NY Times: Council Members Complain, and Summer School Money Is Restored
By: KATE TAYLOR
While Mayor Bill de Blasio fights in Albany to maintain his control over New York’s school system, his schools chancellor on Thursday got a cool reception from an audience that is usually much friendlier to the administration: the City Council.
The issue: 17,000 slots in summer programs for middle school students that the administration had cut at the last minute, in some cases after parents had enrolled their children.
The money saved — nearly $28 million — was to be redirected to the city’s lowest-performing schools, where the administration is under pressure to show improvement. But on Thursday, when the chancellor, Carmen Fariña, appeared at a hearing on the Education Department’s budget, council members said that was not a good enough reason to deprive other children of opportunities, and by the end of the day, the administration said it had decided to restore the summer program money.
“Where we made a commitment to a school, and they made plans,” Councilman Brad Lander from Brooklyn said during the hearing, “we surely should not yank those resources back and move them around, even if, to be fair, we’re giving them to a more low-income community.” (While the city’s lowest-performing schools serve mostly low-income students, some of the summer programs that were cut are based in public housing projects.)
Some of Mr. Lander’s colleagues were more emphatic.
Julissa Ferreras, the chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said that by not making the cuts until late in the process, the administration had undermined the Council’s role, as well as the comity that had existed between the two branches of city government. (The budget, yet to be made final by the Council and mayor, is for the fiscal year that begins July 1.)
“We were supposed to be eliminating the budget dance,” Councilwoman Ferreras said. “We were supposed to be eliminating these moments of contention because we’re in this together.”
“We are not happy,” she added. “It’s an understatement, actually.”
While Ms. Fariña was testifying in the Council chambers, supporters of the summer programs, parents and children gathered on the steps of City Hall, holding signs with messages like, “Keep Your Promise,” and “We Want Summer Camp, Not Bummer Camp.”
Several council members left the hearing to appear at the rally.
“What do we do when we make a promise?” Mr. Lander asked the demonstrators.
“Keep it!” they yelled.
A few hours later, administration officials announced that “after hearing from parents and kids,” the summer slots would be paid for after all, though they did not promise to do so next year and they did not say where the money would come from.