The Panel for Educational Policy, the governing body of New York City public schools, blocked the city’s proposed formula for determining how much money each school should receive — a move that will cause the “whole system to blow up,” said the schools chancellor, David C Banks.
The vote on Wednesday marked the second time the education panel has balked at proposals from Mayor Eric Adams’s administration, a sign that it is flexing its independence after two decades of mostly rubber-stamping the mayor’s policies. The panel failed to pass the formula because of concerns that it did not properly provide funding for certain groups of students, such as those with disabilities and those in shelters.
The formula that the panel failed to pass must be approved before $10.5 billion in state and local funds for around 1,500 individual schools can be allocated. The funding accounts for the majority of school budgets across the city, said Lindsey Oates, the chief financial officer for the education department. Around 95 percent of the money goes toward staffing.
“We are disappointed in the outcome of this vote, and it will potentially delay school budgets and preparations for the upcoming school year,” said Nathaniel Styer, a spokesman for the education department.
Mr. Styer added that the department was committed to a review of the formula, “but that review, for the sake of our students, cannot be rushed in a matter of weeks or months.”
The 15-member Panel for Educational Policy, which includes nine mayoral appointees, has been in existence since 2002, when the mayor first gained control of city schools and the old Board of Education was abolished.
The motion needed eight votes to pass. It got seven, all from mayoral appointees. All five members appointed by the borough presidents abstained, and Thomas Sheppard, a panel member who was named by the presidents of the 32 local Community Education Councils, voted no. One mayoral appointee was absent, and another of Mr. Adams’s appointees had been removed after she was accused of anti-gay comments. She has yet to be replaced.
The panel first voted against Mr. Adams in March, when it rejected an $82 million contract to fund temporary staffing services. (It later approved the contract.) It also voted against Mr. Adams’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio, when it killed a contract for the test for the city’s gifted and talented program last year.
The failure to approve the funding proposal comes as the mayor is fighting to retain control of the nation’s largest school district. During his “State of the City” speech on Tuesday, the mayor made a plea to state legislators, who will vote on whether to continue mayoral control this summer: “Give us mayoral accountability!”
It is highly likely that mayoral control will be extended before June 30, when it expires, but the State Legislature may seek to extract significant concessions from the Adams administration in the process.
The formula that Mr. Banks proposed and the panel blocked for the 2022-23 school year was unchanged from the 2021-22 one and included resources for students in a number of specific categories, including those in special education and English language learners.
A number of education leaders, including parents, raised concerns during Wednesday’s meeting that the formula did not adequately account for the system’s neediest students.
“We urge you today to take a stand and vote this down, and let’s go back to the drawing board,” said NeQuan McLean, the president of Community Education Council 16, which serves the public schools in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“If you don’t vote for it now, the whole system is going to blow up,” said Mr. Banks during the meeting.
Mr. McLean said during Wednesday’s meeting that he was appointed by Mr. de Blasio to serve on a task force to study the issue. The group worked for nine months, and wrote a 20-page report with proposed changes to the formula.
The task force recommended giving more money for students with disabilities, Mr McLean said. It also suggested more money for students in all high schools, for students in temporary housing and for students in foster care.
But the task force’s report was never made public.
Efforts to update the formula are not new, said Sarita Subramanian, the assistant director of the education team of the New York City Independent Budget Office.
“I feel like it’s a formula that is worth revisiting and really assessing and questioning whether it does address student need,” said Ms. Subramanian. “I will say the timing of this vote is not ideal in that it does put schools in a really challenging position in planning for next year.”
Schools typically receive their budget allocations in May, and receiving them later can have major consequences. There have been delays in the past two years. Budgets were released in the middle of June last year, and in 2020, schools received their allocations in July, because of budget cuts to the department during the coronavirus pandemic, said Ms. Oates.
“It resulted in a reduced hiring period for schools and resulted, frankly, in a major scramble leading into reopening in the fall of 2020,” said Ms. Oates during Wednesday’s meeting.
“There are a lot of issues with this Fair Student Funding formula,” said Mr. Sheppard, who voted no on the measure. “It doesn’t do the thing that it needs to do, in the way it needs to do it. We have been meeting about this for years.”
Gregory Faulkner, a mayoral appointee, said he had concerns about the formula’s funding for students who were living in homeless shelters, but he still voted yes.
“I think there’s a commitment from the administration to work on this and move forward,” said Mr. Faulkner. “I didn’t want to take the chance that we could do something that could hurt schools and hurt the kids.”
The panel is likely to have the opportunity to vote again on the formula during its next meeting on May 18.
But that timing won’t work for schools, which “must receive their budgets no later than mid-May to avoid systemwide disruption,” said Mark Cannizzaro, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the principals’ union.
Mr Cannizzaro said it was “simply too late” to start debating changes to the formula.
It was unclear if a new mayoral appointee would be in place for the next vote. “We are narrowing in on a few promising candidates that are reflective of the diversity of our great city and the voices of parents,” said Amaris Cockfield, a City Hall spokeswoman.