Chancellor Joel Klein spent the first part of his day today fielding a barrage of budget questions from City Council members.
In tones ranging from polite skepticism to outright accusation, member after member denounced proposed school budget cuts and Klein's appeal for state relief by redirecting legally mandated Campaign for Fiscal Equity funding. Council members variously characterized Klein's plan as a way to exploit middle-class parent concerns; pit high- and low-achieving (and low- and high-economic need) communities in opposition; shortchange English language learners; and start a covert DOE campaign to wrest economic concessions from the teachers union and other labor groups.
In the standing room-only Council Chambers, members struggled to understand Klein's New Budget Math -- $63 million held back by the city against prospective cuts; $99 million needed from the state; $400 million for "no cuts to schools," according to Klein; and the proposed $428 million city budget cut to education. Speaker Christine Quinn urged Klein and the council to "come up with the number" of dollars cut -- and find the money to "get that number down to zero."
Letitia James of Brooklyn and Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan decried Klein's proposed redistribution of Contract for Excellence funds as against the intent and the letter of the law. And Oliver Koppell of the Bronx said, "I can't believe, in a $10 billion budget" -- which Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson quickly corrected to $21 billion in a side comment -- "you can't find $63 million. I hate to say this, but I don't believe you. You're cutting [funds] to better schools to create an outcry. That's a bad strategy -- that tells parents, 'we can take it all away.'"
Hearings continue with public comment this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. and resume tomorrow at 1 p.m. with a Keep the Promises Coalition press conference at City Hall.
Report by Helen Zelon