By Alex Christodoulides
The city Education Department saw its budget trimmed by 1.7 percent in February and is facing further cuts, which Schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended last week before the City Council Education Committee.Klein said the DOE was actively lobbying Albany to keep as much of the funding as possible, but the city budget is not as robust as anticipated, and education was included in the mayor's directive to cut spending by 5 percent for fiscal year 2009.”I understand that cuts are not easy, especially when they come in the middle of the year,” Klein told the committee. “We have worked – and are continuing to work – closely with our school principals to help them absorb this reduction and I am very proud of our principals for showing real leadership in this difficult time.”Klein added that the DOE has not determined how it will implement the necessary reductions, but “everything is on the table” as long as there are teachers in classrooms, contractual obligations met, students fed and transported, paychecks and bills paid and textbooks available.State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), the ranking minority member on the state Higher Education Commission who also sits on the Council's Education Committee, called the proposed cut “very significant” and “short-sighted.””I certainly hope it's rescinded. I've met with people at a number of schools, and it's going to have a debilitating effect,” she said of the proposed cuts.Some immigrant parents fear their children will bear the greatest burden of the cuts because the schools with the highest proportion of English-language learners had already seen cuts of anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000, the New York Immigration Coalition said.”Even though English language learner students were supposed to receive more targeted funding, the fact is there are fewer bilingual education teachers this school year than last,” said Wayne Ho, executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children & Families. “No new bilingual or dual language programs are being created in the 52 new small schools slated to open next year.”Local and state politicians have pledged to fight the cuts, arguing that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer last year promised to increase education spending. Bloomberg promised to increase the education budget by $2.2 billion, but last month's cuts amount to about $180 million, and next year's to about $324 million.”I'm always concerned about across-the-board cuts,” Stavisky said. “As far as the city goes, there needs to be a sense of responsibility to children's education. The sanitation pick-up can wait a day, but education is not something you can put off.”At the City Hall rally, City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) panned the budget cut.”No matter how tough the economy gets, the Bloomberg administration, state Legislature and governor's office must not turn back on the promises made to fund schools in Queens and the rest of New York City,” Gennaro said. “There is nothing more important for our children's future than the education we give them.”Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.