‘It’s going to be bad,’ CEC president laments

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Just three months ago, public schools narrowly avoided a $99 million budget cut. Now they could lose $185 million – and Brooklyn parents are fuming.

“It’s going to be bad. Any time a school loses money not because of poor performance or lack of students, it’s bad,” said District 21 Community Education Council (CEC) President Yoketing Eng, whose children attend P.S. 215 in Gravesend and I.S. 239 Mark Twain School in Coney Island.

The $185 million cut was proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg who believes all city agencies must slash their budgets so the city can survive the current economic crisis.

The cut for the city Department of Education (DOE) represents 2.5 percent of the agency’s budget for this year and five percent for next year.

The DOE would not say how it would slash funding.

When the City Council nixed the $99 million cut in June, the tradeoff was that the DOE had to decrease its administrative budget for its Manhattan headquarters at Tweed Courthouse by $200 million. Considering that, there are concerns that schools will be on the chopping block this time around, a possibility that Brooklyn parents aren’t willing to accept.

“Parents are going to be fearful as to what actually is going to be cut from their school and how that is going to impact their child,” said Laurie Windsor, president of District 20’s CEC, which represents schools in Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton and Borough Park. “Does that mean class size will increase because there will not be enough in the budget to pay those extra teachers?”

Windsor fears that principals will eliminate art and music programs because of a lack of funding.

“What is going to be the first to go is the extras like the art programs,” she said. However, “that makes the well-rounded child – not just reading and writing and math.”

Cutting additional money from public schools would be a “crying shame,” according to Michael Benjamin, first vice president of District 22’s CEC, which represents public schools in Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.

“The school children of New York City have been shortchanged for so long that it appears at times that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” said Benjamin, whose son attends I.S. 78 in Bergen Beach. “The resolution of the long fought Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit along with huge increases in educational aid from the state appeared to provide the hope to which New York City schoolchildren and their parents are entitled. Now, this latest financial crisis has caused the Department of Education to once again make cuts that are unconscionable and just not fair to our most vulnerable citizens.”

Instead of taking money out of the classroom, the DOE should slash additional funding from the bureaucracy, parents argue.

“I believe the cuts should be made from the quite fat DOE bureaucracy, from the no-bid contracts that are draining the system. To take even a dime out of classroom instruction is shameful and regrettable,” Benjamin said.

“They should cut all their consultants and listen to what the parents say,” said James Dandridge, president of District 18’s CEC, which advocates for schools in East Flatbush and Canarsie.

He questioned the need for consultants and asserted that members of CECs, Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) and School Leadership Teams (SLT) are ready and willing to offer advice on how to improve local schools.

“You have parents who sit on these councils who do the same jobs that these outside consultants get paid to do. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what our children need,” Dandridge said. “That’s a cost savings that could be enacted immediately.”

“What about these administrators and teachers who are not in the classroom and not in the school sitting on the sidelines? Why are you keeping them on the payroll? Fire them or place them somewhere,” Windsor asserted. “Do one thing. Don’t keep them in limbo. How much money are we wasting on that?”

Bloomberg’s budget cut proposal must be approved by the City Council. Parents are now encouraging their local Council members to reject the cuts to education.

“If there is money for us, they should fight it,” Eng said.

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