Public school budgets in New York City will revert to originally proposed levels — at least temporarily — as a legal battle to undo hundreds of millions in cuts plays out in state court.
The “automatic stay,” confirmed on Tuesday, paused last week’s state Supreme Court decision to vacate the education department’s $31 billion operating budget until a higher court hearing.
“Just weeks before classes are scheduled to start, the order creates mass confusion over how DOE and its 1,400 principals can practically prepare for the fast-upcoming school year,” city lawyers wrote in their appeal.
“Over any longer period, the injunction may push DOE to exceed its funding levels, which it cannot do, or simply run out of money mid-year,” they added.
The stay is scheduled until at least Aug. 29, when oral arguments will be heard.
The cuts are a small share of the DOE’s overall budget, but a large chunk of principals’ individual allocations. The reductions amount to about $402,456 in cuts per individual school budget, or 8% of what principals get to spend on staff and programs, according to City Comptroller analysis.
The DOE estimates principals make roughly 3,500 such “budget actions” are taken daily over the summer, from hiring and moving staff to ordering goods and services, according to court documents.
“The injunction throws these thousands of actions, and the decision-making underlying them, into disarray at the eleventh hour,” wrote the city lawyers.
Advocates have countered that appealing the lawsuit is continuing the uncertainty and interfering with principals’ plans for the next school year.
The city’s legal filings also questioned if Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Frank Lyle’s decision could put the DOE in the “untenable position of being under court order to spend money over the course of a year that it does not have.”
NYC Comptroller Brad Lander found that an estimated $505.6 million in federal COVID aid allocated last year has yet to be committed, though the city has denied that additional funds are available.
“It is destabilizing, at a bare minimum, to turn back the clock on spending as if this year never occurred, pretending that DOE is still flush with federal pandemic relief, and that student enrollment remains at past levels,” wrote the city lawyers.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately return a request for comment.
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