NEW YORK (WABC) -- Eyewitness News sat down one-on-one with NYC Schools Commissioner David Banks ahead of the first day of school this week.
The school year starts Thursday with a lot of concern about the city's school budget. We've heard from parents who are hearing from principals that their school might start the year without a particular teacher or that a program isn't coming back this year and that can be very scary to hear.
We asked the chancellor about the budget cuts, both at Tuesday's town hall and during our one-on-one interview with him.
He insisted no teachers or guidance counselors are losing their actual jobs, but they may be moved to another school with higher enrollment.
"We've lost 120,000 families from our schools in the last five years, 70,000 over the last two years," Banks said. "Those are real numbers."
Those shrinking numbers have led to a shrinking budget -- by more than $200 million -- leading to protests all summer and as recently as Wednesday.
Just Tuesday the City Council passed a resolution urging the mayor to restore the money.
But Banks, who is beginning his first full school year, says even if the cuts do stick, the dollar amount of funding per student has not changed.
Eyewitness News reporter Sonia Rincon asked Banks how he hopes to secure the resources to help children who are grappling with an educational setback over the last couple of years.
"There's still an opportunity, in spite of the fiscal challenges that we face, the DOE has a $38 billion budget," Banks said. "And so, we're going to make sure our schools have the things that they need, whether it's the art programs, music programs, mentoring for young people who are at varying levels of distress."
And with two and a half years of learning loss from pandemic disruptions, he acknowledges there is distress and need.
He's also launching new programs this year for students with dyslexia, which Mayor Eric Adams has talked about struggling with as a student.
"The majority of the inmates at Rikers Island, who have suffered from dyslexia are undiagnosed, having gone through our school system and we just kind of moved them from year to year, they ultimately drop out, and they find themselves in places like Rikers Island," Banks said. "We can do better. And so we've got a program that we are opening in the Bronx, as well as one in Manhattan."
Another new program this year will add bilingual educators, which are always in high demand.
"We've engaged in a partnership with the Dominican Republic, where they are sending a number of their teachers to come and work with us here," Banks said. "Many of will serve as bilingual teachers. And they couldn't come at a more important time, as we are dealing with so many students who are coming in as asylum seekers."
Roughly 1,000 asylum seekers have been enrolled in city schools so far and many are living in temporary shelters like hotels.
Last year, 43% of homeless students were chronically absent.
At Tuesday night's Back to School Town Hall, Banks' team of deputy chancellors said schools need be doing more checking in with chronically absent kids, not to shame their families but to help them.
"We are there to help them figure out what that problem is, get them back to a place that's going to be safe," said 1st Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg.
Banks is a founder of the Eagle Academy charter schools, aimed at helping vulnerable children succeed.
Now that he's leading the city's entire public school system, he says plans to focus on ensuring kids are reading by third grade and getting them thinking about careers early in fields like technology.
"Many of them are not aware of these industries and the career possibilities, Banks said. "So that's a huge part of what I'm trying to do."
Back on the subject of school funding, the chancellor and his team acknowledged Tuesday night that one thing they need to do better is communicate about the budget with parents who are worried about it. Many parents point to dropping national test scores and say even if there is extra money, spend it on catching up.
The chancellor says in order to get more funding, enrollment needs to go back up, and that means making public schools more appealing to those families who have left to get them to come back.
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