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NYC principals ready for new year after summer budget ‘rollercoaster’


New York City principals were caught in the middle of this summer’s political fight over school budget cuts, trying to navigate a financial maze as they prepare to open classrooms next week in the nation’s largest district.

A lawsuit challenging those budget cuts continues to wind through the courts, leaving many principals uncertain whether they’ll get more money this school year. While they welcome the possible influx of cash, not knowing how much they could get or if restrictions will be tied to those dollars also complicated their ability to plan.

“It feels like a lot of things are up in the air,” said Valerie Leak, principal of 75 Morton, a middle school in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, whose school saw a 35% cut in funds, totaling nearly $2 million, for hiring and planning. “It’s been quite a rollercoaster.”

Despite protests from educators and advocates, elected officials in June approved cuts to school budgets based on declining enrollment projections. Roughly three-quarters of the city’s schools saw their budgets shrink from the previous year, according to Comptroller Brad Lander, who calculated $372 million in cuts across all schools.

Then in July, two parents and two teachers filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the approval process for the cuts. A Manhattan judge ruled in their favor, and ordered Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council to redo the education department budget. In the meantime, the judge called for the city to fund schools at last fiscal year’s levels — roughly $1 billion more than planned for this year.

In yet another twist, an appeals court judge put that on hold until the court reviews the case on Sept. 29, which is three weeks after school starts.

Still, while the budget cuts have been tough on school communities, an “overwhelming majority” of principals are ready to open their buildings, said Mark Cannizzaro, the head of the principals union. For those who are not ready, the education department is providing “very prompt” help once the union flags it, he said.

“In the last two years with COVID and the pandemic and the craziness happening there, people literally were not ready to open their buildings,” Cannizzaro said. “This year I am hearing, although there are some challenges, the overwhelming majority of people are ready to open their buildings.”

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