DOE slammed for taking back school savings

Council members Elizabeth Crowley (r.) and Daniel Dromm speak out with parents outside of PS 128 to protest the city's plan to take part of the school's savings. Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

Parents and city officials blasted the city Department of Education last Thursday over a policy they said punishes penny-wise public schools in Maspeth.

City Council members Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) joined parents outside PS 128, at 63-25 69th St., to rally against the DOE’s intention to take half of the savings from city schools unless they plan to spend the money by March 18.

“We’re outraged that the DOE wants to take money from these schools,” Crowley said. “We’re here today to tell the mayor this is bad policy.”

But four days after the rally, the DOE revised the plan and said it only planned to take 30 percent of the funds instead of 50 percent.

The reduction was not enough for Crowley.

“The Bloomberg administration has repeated time and again that we need to be fiscally conservative by doing more with less — now the DOE is trying to penalize our most responsible principals for doing just that,” she said in a statement. “This is not a compromise — this is about doing what is right for our schools and what is right for our students. To take back funding that is already given is nothing more than robbery.”

The policy, announced Feb. 22, is called the “Deferred Program Planning Initiative.” In years past, it allowed schools to keep unspent money from the year’s budget to roll over or save for unforseen future expenditures. But the new mandate means schools could only save 70 percent of the extra money and would have to give the 30 percent back to the DOE.

The policy would affect every school in the city, but according to parents is especially harmful to PS 128, which does not receive Title I federal funding.

The school is also growing from K-5 to a K-8 school, according to state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), and the rainy day funds were designed to make the transition easier.

Addabbo sent a letter to city Schools Chancellor Cathleen Black urging her to reconsider the proposal.

“I understand that many 8th grade mandates are set to begin next year, such as Regent Math and Science courses as well as foreign language opportunities, and these PS/IS 128Q monies were part of the school’s three-year plan to address this,” the letter said.

Initially, the DOE had told principals to either put the money back into their budgets by March 7 or give the required percentage back to the department.

The deadline for the spending was originally March 4, but the ensuing uproar convinced the DOE to push the date back to March 18.

“Over the last few weeks, I heard thoughtful feedback from principals across the five boroughs about how we can help them continue making prudent, long-term budget decisions, and we’ve crafted a solution to let them do that,” city Schools Chancellor Cathleen Black said in a statement.

But Dromm said Black and Bloomberg are punishing schools that were fiscally responsible.

“They are pulling away money that was set aside in preparation of the budget crisis we all knew was coming,” he said.

The department hopes to save about $80 million, according to Crowley, a number she said is a drop in the bucket of the DOE’s budget deficit. She suggested trimming waste from the education budget by investigating contracts the city has with private contractors.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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