‘No class’ budget cuts

By Michèle De Meglio

Politicians, principals and parents are joining forces in hope of rolling back controversial budget cuts to public schools. “These cuts are reversible,” City Councilmember Bill de Blasio said at a town hall at Borough Hall. “There’s debate going on among legal experts on what action can be taken.” At the forum, parents, teachers and principals vented about the cuts – $180 million this year and $324 million next year – saying they’ll jeopardize the quality of education provided to students. Professional development, as well as after-school and tutoring programs have been limited or eliminated because of the budget cuts, de Blasio said. “This is completely unacceptable,” asserted Jaime Estades, director of advocacy for the Alliance for Quality Education, an organization lobbying for additional funding for city schools. To roll back the cuts, educators, parents, students, and Community Education Council members should write letters to their local elected officials, as well as the mayor, governor and city Department of Education, de Blasio said. If city and state politicians feel the heat from their constituents, they could pressure the mayor to alter his budget for the next fiscal year, which includes plans to slash $324 million, de Blasio said. “We’ve seen them turn tail before,” de Blasio said. Rather than take money away from schools, parents suggested that the DOE target the bureaucracy and slash funding from the department’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan. They said the DOE should also cut back on consultants and standardized testing firms. “We think what needs to happen is a closer look at what goes on at Tweed – the expenditures,” said Martha Foote of Time Out From Testing, a statewide coalition advocating for a break from high stakes exams. “They use these pricy consultants all the time.” “A lot of these consultants come from other countries,” said Joey Davis, an English and journalism teacher at Brooklyn Alternative Learning Center in Park Slope. “I really never understood what someone from a school in rural England could tell me about a school in East New York.” “Instead of taking cuts off our kids’ backs, we need to go back to DOE headquarters,” Foote said. “That’s where the cuts need to go.” During the last two fiscal years, the DOE says it cut $230 million from the bureaucracy and sent the money to schools. “I will continue to look at cuts in the bureaucracy,” schools Chancellor Joel Klein said. Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the cuts are necessary because of poor economic projections. “Nobody likes budget cuts,” Klein said. “It’s not something that people look forward to. They do cause disruption. We have worked with principals to make sure that there aren’t disruptions.” “The fewer dollars that are taken from the school, the better,” he continued. Although Bloomberg says the cuts are minimal and won’t greatly affect schools, Brooklynites disagree. Eva Lewandowski, co-president of the Parent-Teacher Association for P.S. 154 in Windsor Terrace, said the school lost $41,000 this year and expects to lose $100,000 next year. As a result, the school may cut back on teachers and have to increase class size, she said. That could also be the case at P.S. 321 in Park Slope. “The children it will impact the most are the struggling children,” ex-plained Principal Elizabeth Phillips. Bernard Schwartz, a resource teacher at James Madison High School in Midwood, said after-school and tutoring programs were abandoned because of the cuts. “We were punched right in the stomach,” he said. Geof Sorkin, a dean and United Federation of Teachers chapter leader at I.S. 259 in Dyker Heights, said the school lost more than $100,000 in funding for music, art and athletics programs. “What happened to children first? Sounds like a sham to me,” he asserted.

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