City's school budget cuts move forward while state's are on ice

A court order and support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver aren’t enough to stop the city from slashing its schools budget this year.

City officials said today that they were fiscally obligated to move forward in making a midyear budget adjustment to account for an expected $250 million deficit during the final months of the school year, even though a judge has for now barred the state from taking back the funds.

The move has the attorney who convinced the judge to halt the state budget cuts planning to sue the city, too.

The budget shortfall became likely last month, when the city and the United Federation of Teachers failed to reach agreement on teacher evaluations. By missing a Jan. 17 deadline that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had enshrined in law to force school districts to negotiate new teacher evaluation deals with their local unions, New York City lost out on $250 million in state aid, which amounts to roughly a 4 percent increase over what the city received last year.

In response, department officials have begun making cuts so that it can plan for a balanced budget later this year. They have  put a freeze on hiring school staff and made cuts to department’s central offices. Soon, they’ll be making school-level cuts that affect field trips, after-school offerings, and enrichment programs, officials said today.

But increasingly, it looks like those cuts might not actually be necessary. Last week, a judge ruled that the state could not withhold any state aid until a lawsuit against the state aid loss brought by attorney Michael Rebell is decided. And earlier this week, Silver signaled that restoring state aid for the city would be a priority for him as he enters budget negotiations with Cuomo and the State Senate.

Today, a spokeswoman for the city said that it would move forward assuming that it still does not have the $250 million in state aid.

“We hope the legislature protects our children from the UFT’s obstinance, but unless that happens, we can’t spend money we do not have,” said Lauren Passalacqua, the spokeswoman.

Rebell said he was surprised and frustrated to hear that city officials did not also follow the injunction order placed on the state, even though the injunction does not technically apply to them.

“I was expecting, and I think the court was expecting, if we were able to get an injunction, that there’s no reason to make the cuts,” Rebell said.

Rebell said he planned to add the Department of Education, Mayor Bloomberg, and the city to the list of defendants in his court case.

“It’s arbitrary and unreasonable,” Rebell said. “To subtract more money and to deny them more services is making the denial of a sound basic education more acute.”