The city Department of Education used a controversial budget formula to quietly reduce the funds New York City public schools are set to receive per-student next year, The Post has learned.
In an internal memo obtained by The Post, DOE Chief Financial Officer Lindsey Oates told superintendents and principals that the per-student funding for next school year “decreased slightly” because the city is spending less on teacher salaries.
“This decrease is due to the high numer [sic] of teachers retiring, resigning and going on leave in the past year,” read a June 3 memo.
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That includes more experienced teachers who earn higher salaries leaving the DOE payroll over the COVID-19 pandemic, officials told The Post.
The DOE said the average teacher salary went down, but would not disclose by how much citywide.
Some principals and teachers who uncovered the per-pupil reductions while looking at their proposed budgets said they felt deceived by the DOE, charging that the moves shortchange kids and school overall.
Mayor Eric Adams has repeatedly said that declining student enrollment in DOE schools was to blame for the slashed budgets totaling up to millions of dollars.
“We did not cut funding,” Adams has insisted.
“Not one child is going to lose money from the Fair Student Funding,” Adams said, referring to the formula that sets the largest share of each school’s budget.
Each school’s budget allocation under Fair Student Funding is based on the number of students enrolled and their specific needs.
But the city did not publicly disclose that the DOE had reduced the dollars per student.
Under the DOE formula this fall, school principals will get a baseline of at least $4,197.19 for each general-education student, down by a minimum of $25.81 per child, the DOE confirmed.
Because the per-student dollar amount was reduced, even schools that didn’t see their enrollment numbers dip could be faced with a thinner budget.
The baseline figure is also weighted according to other factors, so the amount per-student can increase based on an individual child’s needs, such as academic help, learning English or disabilities. But those extra funds will be cut as well under the formula.
The Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded watchdog agency, confirmed that the change will mean less money for schools under the formula.
“If the per-capita amounts are reduced, school budgets are reduced,” said Sarita Subramanian, the IBO’s assistant director on education.
Nathaniel Styer, a spokesperson for the DOE, confirmed the rate “did go down” due to a change in average teacher salaries.
But he claimed the number of students eligible for academic help increased, “causing a new cost despite the slightly reduced per capita.”
The DOE would not give the added number of students qualifying for those needs.
A former Queens school principal told The Post the DOE’s approach to allocating funds isn’t prioritizing students.
“It’s kind of ‘children last’ in budgeting rather than ‘children first,’ ” the veteran administrator said.
“Ever play Three-card Monte?” the ex-principal told The Post, referring to a street game where con artists place cards face-down and shuffle them to confuse players.
“This is kind of if Three-card Monte went to college.”
A Queens teacher who learned about the per-student reduction also accused the city of trying to deceive the public.
“Saying that schools are 100% fully funded was always a lie,” she said.
The Panel for Educational Policy is slated to hear public comment and vote on the DOE’s annual estimated budget for next school year on Thursday evening.
But a public guide to the Fair Student Funding formula was still not posted online on Wednesday evening. (A link to the memo said only, “Coming Soon.”)
At recent PEP meetings, many parents and advocates fiercely opposed the current Fair Student Funding formula that they said shortchanges vulnerable students, including those who are homeless or in foster care. The DOE did not bring up the per-capita reduction during the hearings.
While a majority of PEP members, mostly those appointed by Adams, eventually voted to approve the formula, Schools Chancellor David Banks vowed to review and “fix this mess” going forward.
This week, Adams continued to defend the smaller school budgets, calling the decision “common sense” as student enrollment decreases.
“We’re making the right investments in a DOE budget,” Adams said at an unrelated press conference. “There is fat in city agencies, there is a lot of waste in city agencies.”
Overall, total spending per-pupil averages about $28,000, but it includes additional costs like employee pensions and fringe benefits, transportation, food and building maintenance. The cash allocated under Fair Student Funding goes to principals for staff, supplies and other basic school expenses.
“We have become addicted to throwing money at something,” said Adams. “No, let’s use taxpayers’ dollars to produce a better product.”
Amaris Cockfield, a spokesperson for the mayor, reiterated the city is overall contributing more to next school year’s education budget than last year. She said all schools are fully funded in accordance with the formula.
“Any other notion without all the pieces to the formula for Fair Student Funding is false,” said Cockfield. “The reality is that the citywide teacher salary average goes down or up if and when teachers with a range of wages enter and leave the system.”
“Teachers and schools deserve honesty and not speculations.”