A judge in Manhattan said on Thursday morning that he was planning to vacate New York City’s recently adopted education budget and give City Council members the opportunity to revisit their vote.
Mayor Eric Adams’s city budget, which the City Council approved in June, proposed more than $200 million in cuts to public schools for the upcoming school year because of declines in student enrollment, although the exact amount of the cuts has been in dispute. The decrease in funding would have affected about 1,200 city public schools, or two-thirds of the system, according to an analysis by Chalkbeat, an education news site.
The judge, Justice Lyle E. Frank of the State Supreme Court, made the statement after a hearing in which a lawyer for the city and lawyers representing parents and public school teachers argued over whether the budget had been adopted through the proper procedures.
A lawsuit filed by parents and teachers contended that the Education Department had made a procedural error and violated the law when it presented the budget to the City Council before allowing the Panel for Education Policy, a governing body largely appointed by the mayor, to hold a public meeting on it and vote on it. The city delayed the public meeting and vote through an emergency declaration. Justice Frank criticized the move, which some parents and teachers said had deprived the City Council of crucial information.
A lawyer for the city, Jeffrey Dantowitz, told the judge that the Education Department’s actions had been “completely consistent” with the law and said that to revisit the budget at this point would risk plunging the city into chaos.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Arthur Schwartz, countered that there was no evidence that a genuine emergency had existed at the time of the declaration, saying: “That’s not comporting with the law, that’s skirting the law.”
The judge will be issuing a written order, but signaled his skepticism of the use of the emergency declaration in the hearing on Thursday, saying: “At this point it seems almost to be an end around,” and adding that such measures should only be used when there is a demonstrable emergency.
The judge went on to say that he would fashion an order that stripped the Education Department’s numbers from the rest of the city budget and would not affect the budgets of city agencies like the Police and Fire Departments.
While acknowledging that lawyers for the city might disagree with his decision and seek to appeal, he asked them to deliver comments to him by the end of the day that would help him craft a narrowly tailored order. Lawyers for the plaintiffs are to file their own comments tomorrow.
“I don’t want to overdo this order,” Justice Frank said. “So I ask for both sides’ input.”
On May 31, the New York City schools chancellor, David C. Banks, issued an emergency declaration requiring the immediate adoption of an estimated budget. As a result, legal papers from the parents and teachers said, City Council members were “deprived of the benefit” of the public hearing, the public comments and the vote by the Panel for Education Policy.
The plaintiffs also wrote in their legal papers that in at least 12 of the past 13 years since 2010, several chancellors have invoked similar emergencies to adopt a budget before the vote of the education panel.
This is a developing story.
Lola Fadulu contributed reporting.