Monday, February 28, 2011

DOE Threatens Teacher Layoffs While Wasting Money

UFT offers ideas to stave off teacher cuts

Published: Sunday, February 27, 2011, 8:22 AM     Updated: Sunday, February 27, 2011, 8:26 AM
Tom WrobleskiBy Tom Wrobleski
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27Schools.jpgAssociated Press Photo"We always want to be recruiting teachers. We have to fill the pipeline." says Schools Chancellor Cathie Black.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Who needs a $5 million teacher recruitment drive when you're looking to lay off teachers?

That's what the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) wants to know.

The union said the city is still spending $5 million this year to recruit new teachers even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed eliminating 6,600 teacher positions.

"That's a real mind-boggler," said Emil Pietromonaco, Staten Island rep for the UFT. It's one of the things that the union says Bloomberg should look to cut out of the Department of Education (DOE) budget before taking the ax to teachers.

"Many other things can go," said Pietromonaco. "We have to protect the classroom. There are other avenues that they can look at."

In an effort to close a $600 million budget gap, Bloomberg said that 6,600 teacher positions could be eliminated through layoff and attrition.

Critics, including UFT president Michael Mulgrew, have questioned the eliminators given the fact that the city's tax revenues are coming in $2 billion better than projections.

Pietromonaco warned that with fewer teachers, class sizes will increase at already overcrowded schools; high school students could lose their Advanced Placement (AP) programs, and that there could be further cutbacks in arts and music programs.

The DOE budget, he said, is ripe with places to cut outright or trim, including:

*The $1.6 billion the DOE will spend on tuition to private schools for special education students.

*$125 million on outside vendors for information technology.

*$91 million on outside vendors to do professional development.

Speaking to the Advance, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black said the DOE's budget woes stem from the $1.4 billion cut in state aid the agency had taken.

"It's a huge state problem for us," she said.

Like the mayor, Ms. Black is looking for more state aid to help close the city's budget gap and help preserve teacher jobs.

As for the $5 million recruitment program, Ms. Black said, "We always want to be recruiting teachers We have to fill the pipeline."

Pietromonaco said City Hall "plays the same game every year," with January deficits followed by balanced budgets in June and then November surpluses.

Bloomberg is also trying to change the "last in, first out" law, which mandates that teacher layoffs be done by seniority. Bloomberg wants more flexibility to fire poorly performing teachers, regardless of their experience.

Pietromonaco said that for City Hall, "it's not about retaining the best teachers. It's about retaining the cheapest teachers."

Said Pietromonaco, "We don't want to go back to the Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall days."

Ms. Black said the DOE "wants the most effective teachers."

She said that when a teacher is removed from a school, that principal's budget gets a $75,000 slot, representing the average systemwide teacher salary, no matter how much the removed teacher was earning.

"It really doesn't matter if it's a more senior teacher making more money," said Ms. Black, "or a younger teacher. It doesn't change the equation. I think the UFT has really distorted that."

Pietromonaco pointed to teacher unions under fire in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

"It's a political agenda," Pietromonaco said. "Teachers seem to be the soup du jour."

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