from the Top
the early morning of April 1, 1946 there was an earthquake in
the Aleutian Islands. Almost five hours later the largest and
most destructive tsunami waves ever recorded struck the Hawaiian
Islands. There was no warning. Waves of water 54 feet high penetrated
more than half a mile into the Big Island.
Thirty years later, New York City was pounded by a financial tsunami
that brought the city to the brink of bankruptcy. A growing gap
between City revenues and expenses combined with a stagnant economy
nearly caused New York to default on its bond obligations. The
problem was compounded by a decision not to disclose certain information
about the true state of the City’s finances. The nation turned
its back on New York City with the jeering headline, Ford to
NY, “Drop dead!”
Almost a quarter of a century later, after the 2000 presidential
election, fiscal and political pressures began to negatively impact
our economy. In New York City, public schools were immediately
caught in the maelstrom. Now, in the aftershock of the World Trade
Center tragedy, economic ripples are quickly turning into a fiscal
Today, similarities to 1975 are eerie. Over the past six months
consumer confidence has dropped significantly. Many people are
experiencing “negative wealth” as their investment portfolios
decline and huge job losses occur across the country. After September
11th, the disastrous impacts on the airline industry, Wall Street
jitters and the loss of income to NYC have intensified economic
uncertainty. The cost of the World Trade Center disaster to NYC
has been estimated to be somewhere between $40 and $100 billion.
A crisis of this magnitude has not hit our city since the Great
The origins of this financial disaster were in motion long before
September 11th. Unheralded by the media and many legislators,
the Mayor’s April budget projections already pointed to a growing
sea of red ink. September 11th added to the projected budget deficit.
In 1975, the deficit shortfall that brought the City to its knees
was $1.5 billion on a $15 billion budget. Today, analysts are
predicting a possible $4 to $6 billion deficit on the City’s $39
billion budget. Unlike the unanticipated Hawaiian tsunami, the
Mayor is trying to meet this wave head-on by imposing a hiring
freeze and budget cuts ranging from an additional 2.5 percent
for the Board of Education to 15 percent for other city agencies.
Unlike other city agencies, New York City’s schools were already
struggling to overcome previously imposed cuts of $150 million
by the Mayor and the “bare bones” state budget piling on another
$150 million to be cut. Add to that a $2.8 billion shortfall in
the school construction budget and our public schools are no longer
able to ride the wave, but are about to be sucked under.
It is going to take more than just belt tightening to stop this
educational tsunami. Our city, and especially our schools, are
in trouble. If we are going to weather this storm, we need as
much support from the State and the Federal governments as they
gave to war torn countries in the past and supply to our allies
today. In 1975, the City was eventually forced to lay off 60,000
city employees and delay repairs and improvements to the infrastructure.
The public schools lost music, art and after-school programs along
with the finest professional faculties ever to be found in an
urban school system. Twenty-five years later, still suffering
with the effects of the 1975 fiscal tsunami, we are being forced
to go under again.
In a system that has historically mismanaged its human resources,
we will witness the exodus of educational leaders and professionals
never before seen in the history of NYC public schools. Businesses
will not remain in our city without a highly educated workforce.
We will never again be able to attract teachers and school leaders
to work in such a devastated public school system. And ultimately
– “suffer the little children.”
In 1946, a total of 159 tsunami-related fatalities resulted from
the destruction in Hawaii. Many were curious school children who
ventured into the exposed reef area, not knowing the receding
water to be a sign of an approaching tsunami. Do we have the political
will and courage to protect our children and the future of our
city? Or, are educational needs to be overshadowed by expedient
corporate and political interests? Is education the #1 political
issue only when the public and the politicians have nothing else
to worry about?
Levy is the President of the Council of Supervisors & Administrators.
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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