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With N.Y.C. Enrollment Up, Cortines Decries Budget Cuts

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After enrolling one million students this year for the first time in 15 years, the New York City public schools can ill afford the massive budget cuts being proposed by the city's new Mayor, Schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines has warned.

In testimony before a City Council committee this month, Mr. Cortines spelled out steps he is taking to trim the school system's budget, improve efficiency, and bolster student achievement.

"The only item on my agenda is strengthening teaching and learning,'' the chancellor pledged.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's proposed budget for fiscal 1995 calls for cutting $332 million from the public school budget. The cuts would come on the heels of a $1 billion budget reduction over the last four years, the chancellor noted at the budget hearing.

Mr. Cortines said the school system was being targeted for 35 percent of the reductions to come out of city agencies, even though the board of education receives only 15 percent of the city's unrestricted funding.

Administration Targeted

Mr. Cortines said he would go "as far as I can go'' in cutting the central administration, which has been a target of Mr. Giuliani. The Mayor has called for the elimination of 3,686 full-time administrative positions and a 25 percent reduction in the use of part-time staff members and consultants.

"But I am concerned that even after we have done everything we can to reduce our overhead,'' Mr. Cortines said, "it will be impossible, with a cut this large, to leave our schools untouched.''

Mr. Cortines said he has released information on the number of employees in the central office and the community school districts, and plans to release a count of high school administrators soon.

The administrative workforces in the districts and schools will be "better aligned'' with their workloads, he said, thus freeing up money for instruction.

The chancellor also has been meeting with the heads of administrative divisions to devise plans for streamlining offices and improving services.

Spending on temporary workers has been cut by $5 million and two deputy-chancellor positions have been eliminated, he added.

Additional savings could come from reorganizing the city's special-education services, he suggested. The chancellor said he was exploring shifting responsibility for the evaluation and placement of such students to the community school districts.

The Mayor's budget also calls for cutting $51 million from spending on busing. But Mr. Cortines said that while he was exploring cost-saving options, such as rescheduling school openings to allow buses to run more frequently, it was unlikely that the savings envisioned by the Mayor could be achieved in a year.

'A Capacity Crisis'

The city's proposed spending plan also slashes the $7.5 billion capital-spending program proposed by Mr. Cortines to rebuild schools over the next five years. Instead, Mr. Giuliani is calling for spending $3.3 billion.

At the same time that the Mayor is calling for steep budget cuts, the school system is growing by 20,000 to 25,000 students a year. Since 1988-89, enrollment has grown by 80,000 students.

The vast majority of the growth is from immigration, with 138,000 immigrant students enrolling over the past three years.

The chancellor expressed concern about a lack of planning for the new students. Although the Mayor has called for leasing space and rearranging schedules to make room for more students, Mr. Cortines said, the city has not budgeted for these expenses.

"Unless the city rethinks its planning assumptions,'' he said, "it will be setting the stage for a capacity crisis in the near future.''

A statement by the Mayor's office said that the city "needs to downsize administrative costs,'' and indicated that Mr. Giuliani would work with the chancellor and other officials to develop "reasonable cuts.''

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