Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza warned that 9,000 Department of Education jobs will be lost if the state decides to permanently hold 20% of aid to New York City. The measure would also force all public schools to only conduct online classes.
Governor Andrew Cuomo cited a growing deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s shuttering of businesses in March and the absence of a federal bailout for the withholding of local aid. The state is holding onto as much as it can as it waits for Washington to step in and help.
But if those federal funds never come, it’s “game over,” according to Carranza who told teachers, parents and administrators that without state aid the department won’t be able to man school buildings.
“If there is a 20% cut, let me just tell you right now, we are going 100% remote. We can not open our schools,” Carranza told parents, teachers and administrators during the hours-long Panel for Educational Policy meeting on Wednesday night.
Carranza admitted that delaying the start of in-person classes for at least two weeks in order to “socialize with teachers” and make sure that everything was in place in schools was “good practice” but then explained that the city could face penalties from Albany for violating the state’s 180-day instruction requirement.
Blended learning and thousands of New Yorkers’ jobs could be saved if the state would approve Mayor de Blasio’s repeated requests to increase the city’s borrowing capacity, Carranza said. A privileged city was given after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
De Blasio first pitched upping the city’s borrowing power weeks before fiscal year 2021 budget negotiations when his administration calculated that the city dug itself into a $9 billion hole. In June, the mayor asked to borrow $5 billion from the state to ease the deficit.
But a bevy of state lawmakers, along with the governor, have expressed worries that the move would condemn the city to a fate of economic despair similar to the financial crisis of the 1970s.
Over 130 people spoke during the Zoom meeting, with the vast majority asking for a delay to in-person classes until details on the city’s reopening plan can be clarified at the school level. Many speakers expressed concerns over the status of school ventilation systems, personal protective equipment shipments, the absence of more public data on COVID-19 related deaths among DOE employees and a general distrust in DOE data.
During the PEP meeting, Carranza relayed contradictory numbers in regard to school reopening claiming that 85% of families opted for blended learning despite just last week reporting that 74% of families signed up to send children back to school buildings.
Many said that the reopening effort is too underfunded and too rushed to be safe. Parents, teachers, staffers and students repeatedly expressed a lack of confidence in the department to properly rollout reopening after witnessing numerous mistakes from the agency when schools closed in the spring. Some mentioned a lack of faith in the ability of the city’s test and trace corp as enough reason to delay the beginning of blended learning.
Traditionally, the city’s health department tracks and traces infectious diseases but de Blasio shifted the responsibility to the city’s public hospital system during the peak of the pandemic.
Students were given the first opportunity to speak during the meeting an appropriate choice given that some said they felt they were being left out of the city’s school reopening conversation.
“Right now as a student I feel like a prop to reopen the economy,” said a Stuyvesant student named Merrill. “I’m a dollar sign, I’m not a human being and my value is being reduced to the essential work that my parents do… but the truth of the matter is you can’t have an opinion on this if you are not speaking to those being directly impacted groups and those are the students and the teachers.”
Early in the meeting, Carranza touted the good intentions of the city and the DOE when it devised its current reopening plan and assured listeners that the city was aiming for a 24-turnaround time for COVID-19 test results. The Chancellor said that it working with the department of health to implement rolling tests for teachers and reiterated the mayor’s pledge to place a nurse into every school building.