By Eric Yun
The city released its doomsday scenario to balance the city school’s budget on Sunday: layoffs for more than 4,000 teachers.
After Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, released last month, cut state aid to city schools by $1.4 billion, Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned extensive cuts would have to be made—especially if the teachers’ unions “last in, first out” (LIFO) policy is in place.
Under current labor agreements, teachers are laid off based on seniority. The practice is being attacked, however, by legislators who claim that layoffs should be based on a teacher’s merits.
State Senator John Flanagan (R-Suffolk) has introduced a bill that would repeal LIFO for city schools. Under the legislation, nine categories, including receiving unsatisfactory ratings, being convicted of a crime that did not lead to termination or ranking in the bottom 30 percent, would determine which teachers get fired.
Flanagan said the bill would not get rid of seniority; just ensure seniority is not the only factor in teacher terminations.
Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), a member of the Education Committee, said he supports overhauling the current process, but could not support Flanagan’s bill.
“We cannot discard the flawed LIFO process if the replacement process is just as flawed and creates legal issues. We must have a process that evaluates the teachers fairly and logically,” Addabbo said.
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), New York City’s teachers union, is predictably fighting heavily against the repeal of LIFO.
“People who were accused—but never found guilty—of misconduct would find themselves on the chopping block [under Flanagan’s bill],” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Meanwhile, principals who have targeted certain teachers without even seeing their work—as recently portrayed in a report by the DOE on the actions of principal Iris Blige—would have a new way to force out employees they just don’t like.”
The city recently disciplined Fordham High School principal Iris Blige for ordering assistant principals to give teachers she wanted to fire “unsatisfactory” ratings—without even observing the teachers in the classroom.
The bill was heard at the Senate’s Education Committee on Tuesday, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg travelled to Albany to lobby for the bill. It passed the Education Committee and was sent to the state Senate Tuesday night where it passed.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, threw a wrench into Bloomberg’s small victory Tuesday night by introducing a new bill. Cuomo’s bill would implement a statewide standard for teacher evaluations, which is backed by the unions. However, Bloomberg claims this new bill will do nothing to avoid his proposed layoffs.
The New York Times reports Cuomo’s bill is likely to get support in both the Senate and the Assembly; Flanagan’s bill was unlikely to pass the Assembly.
As the debate rages on over LIFO, the UFT is categorizing the city’s release of proposed layoffs as a “scare tactic” and political maneuvering.
In District 24—covering Corona, Lefrak City, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Ridgewood and south of Woodside—8 percent of teachers would be cut. In District 27—covering Far Rockaway, Seaside, Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, South Ozone Park, Rochdale, Springfield Gardens, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven and Ozone Park—6 percent of teachers would be cut. And in District 28—covering South Jamaica, Rochdale, Kew Gardens, Rego Park, Forest Hills and Jamaica—5 percent of teachers would be cut.
Looking at the impact on individual schools paints an even bleaker picture. P.S. 58 in Maspeth would lose 17 teachers. P.S. 290 in Maspeth would lose 3 teachers, half of their current total. Newly opened Queens Metropolitan High School would have to lay off nine teachers.
Queens Metropolitan High School principal Marci Levy Maguire told the New York Post that she supported the Mayor’s fight against LIFO. “Our new teachers are fantastic. They’re innovative. I would have hired differently had I known I would lose them,” she said.
Mulgrew said the city should stop focusing on layoffs and focus on the children.
“We’ve already lost nearly 5,000 teachers to attrition in the last two years, and class sizes are skyrocketing across the city. It’s time the Mayor joined us in fighting for the children of our city by supporting the extension of the state millionaire’s tax, rather than continuing to focus … on a bogus strategy to lay teachers off,” he said.