Angry over dramatic funding cuts that would lead to axing some of its Advanced Placement courses and hurt the overall quality of the school, students at Benjamin Cardozo High School rallied Wednesday afternoon, calling on the city Department of Education to leave its funds intact.
The DOE said because enrollment at the Bayside school is below projections — by just 15 students according to the latest DOE estimates — the agency took back some of the funding the school received for this year.
Students were furious at the news that meant the principal, Gerald Martori, who is in charge of allocating funds, was forced to cut some classes and activities.
“With recent unjust budget cuts, our administration has been given no choice but to cut some of the crucial classes that make Cardozo what it is,” Student Organization president Tom Dinegar, 17, who organized the rally, said prior to Wednesday’s rally. “They were given no choice.”
Several Advanced Placement classes are among the victims of the budget cuts,
“Kids choose Cardozo over specialized schools all the time to take AP classes,” Dinegar said.
The students also lamented the loss of support staff, including college advisors and guidance counselors, who they said are desperately needed.
Chase Lin, 16, a junior, was among the students expected to speak at the rally. He planned to discuss how the budget cuts “impact our education and our way of furthering that. We want to show we have the power to choose our education. We have not done anything wrong.”
Brian Shea, a 24-year veteran English teacher who has taught at Cardozo for the last nine years, said, “This is a great school. Great kids. Outstanding children. These kids rise to the challenge. There’s only so much fat you can cut.”
Shea suggested that the city needs to hire individuals with experience as educators to make the system more effective. “Consult teachers who have been teaching for 25 years, not someone you bring in from California. They don’t know our school system.”
The school community argues the 15-student deficit is wrong and is the result of an error made by the DOE, a claim also backed by Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).
“DOE made an error, and now thousands of students are left in the lurch in the middle of the school year,” Weprin said. “By cutting funds to the school, DOE is unfairly punishing the students for its own mistakes.”
But the DOE said there was no error and what got axed due to budget cuts was up to the principal.
“There were no budget cuts to schools in Fiscal Year 2014,” the agency said in a statement. “School budgets fluctuate annually based on the number of registered students. There was also no error in enrollment. We are working closely with Principal Martori to make sure that the school’s programming is aligned with their budget and continues to focus on providing rigorous courses to prepare our students for college and careers. Cardozo will be able to maintain its Advanced Placement courses.”
The DOE has also been working with the school to get more students enrolled in order for Cardozo to reach projections and restore the funding by the time final enrollment numbers are assessed at the end of this month.
Wednesday’s rally took place outside the school. Students carrying signs blasting the proposed cuts picketed in the schoolyard before hitting the sidewalks and marching through the immediate neighborhood.
“You guys are everything that’s right about this education system,” Dinegar told the crowd, as chants of “We have a voice” permeated the neighborhood.
Dinegar said he’s optimistic things may change after November.
“We’re hoping with the upcoming elections we can change the New York City school system for the better,” he said. “Education needs to become a priority in the city.”