New York City’s teachers union sues Mayor Eric Adams over steep cuts to public schools

"From time to time, friends disagree," Adams says in response to lawsuit over move to cut $550 million in budget for city's schools over migrant crisis

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s teachers union is suing to block planned cuts to the city’s public schools, warning that steep budget reductions proposed by Mayor Eric Adams would weaken key education initiatives and violate state law.

For months, Adams has argued that slashing city spending — including a $550 million cut in education funding — is necessary to offset the rising costs of New York’s migrant crisis. But in a lawsuit filed in state court on Thursday, the United Federation of Teachers accused the mayor of exaggerating the city’s fiscal woes in order to push through a “blunt austerity measure” that is both illegal and unnecessary.

The lawsuit rests on a state law that prevents New York City from reducing school spending unless overall revenues decline. Because the city outperformed revenue expectations this fiscal year, the mid-year education cuts — which will hurt universal prekindergarten and after-school programs, as well as special needs students — are illegal, the suit alleges.

Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a press conference at City Hall in New York, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)

“This is going to become difficult and ugly,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said at a news conference on Thursday. “We have never had an administration try to cut their schools when they have historic reserves and their revenues are all up.”

Adams, a moderate Democrat, has faced growing fallout over a multibillion dollar budget cut announced last month that will slash hours at public libraries, eliminate parks and sanitation programs and freeze police hiring, among other cutbacks in municipal services.

Since then, he has seen his poll numbers drop to the lowest point since taking office nearly two years ago. He is currently facing a separate lawsuit from the city’s largest public sector union, DC 37, aimed at stopping the cuts.

At a news conference on Thursday, Adams sought to downplay the lawsuits, touting his close relationship with the two politically influential unions.

“From time to time, friends disagree,” Adams said. “Sometimes it ends up in a boardroom and sometimes it ends up in a courtroom.”

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While he has acknowledged the cuts will be “extremely painful to New Yorkers,” Adams has urged city residents to hold the White House accountable for not sending sufficient aid to address the migrant crisis. And he has warned even deeper cuts may be needed to address the budget shortfall, which he projects will hit $7 billion in the coming fiscal year.

A recent analysis from the Independent Budget Office, meanwhile, appears to bolster the unions’ contention that the city’s fiscal crisis is not as dire as the mayor has made it out to be. According to the agency, the city will end the fiscal year in June with a budget surplus of $3.6 billion, leading to a far more manageable budget gap next year of $1.8 billion.

In the lawsuit, the teachers union cites the estimate as proof that Adams’ “calculatingly foreboding” picture of New York City’s finances is not based in reality.

“The Mayor’s recent actions,” the suit alleges, “are driven more by a ‘crisis’ of budget management, leadership and problem solving, as opposed to an influx of migrants to New York.”

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