Mayor Bloomberg claims that any organization can cut 1.7% from its budget with “no impact whatsoever,” and it’s certainly been a long time since the mayor lived hand to mouth. But yes, it does seem that the Department of Education could do that.
The DOE budget has increased by $4.5 billion since the mayor took over. It has been showered with Caroline Kennedy money, Gates money, Broad money and other people’s money. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit netted the city another $3.2 billion over five years. And there is all the spending: 250 new schools, $80 million on ARIS, 10 new tests a year, the consultants (remember Alvarez and Marsal‘s clever bus rerouting in the dead of winter last year?), a bunch of lawyers, cash rewards for test scores, and a central office that has swelled by almost 200 in five months (and whose doings are too-often shrouded in mystery).
But it was not in the central office that the midyear cuts landed. The administration claimed it had trimmed some, but the real impact, $100 million, landed squarely on the schools, amounting to more than $400,000 in some and sparing none. Plus, it came down in an exceptionally nasty way. The DOE unceremoniously broke into every “empowered” school’s piggy bank overnight and and took out 1.75 percent of its current operating budget. Meanwhile, the state and city together have planned another $700 million in cuts next year. Neither the principals union nor the UFT were amused.
Now, why can’t we all be team players? The economy is pretty clearly tumbling into recession, with historically high energy prices, an historically weak dollar and a historically incompetent president. Surely we must all face the same economic reality.
Well, not really. Not really, Mr. Mayor. While the stock market rose into the stratosphere, the schools remained severely underfunded. Finally, with the CFE settlement, we saw a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. Starting less than a year ago, New York City schools were promised a better future, and were just starting to put in place the spending plans that could address their students’ needs when these cuts landed. Achievement is still stagnant, the high schools are badly overcrowded, the 4-year graduation rate is still only about 50% and we need $13 billion in new facilities.
Compare that with the “other half” of the city, which has been living so ridiculously high off the hog for the last couple of decades that many of them forgot what a real budget was. Hardship for some is hunger, for others it’s selling the ski house.
Students and city workers didn’t make this recession. They may have seen the value of their homes or their retirement savings go down on paper, and if they are in a lot of debt they are surely worried. But it is creditors, not debtors, who make recessions. It’s the banks, the corporate finance departments, the big investors, the hedge funds, the deal makers, the consultants, the lawyers and their many service provider hangers-on who are suddenly out of dough.
So what, you could say. Tax revenues from them keep the city coffers stoked, and if they’re broke we soon will be. Well, true. But that’s because they will pass on the pain, not because we will incur it. They won’t make loans; they’ll call in the debts; they’ll insist on cuts in services (though not theirs). Only they don’t say they are passing it on. They say that we all have to “share the pain.” It’s only right.
Bull—-. The distribution of wealth in this city is so unbalanced that calling for civic workers, the poor, and especially their children to “share the pain” with investment bankers is just contemptible.
Here we are sharing their pain when we don’t even know what’s going down. The city had four billion extra dollars a year ago, now it’s short four billion for fiscal 2010? Quite a turnaround. The DOE upped spending by $4.5 billion and schools have to halt their afterschool programs right now?
We are not sharing the pain, we are bearing the pain, those who can least afford to. Notice DOE didn’t cut its overpaid consultants, and its data gathering and monitoring are proceeding unscathed. It is this that has enraged educators and could lead to a real break in city unions’ historical willingness to help out in recessionary times. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.
Let’s restore the schools budgets, hold them harmless for once, and keep the promises we made to the city’s kids. That, rather than a management exercise in “trimming” 1.7%, seems like a goal worth achieving.