Sunday, May 08, 2011


Mayor’s Budget Seeks to Lay Off 5% of Teachers


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presenting his budget on Friday at City Hall. The spending plan called for laying off 5,400 city workers. Pool photo by Richard Drew


Published: May 6, 2011  - Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed on Friday to lay off 5,400 New York City workers, including 5 percent of all schoolteachers, in what would be the first significant city job cuts in two decades.

The proposed reductions, which Mr. Bloomberg said had been made necessary by sharp drops in state and federal aid, would leave the city with 289,000 municipal employees, its smallest work force since he took office in 2002. The mayor would also slightly reduce the city’s overall spending, to $65.7 billion. His austere budget proposal follows years in which he expanded city spending and granted pay raises to city employees.

“This budget is full of difficult decisions,” Mr. Bloomberg said at City Hall during a presentation of his spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal faces uncertainty; in recent years, he has repeatedly pulled back from threatened cuts as part of negotiations with the City Council, which has the power to approve or reject the budget. Even before the mayor released his proposal to the public on Friday, education advocates and elected officials pledged to resist the proposed cuts.

In an interview after the mayor spoke, the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said, “We will do everything in our power to prevent teacher layoffs.”

But Mr. Bloomberg’s tough talk reflects what he says is a grim economic reality, driven by rising pension and health care costs and falling state and federal aid. “This thought that ‘Oh, the city has plenty of money, they can make up for anything’ is just not realistic,” he said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who in the past has suggested that the city had enough money to minimize cuts, said on Friday through a spokesman, “We look forward to continuing to work with the mayor and his administration to rebuild the city and state economies so we can create good jobs for all New Yorkers.”

The mayor’s proposal to lay off teachers follows his unsuccessful yearlong campaign to overhaul the rules for job reductions in the city school system, and some union and political leaders saw the layoff proposal as an effort to force the Legislature to address that issue. State law requires that the city lay off the most recently hired teachers first; Mr. Bloomberg has argued that the city should be allowed to lay off teachers based on merit, and has made that argument a centerpiece of his education proposals.

“We feel like pawns in his political struggles,” said Ann Kjellberg, a schools advocate and the mother of a fourth grader. “He said he needs $300 million to save these jobs, and $300 million seems like an amount you could find if you looked hard.”

The new schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, estimated that the layoffs would increase class size by an average of two students. Depending on the grade, that could mean as many as 24 to 28 students per classroom, Mr. Walcott said.

“All schools will feel this one way or the other,” he said. “We have to manage this, and manage this very well.”

Mr. Bloomberg proposes not only to lay off 4,100 teachers, but also to eliminate 2,000 other teaching positions through attrition. He would reduce the number of parks employees and health clinic workers, along with operators of the 311 service, through layoffs and attrition.

Some of the staff cuts would have a direct impact on city programs. Angela Montefinise, a spokeswoman for the New York Public Library, said the Bloomberg budget would cut $40 million from the city library system, forcing it to “slash its book-buying budget, cut back to just four days of service a week and possibly close up to 12 locations, lay off hundreds of workers, and eliminate countless programs and classes, despite being used by New Yorkers more than ever before.”

The budget would also close 20 fire companies but largely spare the Police Department at a time when, the mayor said, it remained important for the city to focus on security because of continuing terrorism threats.

The budget proposal includes no tax increases, but the mayor does propose some ways to increase revenue, including the addition of more cameras at traffic intersections to bring in an estimated $5.6 million in new fines.

The Bloomberg administration is also proposing expansion in several areas. It said it would open 10 new senior centers, each serving 250 to 300 people, around the city. One of the centers would cater to the visually impaired, while another would be intended to serve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors — the first such center in the nation, according to the city’s Department for the Aging.

The Council plans to hold hearings on the budget proposal, and will seek changes from the mayor. The final budget must be approved before the fiscal year begins.

Union officials and a variety of advocacy groups are gearing up to fight the proposed budget with a series of protests scheduled to begin on Monday. “Same smoke, same mirrors, same attempt to blame others for his decision to lay off thousands of teachers,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Some council members also denounced the mayor’s handling of financing for child care for low-income families.

Mr. Bloomberg said he would allocate $40 million to avoid a cut in the number of child-care vouchers available in the city. But Councilman David G. Greenfield of Brooklyn, a Democrat who has often been a Bloomberg ally, called the mayor’s approach to the child-care issue “fundamentally dishonest” because, he said, there was still an overall cut in financing for child-care vouchers.

Administration officials took strong exception to the criticism.

“Every single child that receives child-care services this year will be able to receive them next year,” said Marc La Vorgna, a spokesman for the mayor. “Period.”



Looming Layoffs at Schools Imperil Bloomberg’s Legacy


Published: May 6, 2011 - Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s threats of teacher layoffs have had a ring of déjà vu. He used the same threat last year to squeeze more money from the federal government and to press his case for abolishing the state law that protects the most senior teachers from losing their jobs.

Enlarge This Image


<< Teachers from Intermediate School 339, in foreground, gathered for a teacher-appreciation event on Friday, the day that details of planned layoffs were announced. Todd Heisler/The New York Times


<<Graphic:  Facing Faculty Losses

The strategy yielded a partial victory — $800 million in stimulus money, which, when combined with a pay freeze, took layoffs off the table, but did nothing to alter the seniority law.

The law still stands, and when the mayor again raised the prospect of layoffs, skeptical observers wondered if he was running the same play all over again. But those layoffs came a big step closer to becoming reality on Friday, when the mayor put them in his executive budget, saying they were needed to balance the city’s finances.

In proposing to lay off 4,100 teachers, Mr. Bloomberg turned a political third rail into fair game. He is taking on the teachers’ union amid an incendiary national debate over the impact of public employees’ benefits and protections on state and local governments.

Unlike Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has called leaders of his state’s teachers’ union “political thugs,” or Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, now nationally famous for cutting bargaining rights for most government workers, Mr. Bloomberg has, for now, aimed his public criticism elsewhere. He blamed the state during his budget presentation on Friday, saying it paid 45 percent of the city’s education costs in 2008, but in the next fiscal year, it will pay only 39 percent.

Still, the union and the mayor are at odds like never before. The mayor was able to avoid giving teachers a pay raise last year, because their contract expired in October 2009. There is still no contract. And now they are facing pink slips for the first time since the 1970s.

Michael Mulgrew, the union president, described the mayor’s announcement on Friday as the “smoke and mirrors” of an administration trying to save face after threatening layoffs for months. “The teachers have been hearing this since January,” Mr. Mulgrew said.

After negotiating generous raises into its previous contract, the teachers’ union sat out the 2009 mayoral election, and then was pressured into making important concessions last year because of the state’s Race to the Top grant application, agreeing to an increase in the charter school cap and the creation of a statewide teacher evaluation system. 

But it still has very powerful allies in the Democratic majority in the Assembly, which could make it difficult for Mr. Bloomberg to make headway on the seniority front. But that does not seem to dissuade City Hall from continuing to pursue changes in the law.

Speaking at City Hall on Friday, the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said he would continue to push the state to allow layoffs based on merit, not years of service.

“This,” Mr. Walcott said, “is not about demonizing teachers.”

The City Council still has to approve the budget, and while the number of layoffs will probably go down, it is unlikely all layoffs will be averted, officials said.

For Mr. Bloomberg, the layoffs risk derailing a key element of his legacy: the progress of New York City schools. Because teachers must be laid off based on seniority, new schools, a cornerstone of his education reform strategy, and schools in poor neighborhoods stand to lose the most because they tend to employ the most-junior teachers. Most, but not all, of those teachers would be replaced by more-senior teachers from elsewhere in the system, negating one of the victories the mayor eked out during negotiations over the last contract, giving principals the right to choose their own staff.

“We are not going to walk away from our education system,” the mayor said on Friday.

But the task of improving the schools will definitely be more complicated if mass layoffs occur.

Class sizes will increase by an average of two students, city officials said, exacerbating overcrowding in many schools.

The uncertainty of who might be laid off and who might be transferred to other schools has been unsettling to teachers and principals, who were not notified in advance of what Mr. Bloomberg’s layoff numbers would be or given any directions on what they should do before the school year ends.

There could also be cuts among teachers in the Teach for America program, which recruits young people from top colleges for short stints teaching in poor schools. Those teachers are not considered different than regular teachers, so there would probably be fewer of them next year, though some work in hard-to-fill areas like special education that are protected from job cuts. 

Columbia Secondary School in Harlem, where close to half of the students come from Spanish-speaking homes, could lose 70 percent of its current teachers. Its principal, Gary Biester, wondered, “What kind of message is being delivered to the community that this school is intended to serve?”

At the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a new citywide gifted school in Bensonhurst that could lose one-third of its teachers, the principal, Donna Taylor, said she continued to believe money would be found somehow, so she told her teachers to “take a deep breath.”

“We have spent millions of dollars on making these new small schools,” Ms. Taylor said. “I don’t think we are going to throw it all away in a tight budget year.”

Noah Rosenberg contributed reporting.

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