NYC to appeal state court order vacating school budgets

A state Supreme Court judge ruled Friday to vacate New York City’s education budget — prompting officials to appeal the extraordinary decision that sends its $37.6-billion allocation back to the drawing board.

The ruling by Judge Lyle Frank reverts funding to last year’s levels, until the City Council can negotiate and revote on the education budget.

“Students, teachers, and parents need finalized budgets to ensure they are on track for a smooth opening next month,” said a spokesperson for City Hall.

“We are disappointed in the judge’s ruling, and will be taking immediate steps to appeal,” she said.

Mayor Eric Adams and his administration have argued that the reductions made in the new budget were necessary as student enrollment plunges and federal COVID aid dries up in a couple of years.

The decision does not, and cannot, “opine as to what level of funds” should be reflected in the DOE budget, according to court documents.

Mayor Eric Adams demanded large school budget cuts in response to lower enrollment in city schools.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock

The legal battle itself — sought by a group of parents and teachers who filed suit to remedy hundreds of millions in budget slashes — hinges on a state law that outlines the education budget process.

The law requires that a city education panel greenlight the DOE budget, before it can move onto the City Council for a citywide vote. The judge ruled that the city bypassed that requirement when Schools Chancellor David Banks issued an emergency declaration, which he said was not “a valid exercise of the Chancellor’s powers,” legal filings show.

Following the court order, some council members signaled the do-over could lead to changes to the education budget.

City lawyers accused Schools Chancellor David Banks of rushing through the school budget approval process.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers accused Schools Chancellor David Banks of rushing through the school budget approval process.
Andrew Schwartz/SIPA/Shutterstock

“This decision is a major opportunity to right the wrongs in the FY23 budget that are already impacting New York City’s schools and families,” said the New York City Progressive Caucus leadership in a statement, who called to “swiftly restore funding for our schools. “

Council Members Shekar Krishnan and Gale Brewer, representing parts of Queens and Manhattan, also said on Thursday they “fully support a re-vote” on the DOE budget to restore principals’ allocations.

The lawmakers accused the DOE of depriving them of “critical information” revealed during public comment at the education panel’s vote. More than 70 families, teachers and advocates stayed up past 11 pm to voice their budget concerns at that meeting.

The cuts are a small share of the DOE’s overall budget, but a large chunk of principals’ individual allocations. City Comptroller Brad Lander’s office found that the original reductions averaged $402,456 in cuts per individual school budget, or 8% of what principals get to spend on staff and programs. As a result, schools had to let go of hundreds of teachers still on the taxpayer’s dime, and cut arts and other programming.

“There is no doubt that this information — if provided accurately, with full transparency, and in compliance with the law — would have seriously impacted the course of budget negotiations,” Krishnan and Brewer wrote.

The court order on Friday indicated that it should not interfere with Mayor Adams’ dyslexia program, introduced this spring, which was called for by the plaintiff’s attorneys, according to Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group involved in the case.

Students celebrating the last day of school at MS #51 in Park Slope.
New York City public schools now enroll fewer than 1 million students.
Gregory P. Mango

Haimson blasted the city for appealing Judge’s Lyle Frank’s decision with the start of school about a month away.

“The Mayor is continuing the uncertainty and further delaying the ability of principals to finalize their budgets and plans for next year by appealing the case,” she said.

But city officials continued to disagree with the lower court’s order.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s ruling and disagree with its analysis,” said a spokesperson for the city Law Department. “We are taking immediate steps to appeal.”

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