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Queens Chronicle

Bloomberg’s school budget makes big cuts to teachers, programs, supplies

Teachers, after-school programs, even pencils eyed in spending cuts

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:27 am, Thu Feb 14, 2013.

Mayor Bloomberg’s final budget proposal may leave city students scrounging for pencils and paper.

Blaming in part the loss of $250 million in state aid, the mayor proposed a 4.3 percent decrease in school funding in his Fiscal Year 2014 budget and warned as many as 1,800 teacher positions could be eliminated and 700,000 hours of after-school programs could be cut.

The reductions would also cause cuts in school supplies such as pencils, pens and textbooks.

In the budget proposal, the Mayor’s Office focused on the $250 million that the city lost in state aid after the Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers failed to reach an agreement on a teacher evaluations plan last month. The proposal also warns of further withheld aid if a deal isn’t struck soon.

“New York City will lose an additional $224 million without an agreement on teacher evaluations by Sept. 1, for a total loss of $724 million in FY 2013 and FY 2014 together,” Mark Page, director of the mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, said in the city’s 2013-2017 Financial Plan Summary, released on Jan. 29. “There is a further $1 billion of additional Education Aid from the state and the federal government which is at-risk without an agreement on teacher evaluations.”

To compensate specifically for the loss in state aid tied to the evaluations deal failure, the city will have to cut 700 teacher positions through attrition, reduce substitute per diems and school aides’ schedules by 30 minutes; as well as cut some art and music programs, counseling services, extracurricular student activities, and field trips, Bloomberg’s office said.

Further, the DOE will restrict hiring and eliminate vacancies for positions for administration, professional development, human resources, budget, and help desk and reduce nonpersonnel costs by 90 percent. The department will also have to reduce Youth Development, Professional Development and information technology contracts for conflict resolution and bullying, after-school programming, professional development and delayed IT maintenance and repair.

Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens’ representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, called on the mayor to find savings elsewhere.

“I want the best possible learning environment for our children, so I’m calling on Mayor Bloomberg to at least maintain current funding for next year,” he said. “Further cuts to school budgets will only hurt our school communities and have an adverse effect on learning.”

Fedkowskyj was especially concerned about the loss of teachers at a time when more students are entering the school system.

“Eliminating teacher positions, even through attrition,when student enrollments continue to grow is an awful decision,” he said. “We must demand that our students and teachers come first.”

Because of how funding is dispersed, the cuts would hit schools that are high performing, while low-performing and Title-I schools — those located in poorer neighborhoods — would be less affected because they qualify for extra funds. That is bad news for schools in the borough.

“Queens has a number of high-performing, non-Title-I schools, which means they will be hardest hit by the mayor’s proposed budget cuts,” Fedkowskyj said.

Though the $250 million lost after the failure of the evaluations deal negotiations is gone, the city can still receive up to $200 million in grant money from the state if the UFT and city come to an agreement on teacher evaluations by Feb. 18.

But Bloomberg harshly criticized the teachers union for the failed negotiations, even going so far as to bluntly say the lost aid wasn’t worth agreeing to what the unions want.

“We’d be better off finding a way without the money from the state and not compromising on an evaluation system that was a fraud,” he said last week.

Among the sticking points for the mayor is a proposed two-year sunset for the evaluation plans. Sunset provisions were agreed to in every other school district in the state that came up with a plan by the deadline, but Bloomberg asserts a two-year sunset would make it impossible to get rid of problem teachers. He has called the other districts’ plans “shams.”

Fedkowskyj backed up the UFT’s claim that it was Bloomberg who walked away from a deal that was agreed to by the unions and DOE officials.

“Blaming everyone else for budget cuts is unacceptable,” he said. “A deal was presented and the mayor turned it down, now our school communities shouldn’thave suffer on account of his decision.”

The city’s new fiscal year begins on July 1 and a budget needs to be agreed upon by the end of June.

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