New York City’s Education Department is pledging not to move forward with tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts to District 75 programs for students with significant disabilities – but school staffers say they’re still getting mixed messages about the cuts.
Staffers at multiple District 75 schools said last month that their principals were instructed to cut $1 million or more from their budgets as part of citywide budget cuts ordered by Mayor Eric Adams. The planned cuts totaled roughly $97 million across the district and would have forced schools to slash spending on extracurriculars, supplies, and paraprofessionals, people familiar with the discussions said.
Following an outcry from school staffers, parents, and advocates over the planned cuts, Education Department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer said earlier this week “we can confirm that there are no school-based cuts happening to D75.”
Another Education Department spokesperson denied that there was a “change in course” and insisted that District 75 schools were simply asked to review their budgets to ensure they aligned with enrollment, a “recurring practice for all schools.”
“We are working with district leadership to ensure this understanding is clear for all principals,” the spokesperson added.
But school staffers said they are still getting conflicting messages, and news of the reversal hasn’t yet trickled down to some schools.
Jo Macellaro, a teacher and union chapter leader at P.S. 186X in the Bronx, the city’s largest District 75 program, said the school’s principal is “under the impression that they are still happening.” The principal didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another District 75 administrator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the reversal of the cuts has not been communicated to their school either.
Tameka Solomon, the chapter leader at P.S. 352X, another Bronx District 75 program, meanwhile, heard from her principal that the cuts are “on hold.”
The vague communication and confusion surrounding the cuts has left some worried that District 75 school budgets could still be vulnerable.
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“In this top-down approach to school governance, there is very little that trickles down to actual schools,” said Paullette Healy, a parent of a District 75 student and long-time advocate. “Until I see it in writing, I still believe our students with disabilities are in jeopardy of losing their services because of these cuts.”
From the start, the specifics of the cuts have been mired in confusion.
In budget documents released in November, only $3 million a year in cuts was listed for District 75.
But staffers at four schools subsequently told Chalkbeat that their administrators were instructed by the district leaders to make far steeper cuts, effective immediately. The staffers added that their schools are not normally subject to big mid-year cuts, and pointed out that enrollment is up across the district.
The $97 million figure was communicated by District 75 Superintendent Ketler Louissaint in a meeting with principals, according to people familiar with the discussions.
News of the cuts drew outrage from staffers, parents and advocates.
One administrator warned that cuts to the school’s paraprofessional budget could pose safety risks for students with autism who are prone to run out of classrooms and buildings with no notice and need full-time monitoring by dedicated aides. That risk was underscored last week when an 11-year-old boy with autism ran out of his District 75 school in downtown Brooklyn and managed to board a train to Long Island. He was found four hours later unharmed.
Some advocates said the Education Department’s commitment not to enact District 75 school cuts was a positive step.
“We are relieved that what was rumored around cuts to the district serving those students isn’t currently in the cards and that, for now, the expertise the district offers should remain intact,” said Maggie Moroff, the senior special education policy coordinator for Advocates for Children. “Hard times can’t be an excuse for cutting services to those students who need support the most.”
Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.