By all accounts, Mayor Eric Adams’ executive budget proposal is based on austerity. He has “proposed reducing the size of the budget from the current year’s adjusted spending plan – by roughly $5 billion,” after last year ordering “city agencies to cut city-funded expenses by 3 percent for the current fiscal year and 4.75 percent for the following year,” according to The New York Times.
The mayor’s austerity has hit education with deep cuts to K–12 schools, public libraries and CUNY community colleges, which heavily rely on funding from New York City Hall. As Gotham Gazette explained, the mayor’s “preliminary budget for CUNY for the city’s 2024 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is $1.27 billion – a $168.5 million cut compared with the budget adopted in June 2022 for the current fiscal year,” adding, “that’s on top of the $13.7 million cut in city funds for CUNY that the mayor made in the middle of the current fiscal year and is already being felt at the schools.”
In the coming months, the PSC and CUNY Rising Alliance (CRA) are working with other unions and community organizations to tell Mayor Adams and the City Council that this year’s budget agreement must reverse cuts to public education and social services. Instead, these vital institutions need to be funded. The union will hold a major demonstration on May 11 to put more pressure on City Hall (see page 12).
At a rally outside the NYC Department of Education’s downtown headquarters, Ethan Milich, CRA coordinator, said that thanks to City Hall’s previous cuts, CUNY had lost 80 positions, and “more [cuts] are coming.” He added that the mayor should reverse course and “invest further” in CUNY, so that it can hire more full-time faculty, mental health counselors and advisors, as well as provide resources to programs like ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs).
“I’m a proud CUNY alumna,” City Council Member Shahana Hanif said at the rally, insisting that a united front of labor and community activists could bring about a better budget this year. “This is what power looks like.”
City Hall’s frugality has already contributed to the CUNY administration’s belt-tightening. Union officers warn that if the mayor’s proposed budget goes into effect, the result would compound fiscal problems so badly that entire programs and initiatives like the Accelerate, Complete and Engage (ACE) program could be completely wiped out.
“CUNY administration has called on each college to develop a savings plan that outlines ‘sustainable’ expense reductions and revenue enhancements,” said Sharon Utakis, the union’s vice president for community colleges. “The primary way to enhance revenue is to increase enrollment, which is difficult right now, especially at the community colleges, where enrollments have not fully recovered from the pandemic, among other things. As a result, colleges have been focused on cuts, rather than increasing revenue. At first this has meant hiring freezes and unstaffed lines that won’t be replaced. But when that’s not enough, the colleges are turning to cutting the jobs of some of our most vulnerable colleagues, contingent faculty and part-time staff.”
Utakis, the former PSC chapter chair at Bronx Community College, noted that at her campus, “I’ve been hearing that the plan is to cut three-year adjunct appointments, again, which again undermines our contract.”
Union activists have noted that cuts at the city level hit community colleges the hardest, at a time when they need more investment.
The mayor’s budget will directly hurt community colleges, said Susan Kang, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College and a faculty liaison for CRA.
“As community colleges are the most accessible path for higher education for so many of our students, these cuts will disproportionately affect our working-class [students], immigrants and students of color, hurting their access to the great social equality engine of our city,” Kang said. “Adams, despite being a CUNY grad, wants to pretend that these are rational cuts, but they are politically motivated ways to push the agenda of a pro-business, anti-progressive agenda in our city.”
The city’s cuts to CUNY, Utakis said, hurt students and PSC members alike.
“These cuts are horrible for those who lose their jobs, [and] demoralizing to all involved. They increase the workload of those who keep their jobs,” she said. “At the community colleges, this increase in workload coincides with the increase in workload brought about by a greater number of underprepared students, and a greater level of underpreparedness of those students. Because of the pandemic, students have been traumatized by the loss of family members and by economic struggle, and their educations have been disrupted.”
In testimony before a City Council panel this March, PSC President James Davis outlined the necessary investments the next city budget could put into CUNY. Davis advised that the final budget agreement should put $35.5 million into student support and advising, especially into ASAP, which “provides comprehensive student support and advising at a ratio of 1 advisor per 150 students, as well as other supports, including tutoring, textbook subsidies and transportation assistance through free MetroCards.
“CUNY needs $10 million to hire 58 full-time mental health counselors, working in-person to bring campuses closer to the recommended ratio of counselors to students,” Davis said. “To train more mental health professionals at CUNY, $10 million is needed to fund a public loan forgiveness program, along with $1 million for new faculty to implement this program at CUNY.”
Meanwhile, college administrators are under pressure to reduce their operations.
“This year, campuses are being told to cut their budgets,” said Heather James, an assistant professor of political science at Borough of Manhattan Community College. “Yet the city’s revenue picture is better than expected.”
Indeed, the Independent Budget Office said in its budget forecast that it “projects that the city will end fiscal year 2023 with a $4.9 billion surplus, $2.8 billion more than the surplus projected by the Office of Management and Budget in the preliminary budget.”
Even with that positive outlook, City Hall is forcing CUNY and the entire public education system in New York City to live like the financial sky is falling. While Donald Trump’s arraignment in Manhattan distracted the world’s attention in April, City Hall issued more economic pain. The New York Times reported that the mayor’s budget director “directed the leaders of nearly every city agency, including the Police Department, to cut their budgets by 4 percent for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July,” adding that “Only the Department of Education and the City University of New York will be subject to smaller cuts of 3 percent.”
NO AUSTERITY BUDGET
“This cannot be allowed to stand,” James said. “We all know that austerity budgets have reduced staffing levels across the system for decades. CUNY is already lean. With support from allies in the Council and vocal advocates outside the system, we are working hard to push back against another $10 million in employee cuts due to attrition as was proposed in the mayor’s fiscal year 2024 preliminary budget. These cuts – called Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) – have already cost CUNY over 200 faculty and staff positions with another 55 on the line.”
James said it was important for PSC members to transition from fighting for a state budget to a city budget campaign, because a lot is on the line.
She said, “We will keep fighting for comprehensive advising to move all students closer to the recommended ratio of 1 advisor for every 150 students, mental health counseling and other wraparound services.”
SIGNS OF HOPE
There are already signs of hope: City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and other city lawmakers announced in April that they had identified $1.3 billion that could help reverse the mayor’s cuts, and the Council’s budget proposal includes strong funding for CUNY.
The union praised the Council’s position, saying in a statement, “The Council wants exactly what CUNY needs: full restorations of the Mayor’s cuts, funding for desperately needed academic advisors, a stronger CUNY Reconnect program and more.”
James reiterated that it was important for PSC members to continue to put pressure on City Council members to pass a budget that funds CUNY.
“City electeds live in our neighborhoods,” she said. “With continued pressure and partnership, we will have an impact. Our future is their future. Let’s make sure they know it.”
Published: April 26, 2023