporary restraining order, and request the judge’s approval to allow additional funds to be delivered to those schools.
Neither the mayor’s office nor the city’s law department returned requests for comment on Barbieri’s offer.