THE SCHOOL Reform Commission last night approved a $2.4 billion "doomsday" budget that Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said "in no way fits my idea of public education."
The austere budget, approved 4-1 by the SRC, has a $304 million shortfall and will eliminate any extras at schools: assistant principals, guidance counselors, secretaries and lunch staff, as well as sports, extracurricular activities and arts and music programs.
The district has requested $60 million from the city and $120 million from the state. Hite is also counting on $133 million in concessions from the entire district workforce - particularly, the teachers' union.
The budget, Hite said earlier yesterday, will fail to create "adequate and essential academic programs to respond to the needs of our students and to the needs of our schools.
"This is about revenue, which neither the SRC or I control. We currently don't have enough," Hite said before the vote. "I'm hopeful we will find a resolution in the coming weeks."
The district can amend the budget to include any new funding it receives.
The meeting leading up to the vote was filled with protests and pleas from community members - some of whom held signs that read, "No confidence," and many didn't reign in their anger toward Hite and the SRC.
"It's impossible, actually, for me to understand how you spent $2.5 billion of public money, and then stripped away the most basic elements of teaching and learning," said education advocate Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. "None of it is in the budget, yet $2.5 billion was spent."
Gym called the budget adoption an "immoral act" against children and the city and said once it passes, it will result in district-wide layoffs.
"In school after school, from the most needy to the most elite magnet schools . . . you have touched everybody in the worst of ways," she said.
Science Leadership Academy sophomore Nikki Adeli said her school was praised for being a 21st-century school, but she wondered about that: "Does anyone in this room actually expect a 21st-century school to function without secretaries and counselors?" she asked the SRC.
Adeli also asked: "How do you define school? Is this what school is really supposed to be like?"
The commissioners aired concerns over the budget as well.
"I do not believe the revenues provided by the city and state are constitutionally adequate. They are unconstitutional," Wendell Pritchett said. "They are unacceptable for any children, including my two children, who attend the public schools."
He added that one of his kids was involved in the protest in front of district headquarters before the meeting.
SRC member Joseph Dworetzky said the budget prompted a discussion of what school is and is not, and, "What's proposed here is very close to the line," he said.
Dworetzky, present at the meeting via conference call, was the only SRC member who voted against the budget.
Met by cheers from the crowd, he stood firm in his position. "I don't think this is the budget we should adopt," he said.