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Judge stops NY state from cutting $260 million in NYC school funds

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) - A judge temporarily blocked New York state from cutting approximately $260 million in New York city school funding on Thursday after education and union officials could not come to an agreement on the use of teacher evaluations.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez issued a preliminary injunction at the request of a group of parents and students, who earlier this month filed a lawsuit claiming that the funding cuts violate students' constitutional right to meaningful educational opportunities.

"Innocent students that had no influence over the legislative process or (performance evaluation) negotiations were potentially placed at risk academically," the judge said in his ruling.

The injunction will last until a final determination in the lawsuit is reached, Mendez said.

The New York City school budget for 2012/2013 was approximately $24 billion, according to the city's website. The state's school funding aid to New York city for the current fiscal year is approximately $7.9 billion, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesman for the governor's office said the state intends to appeal the ruling.

The city's education department lost the money for the current school year after it failed to strike a deal with the United Federation of Teachers by a January 17 deadline on a new system for evaluating teacher performance.

The state had made such systems a condition for receiving millions of dollars in aid, and Governor Andrew Cuomo refused to alter the deadline.

Teacher evaluations are a contentious issue throughout the country, prompting disputes between cities and teachers unions, including last year's seven-day strike in Chicago.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has clashed repeatedly with the teachers union during his tenure, and each side was quick to blame the other in the wake of the failed negotiations last month.

City officials have warned that the loss in funding could lead to fewer teachers and guidance counselors, cuts to test preparation programs and the elimination of extracurricular activities.

"We're very pleased that the judge understood the importance of maintaining the status quo and preventing these cuts from going into effect while we develop the issues and move to trial," said Michael Rebell, the attorney who brought the lawsuit.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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