City School Funds Were Spent Elsewhere, Lawmakers Say

Did the city withdraw more than $200 million in financing for public schools after the state gave it that amount of money to help avert some of the threatened school budget cuts and teacher layoffs?

A group of New York Assembly members say that is exactly what happened after legislators added $205 million to the final state budget passed in March to prevent deeper cuts that would affect the city’s classrooms.

In a letter delivered to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Thursday, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, the chairwoman of the Education Committee, criticized the city for taking the state’s money and then cutting the schools’ budget by roughly the same amount.

“It would appear that instead of using the additional state funds to restore classroom cuts, these state dollars were used to supplant city funds,” says the letter (also see below), which was signed by 52 Assembly members.

A City Hall spokesman said the city did cut its contribution to the schools by $207 million when it received the extra state funds. But the spokesman, Marc La Vorgna, said the $205 million was hardly “additional” financing for city schools in a year in which the city was left struggling to restore $800 million that was still cut from state education financing.

That huge loss of state aid, he said, means the city still cannot afford 6,100 of its teachers, but that number could have been worse if the city had not spared it from more cuts, he said.

“It’s pretty curious when Assembly members who voted for the largest state cut to our schools in history criticize a mayor who is increasing city funding for schools by $2 billion, largely to cover for their cut,” Mr. La Vorgna wrote in an e-mail message, in response to the letter from the Assembly members.

Ms. Nolan said, however, that the state restored some of its education aid on the premise that it would be used to improve the schools’ budgetary circumstances, not keep them the same.

“I know the state should have given more,” Ms. Nolan said. “I fought hard for the millionaire’s tax that might have generated more, but in times of scarce resources, we have to emphasize that the focus should be on the classroom.”

Ms. Nolan’s letter noted that while the restored money would not have been enough to prevent all of the 4,100 layoffs the mayor has threatened to carry out, it could have cut the loss of teachers by more than half.

The planned education budget cuts continue to draw criticism and protests. On Thursday, members of several advocacy organizations that have been protesting the cuts delivered seven 50-foot scrolls to City Hall. The scrolls were signed by more than 16,000 people opposed to the mayor’s budget.

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