Schools slated for $1.5B cut

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a $1.5 billion cut to public school aid for his 2011-12 budget, which has raised fears the city may lay off teachers to make up the gap, although Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the United Federation of Teachers and some city councilmen hope it does not come to that.

In his budget, Cuomo reduced the $20.9 billion awarded to public schools in fiscal year 2010-11 to $19.4 billion for the next fiscal year, a more than 7 percent cut. The governor’s office said in a statement this cut would represent almost 3 percent of school districts statewide’s projected total operating expenditures and more than 7 percent of the state support they receive.

In testimony before the state Assembly on the budget, Bloomberg said these cuts could require layoffs. He said this could be avoided by changing some state education mandates, which require the city to spend a certain amount of money in programs and services that are not funded. The mandates Bloomberg mentioned included increasing costs in special education by 13 percent, paying to send special education students to private schools even if their parents have not considered public schools with special education and funding summer school special education.

“In these instances, without mandate relief, there can be no reduction in taxpayer spending — just a shift in whose pocket the money comes from,” Bloomberg said.

Yet Mike Mulgrew, president of the UFT, disagreed with the mayor that Cuomo’s proposals required layoffs, ´╗┐as the operating expenses to schools statewide would only require a 3 percent cut.

“We have every confidence that [city Schools Chancellor] Cathie Black, whose management skills the mayor has repeatedly cited, will be able to manage a reduction like this without laying off teachers and raising class sizes,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

Councilmen Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said they supported changing mandates, but if laying off teachers is necessary, they were suspicious of Bloomberg’s plans to change the system of layoffs.

In his State of the City speech last month, Bloomberg suggested changing the “last in, first out” seniority system in which teachers who have been with the city for the shortest amount of time are let go and putting in its place a merit system.

Dromm, a former city public school teacher, denounced this plan. He said when he came out as openly gay in 1992, he believed if not for the current system, a principal could have chosen to fire him for his sexuality. He said he also feared principals firing better-paid, experienced teachers to get multiple new teachers at lower salaries.

“That’s why we have these protections, so that the politics of a school aren’t used against teachers,” Dromm said.

Weprin said he did not mind schools taking merit into consideration, but feared that merit would be determined based solely on standardized test scores.

“There is no priority for a teacher who inspires kids or who excites kids or who kids like,” Weprin said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 10:41 am, October 12, 2011
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