Sunday, March 29, 2020

Here Is Your Budget Breakdown For the Year

"Drastic. Like nothing you have ever seen".

That was Andrew Cuomo at the end of his rant about how poorly New York State faired in the last federal stimulus package. It was a Sunday and, during the question period, he answered a few about New York State's budget. The state is facing a $15 billion budget gap, he said. The federal government will not help us, he said. Not one bit. Chuck Schumer, New York's senior senator with whom Cuomo does not get along should 'try to pass a bill that actually helps the state of New York", he said. As a consequence, the cut will be "drastic. Like nothing you have ever seen".

The reality is much less bleak but will still be very painful for all of us in the classroom.

Before this crisis began, the budget outlook was already looking bad. With a $6 billion deficit, a veil of opacity had fallen around Albany, with both houses of the legislature having failed to even have a space for the 2020-2021 bills and resolutions (See the Senate website here. And then the Assembly website here. You'll notice no bills. That's a first). So it was difficult to even see what they were up to. By in large, Cuomo had wanted to make up the state deficit but offsetting medicare costs to localities.

But then the crisis hit and tax revenues suddenly stopped rolling in. The upshot? A $15 billion deficit with no plan for filling it. Cuomo said today he had hoped this federal stimulus package would bring money to his state budget but failed to do so.

A bit of context first: The governor of New York typically has enormous budgetary powers. This is a pretty good history of gubernatorial powers in New York and those powers are vast. Typically, they are only offset by a very active legislature, who can veto his proposals with a 2/3 majority. And if the legislature doesn't act by the April 1st deadline, he has the power to enact his budget anyway, if for a short period of time.

This year, the legislature is setting up their rules so that they can vote from home . This means that the budget will be settled by the governor, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate. And if he doesn't like what they suggest, he can just mandate that his proposals become, in effect, the law for a certain period of time.

So this year's budget is, very much, Cuomo's show.

And he is seeking a flexible budget and a "slimmed-down spending package that his administration can adjust periodically throughout the fiscal year" (here). This means that when it comes, the pain we feel in schools and our own homes will come slow. Look for bad news at the beginning of each quarter next year -in July, October, February and April. It will come in waves.

He is is proposing to spend 41% of a $178 billion budget on education this year (here). This includes an overall 2.1% increase for NYSED (which could be more for school and district aid. That 2.1% is for all of NYSED and where, exactly, that aid goes has been kept very quiet) (here). But look for that to be adjusted as well. Typically, the state "foundational aid" is a 4% increase from the previous year. That's the number we should all be looking for to gauge how bad the cuts will feel at the beginning.

And all of that greatly effects NYC's budget. This will be de Blasio's first downturn and his past fiscal actions will greatly inform his future decisions with the city. It is important to understand that de Blasio is cheap and is stubborn. The UFT has had to find ways to pay for at least part of every single raise and every single new benefit since he has been in office. This is why we should expect that our retro checks will be paid next October.

Last year's NYC budget was $92.8 billion. Unlike the state budget, Bloomberg news classified New York City's budget as "sound" (here) as recently as last December. They reason they pointed to for this stability was the increase in property tax revenues since de Blasio has been in office. Revenue collected form property taxes are typically more reliable than sales tax revenue, so I believe that, as of December, NYC was in pretty good shape.

That didn't stop the mayor for asking for a 1.4% cut from agencies -$1.3 billion in all. I'm not sure how much the NYC Reserve Fund has, but 24 months ago, there was $1.125 billion (here). This is much akin to having a ten dollar bill in the glove box in case you run out of gas on the way home but it is probably enough to cover a 2% reduction in city spending.

And with outlets like the Post already calling for a state wide pay freeze of all government workers (here) we teachers are in for a very rough patch. How rough still depends on two things:

A) How twill he state and city politicians address the fiscal implications of this first wave of the fiscal end of the crisis? Imagine an economy that is in the process of going off of a cliff. Clearly the situation is dire. The car is going over that cliff. But the car has not yet fallen completely and no one knows how big that cliff os or how far the car mist travel before it actually hits the bottom. It is in this context that the two budgets the state (due April 1) and the city (due in June) -the ones that will determine our future as teachers- must be enacted.

B) How much worse will the fiscal out look get before it begins to improve? The light at the end of the runnel won't be the budget announcement next Wednesday. The true light at the end of the tunnel will happen on the other end of the 'curve' we're all being asked to flatten. Once we see an end in sight to the health crisis, we will all better understand how painful the 2020-2021 year will be.

I'll write more on that tomorrow.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

On the DoE's "Love" For Their Teachers And Students

This week, as the calamity of pandemic unfolded before our eyes, word began to spread of exactly how safe the city kept its teachers and students from harm during the first two weeks of March, 2020.

In a nutshell, the answer was not at all.

The first hints teachers received were from their students and former students. Anecdotal stories often reveal more facts than "reported" events or empirical scientific evidence. So when the news "reported" that 1 person and then 2 people in New York had the virus many of us, folks who had heard one student or two students had been "out sick" with "flu" had our suspicions.

I have personally heard of five teachers who have been in contact with alumni and present students whose families had been sick since March 1 and later, after the state government stepped in and began daily briefings, did test positive for the virus. That's give instances of colleagues who have second hand knowledge of family members of students or former students who had been sick with this -since March 1. (The city schools did not close until March 16 and even that was after a 150,000 teachers signed a UFT petition in 48 hours demanding the schools be closed.

And folks were terribly sick going back to March 1. So this virus was here before the city government acknowledged it in the manner they did.

We had also heard of anecdotal evidence of schools being kept open between March 16 and March 19 (the week that only adults were supposed to be in) despite positive lab results being presented to building school officials. I have personally heard of five cases in all -two schools in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn and two in Queens. These are cases where the DoE kept the school open (for days) despite medical knowledge that a staff member had tested positive.

And, although not officially documented, these instances are slowly now being reported. The latest example comes in today's Post, where a pregnant teacher who tested positive for the virus, tried and failed to get her Brooklyn school closed on March 17. 

Despite her pleas, the city Department of Education did not close the school on March 17 — 19 when the entire faculty was mandated to report for training on remote learning. What’s more, students and their parents flooded into PS 199 classrooms on March 19 to pick up books, iPads and laptops.

“All of my kids came in to get their stuff. They pretty much emptied their desks,” Iacurto, who was home sick, said she heard from colleagues.

DoE officials allowed those colleagues into that school knowing that the school had been a place of contamination. The same DoE officials allowed students into that school knowing full well that the school had been a place of contamination.

This is something you would expect from China, who retaliated against Li Wen Liang, the hero doctor who blew the whistle on this brand knew virus thus alerting the world. 

This is the extent to which we should not trust governments.

This past week, de Blasio asked city agencies to prepare to cut a total of $1.3 billion from their budgets. It was unclear whether he was asking them to city that from their future budget predictions (the next FY starts July 1st and his budget must be in by June 1) or form this current annual budget allotment (the city is spending this money from somewhere. It can only be from new borrowed monies or from currently allocated monies. The laws are usually pretty clear about currently allocated monies but there is no guarantee that those rules haven't been waived given the current crisis. Newly borrowed monies to spend that extra amount would have to accounted for in next year's budgets. I am personally hoping that that's the case an that next year's budget for the city will only have a $1.3 billion deficit. That would be a dream scenario.

At the same time, the federal government allocated this same amount -$1.3 billion- to New York City's government in the new stimulus plan. Certainly something is going on here. I wonder if, under the current realities, we will ever know. If you're a person who has a  concern about government overreach, this is a very dangerous time.

Throughout all of this, former UFT presidential candidate, Lydia Howrilka, of the Solidarity Caucus, has been posting pep-talk videos on her social media accounts. I am unable to embed the video on this blogging platform but here is her video from yesterday. She plans to get detailed about the budget outlook early next week.  So some of the topics she addresses are some of the same topics and issues we are all thinking about. What is important about this is that it comes at time when the governments are proving, to any critical eye, that they just can't be trusted and has created an obvious reality that we should all trust the people who work with our union more than anyone.

More updates later tomorrow. But , for now, drop me a comment: how would YOU describe the love the DoE has for its students and the respect it has for its teachers?

I would use just one word: nuts.