Big Cuts, Little Drama
May 24th, 2010
Despite the draconian budget cuts in play, today’s City Council session on the Department of Education budget featured few fireworks and little drama.
With the state unable to agree on a budget, the Bloomberg administration is anticipating a $500 million gap in state education aid. With enrollment rising and costs for pensions and special education, among other things, increasing, this translates into a $750 million gap, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Repeating the bad news in the mayor’s executive budget released earlier this month, Klein told the council members this would mean the loss of 6,400 department staff, mostly teachers.
How that translates in to individual schools remains unclear since the department has not yet sent principals their budgets. But in response to questions, he said class size — which many believe is too big to start with — could climb by two to five students per room, with the increase particularly severe in middle schools.
Council members clearly did not like the cuts — in his opening statement education committee chair Robert Jackson repeatedly called the situation horrid” — but they came forward with few alternatives and gave Klein a relatively easy time of if. They treaded lightly on the issue of contracts and asked few, if any, questions about whether the department’s press operation, security forces or assessment operations were bloated.
Maybe no one expects Albany will actually wield its ax. Or maybe they think Klein is doing the best possible under the circumstances.
The only clear rebuff of the chancellor came as he tried, as he has in the past, to use the school system’s budget woes to boost two of his favorite causes: raising the cap on the number of charter schools and ending the system where teacher layoff are done on the basis of seniority: the last in, first out system.
On charter schools — a repeated source of contention between Klein and the council, Klein has used the state’s quest for federal Race to the Top funds to argue for lifting the cap, something he’s always wanted to do anyway.
Councilmember Lewis Fidler charged even if New York gets Race to the Top money, the funds — $700 million for the entire state over three years — would do little to solve the budget crunch. Rather than a solution, he said, it is a bribe” designed “to get us on the road to privatize education.”
Klein prepared testimony included almost two pages on the need to change the system of layoffs. But Jackson cut Klein off before he got through most of it.
“The issue of seniority is not being debated here today,” Jackson said. “You know it has no impact right now. …. There are laws, there are contracts and the City of New York agreed” to the current system.By Gail Robinson on May 24, 2010, 6:52 pm
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