The school year opened like a party at PS 5 in Port Morris. The school entrance was festooned with colorful balloons as teachers cheerfully welcomed students and their parents for the first day of class.
But despite the festive atmosphere, many worry that the coming school year will be far from normal. Although the Department of Education has relaxed its official COVID requirements, falling enrollment numbers and a lack of funding has forced many schools to cut programs.
For PS 5 Port Morris, that means a drop of nearly $700,000 in the school’s base allocation — nearly 13% less than last year’s allocations, according to data developed by education news site Chalkbeat. Nearby, PS 018 John Zenger is losing $845,000, roughly 22% of last year’s base allocation and PS 065 Mother Hale Academy in Mott Haven is losing $604,000, a drop of nearly 24%.
This “Fair Student Funding” allocation represents 65% of what schools typically end up with, but principals must plan their school year based on these numbers. The budget cuts were the subject of political skirmishing over the summer, with courts alternately rejecting and affirming the new budget. Members of the City Council last week voted to reverse the budget cuts, but the resolution was nonbinding.
For the moment, though, most parents were simply happy to see their children go to school.
“I feel good, my grandson is coming to school,” said Jacob Bernandez, as he escorted 5-year old Aiden to the registration line. “I don’t think of COVID anymore, all I gotta do is protect myself, do the right thing.”
School officials say they are focused on delivering quality education, regardless of the level of funding. “Rigorous instruction is what we plan on implementing, and addressing the educational loss,” said one administrator at PS 5, who asked not to be named due to Department of Education rules against speaking to the press.
The official said he had not heard any worries from parents about the quality or safety of instruction. “They haven’t approached me with regards to those concerns,” he added. “A lot of them are very enthusiastic about having kids come into the building again and getting back to the regular flow of the day.”
At MS 424, also known as The Hunts Point School, school officials were more worried about education deficits after two years of pandemic learning. “There are students who moved from the third grade to the fourth grade, who have never experienced writing with the pen,” said one administrator, who preferred not to be named. “So during remote learning, academics went down considerably.”
Some parents hadn’t heard of any budget cuts. Maria Torres, a 47-year old mom, said she hadn’t heard of any budget cuts for this academic year and anticipates all after-school activities to continue as usual.
Others were preparing for different threats. As her mother talked about after-school activities, 6-year old Myla had something different to report. “In gym class today, they taught us break-in drills, for when someone tries to break in.”