Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
Bloomberg's Teacher Layoff Threats Are a 'Stunt,' Says Union
Monday, February 28, 2011 - 06:00 PM
Unions representing city teachers and principals claimed the mayor is bluffing when he says he plans to lay off more than 4,600 teachers.
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said Monday that the publication of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's detailed breakdown of how many schools would lose teachers was a "stunt to create panic and fear among teachers and school communities."
"The time to panic is not now," said Council of School Supervisors and Administrators president Ernest Logan, who was also at the press conference. "If he has a problem he needs to sit down and talk to us about how we solve their problem."
Logan, of the principals union, said his members received no advance notice about the layoff details and only read about them Monday in the media.
"We don't know what they're based on," he said when asked about projections that some schools could lose up to half their teachers because they have less than four years' experience. "I read what you [reporters] put out because nobody ever said that to me."
The unions claim the mayor is using layoffs to build support for ending the policy that requires new teachers to be laid off before senior teachers. They also say the city could use its $3 billion surplus to prevent any reduction to the teaching force. The mayor said a total of more than 6,100 teaching positions will be eliminated through layoffs and attrition.
But Bloomberg said he's already using most of the surplus to prevent even deeper cuts to the school system and that the rest of the money is needed to cushion the blow of next year's deficit.
He also used an editorial in the New York Times to position himself as a moderate on labor issues. Unlike Ohio and Wisconsin, where some elected officials want to weaken labor unions, Bloomberg wrote that "unions play a vital role in protected against abuses in the workplace, and in my experience they are integral to training, deploying and managing a professional workforce."
Bloomberg said the best way forward is to ask the legislature for the power to collectively bargain a new layoff policy with the union. But in the meantime, he said, it's necessary for Albany to change the last in, first out law so the city can conduct layoffs "based on common-sense factors like eliminating teachers who have been rated unsatisfactory, found guilty of criminal charges or failed to meet professional certification requirements."
When asked about the mayor's editorial, Mulgrew said "he does believe in collective bargaining. He believes in collective bargaining when people are on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs."
Logan added that Albany has already passed a law creating a new system for rating teachers, which will take effect next year.
Teachers and principals also worry that losing more than 6,100 teachers will cause class sizes to rise.
"Layoffs are going to cause chaos either way," said Beverly Logan (no relation to the union president), principal of PS 156 in Brooklyn. Her school would lose six of its 58 teachers based on the city's projections.
At Columbia Secondary School in Manhattan, science teacher Daniel Novak said the staff wasn't surprised to see that 14 of its 20 teachers would lose their jobs because the new school has attracted people from other professions. Novak was a biologist before coming to the school three years ago.
"We try to look at it pragmatically as something that's posturing," he said when asked what he told the students, "and tried to reassure everyone in the school as well as the students."
Meanwhile, the Republican-led state senate's education committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on a bill to end the policy known as last in, first out. Similar legislation is considered to have a slimmer chance in the Democrat-led assembly.