How this Brooklyn school is coping with budget cuts

This story was originally published June 26 by THE CITY.

The last day of the school year Monday at Brooklyn’s MS 839 will see more than its usual share of farewells, as like many other schools in the city, those leaving will include teachers who have been ‘excessive’ – fired in due to city budget cuts.

Teachers at Kensington College describe it as a warm and cheerful community dedicated to empowering its students. But some of these teachers will leave.

One of the ‘excessive’ teachers said he felt like he was in a nightmare when he found out about the budget cuts in mid-June. The teacher considers himself lucky that the administration has been transparent, but describes the impact of the budget cuts as “demoralizing” for the community. (The teacher asked to remain anonymous while they wait for news from the DOE on their next placement.)

“Requiring a teacher to leave a school not only impacts the school they leave, but also that teacher’s growth and commitment to their career,” the teacher said.

This teacher and at least one other got a last-minute reprieve, learning just before the end of the school year that their jobs would ultimately be saved as some veteran teachers accepted positions at other schools.

Other redundant educators may have to resort to finding a new job within the Ministry of Education, if there are no vacancies in the school staff approaching next year.

Like all schools in the city, the community has spent the past year recovering from COVID closures and remote and hybrid learning, helping children bounce back academically and emotionally. Unlike many, enrollment remained fairly steady at 359 students — down slightly from 2020-21 — but at or above previous years’ levels.

Teachers, parents and students of MS 839 organized a rally earlier this month, after the city’s Department of Education first released slashed budgets for the next school year, where it called on the city council to postpone its scheduled budget vote that day , which included a $215 million funding cut for public schools.

The group held up signs while chanting “Stop the cuts” and “If you cut back, we will fight back”.

MS 839 is expected to see a 15% budget reduction from last year’s budget, which is approximately $825,000, according to financial documents.

The budget cuts were first proposed by Mayor Eric Adams in February, and the DOE claimed they were tied to declining enrollment as well as the phasing out of federal COVID relief funds.

Adams defended the shrinking public school budget, citing declining student enrollment as the reason for the “decline.”

“Some people who talk about it are dishonest. It’s not a cut,” Adams said on Good Day New York.

When the Council voted pass the fiscal year 2023 budget later on the night of the MS 839 protest, teachers at the school were immediately concerned about what these cuts would mean for their community.

Principal Michael Perlberg sent an email last Friday outlining the impact on the school: some teachers at the school would be fired – although they would continue to be paid by the Department of Education pending be redeployed to other positions.

Perlberg wrote in the email that less than 10% of the MS 839 budget reduction was enrollment-related, with the rest due to a loss of federal funding according to the DOE. The email describes the teachers as “incredibly talented and loving” and says their loss will be widely felt.

Remaining educators say bureaucratic maneuvering is causing unnecessary damage.

“We are not Lego pieces to be ripped from school to school,” said Frank Marino, an 8th grade teacher who will be returning next year. Marino is also a delegate of the United Federation of Teachers.

“It’s never easy”

Testifying at a Friday City Council hearing on the school cuts, Deputy Chancellor of Schools Daniel Weisberg said current DOE funding does not allow teachers to stay in their current school placements as the student population dwindles, so that these teachers are needed in schools elsewhere.

Weisberg also pointed to an impending loss of federal COVID student recovery funding.

“It’s never easy to deal with school funding cuts,” Weisberg said.

As the city will increase its funding to public schools by $700 million in the recently passed tax budget, council members pushed to understand the $215 million decrease in school funding outlined in the Department of Education’s budget. Education.

At the hearing hosted by Education Committee Chair Rita Joseph (D-Brooklyn), a former DOE elementary teacher, council members demanded to know why schools in their districts were being targeted for the cuts , challenged DOE projections for student enrollment and pushed to understand the reasoning for budget allocations.

“Why is the DOE’s central budget growing when schools will lose money? Why is the DOE unable to ensure teachers who are at risk of being overwhelmed stay in their current schools?” , asked Shahana Hanif, a council member, whose district includes MS 839.

In an interview with THE CITY, Hanif highlighted his concerns about public school funding cuts and expressed his frustration with the mayor and the DOE. Hanif accused Weisberg of “evading questions,” with “major discrepancies in his answers” during Friday’s hearing.

“I am truly disappointed and embarrassed that we are here in the age of COVID and have to pressure our mayor to support young people and our schools,” the council member said.

Marino says schools were “lifeboats” for children at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and teachers are not getting the “thanks” they deserve with these budget cuts.

JD Davids is co-chair of the MS 839 Parent-Teacher Association and a parent of a rising 8th grader at school. Davids says he is devastated on behalf of teachers who have gone through a period of immense trauma and loss and are now being “thrown away”.

“I know how much work everyone has done to be there for the school community and then get penalized instead of the DOE saying the resources are ineligible,” Davids said.

More cuts needed

Perlberg’s email also said the school still needed to find $200,000 in savings. The school eliminated all leadership positions for teacher professional development, plans to increase class sizes from 25 to 33, plans to cut arts enrichment programs, and plans to eliminate other school offerings.

The decrease in the budget will mainly concern the Fair Student Funding for New York City Public Schools. This weighted formula was created in 2007 to determine funding based on the number of students enrolled and their needs. Critics argue that the model is outdated and therefore not a good indication of the funds needed in schools.

“The resources children need in 2022, and I know they are substantial, are different in many ways from what they needed in 2006,” said Michael A. Rebell, professor and executive director of the Center for Educational Equity of Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Earlier this year, members of the Panel for Educational Policy first voted versus using the formula, with some members citing equity concerns, before approving it at a later meeting.

MS 839 teachers argue that even the money allocated to their school over the years has not been enough and that these cuts will significantly set back their planning for next year.

“Again, teachers and staff are put in a position to defend the bare minimum. We should demand more,” Marino said. “Our children deserve better”

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