"Pay attention. There’ll be a test later," quipped Finance Committee Chair David Weprin.
As different members of the council lined up to grill Mark Page, the director of the city Office of Management and Budget, on the ’09 budget, which must be approved by the end of June, it quickly became clear that much of the debate would center on education.
District 7 Councilman Robert Jackson of Manhattan butted heads with Page at the hearing on issues of funding and what he said was the city’s wavering commitment to the Contracts for Excellence with the state.
At a hearing earlier this week, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said that it would take $400 million to maintain city schools at 07-08 levels. Without that money, Klein made it clear that cuts would be made. The mayor’s proposed budget allocates $428 million less for education than what had originally been planned. Various Council members have said that they will not allow the budget to pass if "there’s a dime being cut from the classroom."
Jackson asked Page why the city could not appropriate the necessary money for a fundamental good like schools, citing a multi-billion dollar surplus. He also interrupted Page on several occasions.
"If you’d like to make speeches, which clearly you do, then clearly you are not interested in what I have to say," Page said, as Jackson started talking over him.
"Year after year after year you said that ‘it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s next year, it’s next year,’ " Mr. Jackson said of allegedly promised funding. "And here we are almost the last year of the entire term for Mayor Bloomberg … And yes, I’m upset about it because our children are being impacted. Over four hundred million dollars are being cut out of the budget."
He paused, then emphatically added: "And If I don’t stand up, then who’s going to stand up?"