Reporting today on New York City’s plan to lay off 780 school employees in October, an article in The New York Times explains: “The layoffs are a direct consequence of budget cuts to schools, which have occurred in each of the last four years, forcing principals to make tough decisions about what and whom to do without.”
In fact, while city agencies have endured a series of mid-year reductions, annual spending on city schools has not been cut over the past four years. The Department of Education (DoE) budget has increased every single year since fiscal 2008, rising a total of nearly 15 percent during that period. The chart at right tells the story for the past decade. Those pending layoffs aren’t occurring because the budget was cut, but because this year’s increase of 2.6 percent isn’t enough to cover rising costs (and, according to the mayor, because DC 37 refused to make concessions that might temporarily have saved their jobs).
The standard budgetary measure actually understates the full amount spent on schools — because, among other things, it excludes pensions, debt service and other expenses that are centrally budgeted by the city. Including these costs, total spending on city schools this year will come to nearly $24 billion, up more than $1 billion over 2010, including a whopping $500 million increase in pension contributions for DoE employees. That works out to about $24,000 per pupil.
And absent a renewed economic boom or a significant tax increase, this trend is not sustainable.