Fed up with the impending education budget cuts, two teachers and two parents jointly filed a lawsuit this week against New York City, the Department of Education (DOE), and Schools Chancellor David Banks. The group is demanding an injunction to halt the $215 million budget cuts to public schools planned for next year.

After Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council agreed to the adopted budget early, there was an immediate backlash over cuts to schools. The $215 million slash to schools budgets, out of the DOE’s total $37.6 billion budget, was based on the Fair Student Funding formula and projected decreases in school enrollments. City council convened a joint hearing on education and oversight, which devastated teachers’ unions and parents rallied outside of demanding that Adams ‘restore the cuts’ before June 30.

That didn’t happen, and now parents and teachers are attempting to take the reins with a temporary restraining order that prohibits cuts to the budget. The lawsuit also asks for the city council to re-vote in order to ensure the proper process is followed and that council members get to hear public testimony from parents and teachers who spoke out at the joint education hearing.

“What the chancellor did, as chancellors have done for the past 12 out of 13 years, is to issue an emergency declaration. Which is a power the chancellor has in the event of an emergency which would authorize the budget to go forward if they couldn’t call a meeting,” said Education Law Attorney for Advocates for Justice Laura D. Barbieri, 63. 

The lawsuit states under the law that a mandated process, called Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), was violated when Banks issued a vague “Emergency Declaration” on May 31 to adopt the budget without any board vote. The plaintiffs said that there was no real emergency though.

“We take pains to point out in our lawsuit that there is and was no emergency, that in fact they could have had a PEP prior to city council voting and they’re required by law,” said Barbieri.

She maintains that there was no mention of the ‘emergency’ being COVID-19 or pandemic related. Council members, who largely voted yes on the adopted budget except for a handful of members, are apparently regretful about their decisions and eager to walk it back should there be another vote, said Barbieri.

Plaintiffs Melanie Kottler, Sarah Brooks, Tamara Tucker, and Paul Trust banded together on the lawsuit.

Brooks is a special education/ICT teacher at PS 169 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. She said that the school would lose paraprofessionals, afterschool programming, school trips, and possibly their school counselor because of the cuts. 

“The budget cuts will cause all the students at PS 169 to suffer,” said Brooks in a statement. “They will lose out on specialized instruction, mental and academic support, and the vital opportunity to learn outside of the confines of their own neighborhoods. The Special Education program will be markedly and significantly impaired. Our students deserve more from their schools.”

Tucker is a parent of two children at PS 125 in Harlem, Manhattan. The school may be facing the loss of its arts programs and an increase in class sizes. 

“Everyone at PS 125 has already been stretched so thin, and this will only become worse in light of the budget cuts for this upcoming year. The students are going to be the ones who will bear the brunt of this poor decision,” said Tucker in a statement. “The formula that is used to calculate school budgets is fundamentally broken and does not account for the actual needs of schools. It is not fair and is not benefiting students in any way.”

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said that she was initially horrified by the cuts and has been sounding the alarm since February. “Particularly on its impact on class size. The state legislature passed a bill just last month requiring New York City to be reducing class size and instead this would cause class size to increase,” said Haimson.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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