Streams

Bloomberg Visits Albany, Seeks Money

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

WNYC

Michael Bloomberg came to Albany on Monday asking for money, and painting a grim picture of what New York City would look like if he didn’t get it.

One third of all senior centers, shuttered; thousands of public school teachers, laid off. city government, inefficiently down-sized.

While asking for money to keep New York City’s government operating this year, Bloomberg is lobbying for a series of technical changes in state law that he said could prevent the city from facing future cash problems of its own. Among them are changes to city pensions, teacher seniority rules, and canceling $12,000 annual supplemental pay for uniformed retirees.

The mayor — who traveled to Albany with a cadre of aides — said he was there to “explain to Albany how they can help us reduce our costs elsewhere, without costing the state one dime.”

Like Governor Cuomo —a fiscally conservative Democratic governor — Bloomberg is using the state’s fiscal problems to push through structural changes he said will help lawmakers avoid future cash crunches.

The mayor wants the state to change a law that requires teacher layoffs to be done based on seniority, rather than merit. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose support is crucial for any legislative action in the capitol, said he was open to finding some “objective” criteria, other than seniority, to decide which teachers are laid off.

But another element of Bloomberg’s legislative push — the elimination of $12,000 supplemental pay for retired cops and firemen (sent on top of their pensions) — hit a speed bump.

During his testimony to the joint Finance Committee, Bloomberg was asked if he needed a “home rule” message — a formal vote of lawmakers — from the New York City Council before asking state lawmakers to consider canceling those payments.

“I don’t know if it’s necessary” Bloomberg told the committee. “I can tell you this. Unless you tell us you’ll do it, I’m not going to fight that battle. I was asked by the legislature, with congestion pricing, to come up with a home rule message. We did,” and, Bloomberg said those City Council members who took a vote on the controversial bill were left “twisting in the wind” because state lawmakers never followed up with a vote on the same legislation.

“I’m not going to let that happen again,” said Bloomberg.

Later, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat and ally of Bloomberg, told the committee that a home rule message was “likely” needed in order to cancel those $12,000 payments. Afterwards, Quinn told WNYC the issue was still being researched by her staff.

The mayor told reporters eliminating the $12,000 payments could save the city enough money to prevent thousands of teachers from being laid off. And that equation, he said, would be powerful argument in the City Council, if the issue needed a vote there.

“I think the City Council is going to have to sit there and say, '10,000 teachers or a home rule message.' That seems to me something that'll carry pretty quickly,” Bloomberg said, “but I don't even think it's needed."

After testifying in front of a joint Assembly-Senate budget committee, Bloomberg told reporters “We are going to get less money, New York City is, from New York State. I'm not happy about it. But that's the real world. That's the only way the state is going to get its budget under control.”

“If they don’t give us an alternative on how we can reduce the effect of the cut, not the cut…it’s going to be virtually all in personnel,” the mayor said. “And senior homes is personnel because the expenses is not the rent of the buildings. It’s the people that work there.”

He also said, “Make no mistake. Those will close. We don’t have the money.”

But, Bloomberg said, there are restorations to Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget that legislators need to make.

“We're not up here like you'd think we'd be, asking the state 'Don't cut, give us the money.' We're asking for it to be equitable, which I don't think it is."

Those restorations include $300 million in aid to municipalities, which was zeroed out last year and is proposed to be zeroed out in Cuomo’s budget. Also, Bloomberg said there is $650 million that Governor Cuomo’s predecessor, David Paterson, “promised” to send to New York City. Bloomberg says Cuomo has an “obligation” to honor that commitment.

“I think every administration has an obligation to honor previous administrations commitments, because otherwise, nobody could make long-term commitments,” Bloomberg said.

His comments on that subject came minutes after Cuomo’s budget director sent out a statement disputing Bloomberg’s calculation about how much of a cut in funding New York City is slated to get from the state.

“The Mayor's budget assumed a double-digit percentage increase in education aid,” which Megna said “was obviously not realistic.”

Megna — who was also Paterson’s budget director — said, “Governor Cuomo's budget does not cut $1.4 billion in education aid to New York City. Rather, on a year to year basis, education aid to New York City is cut $579 million.”

When asked about the discrepancy with Megna’s figure, Bloomberg said the city was banking on $650 million that Paterson promised. Then, Governor Cuomo’s “budget cuts us $650 million from where we were before. You add those two numbers together…you get $1.3, $1.4 billion.”

Megna’s push-back against Bloomberg’s calculation was a reminder how, sometimes, Albany can be an inhospitable place for the mayor.

His well-orchestrated push to enact congestion pricing in Manhattan died — without a vote — in the Assembly, which is led by a Democrat from Manhattan, Sheldon Silver. The mayor has angered Democrats in the State Senate by funding their Republican counterparts — who support Bloomberg’s resistance on taxes, but have dragged their feet on other portions of his agenda, including congestion pricing and non-partisan redistricting.

For his part, Bloomberg said the reception he got was positive. When asked about a closed-door meeting with Democrats in the State Senate, Bloomberg told reporters, “There was no argument whatsoever” and “I walked around, shook hands with everyone, and everyone seemed please to see me there.”

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Comments [16]

Anon

There is no objective criteria for determining merit for teachers. Education is not a business. The highest performing students have the best teachers? I think not. Changing tenure would give principals carte blanch to get rid of anyone if they don't like you hair, etc. This is what it's already like before one earns tenure. Tenure was created to prevent layoffs based on the subjective judgment of one person.

Feb. 09 2011 06:02 PM

Let me say - yes I am a bitter teacher who no longer teaches in NYC.

I know of many good schools, principals, APs, teachers, school secretaries, and construction contractors who avoid the following pitfalls in NYC DOE!

Larger problems, esp. fiscal mismanagement are obscured by "teacher tenure" debate.

Why do we allow the quality of our future workers' skills rest on the backs of middle class?

Most fiscally prudent policies (backed by extensive research) prove that educ. dollars spent from ages 0-6 save $ in long run, and lead to more democratic, prosperous municipalities.

Most dramatic are findings of how when more $ spent WISELY on 0-6 yrs keeps taxpayers costs down. For ex.,cost of 0-6 development is less than $ spent on criminal justice (prisons, courts, police) and which even discourages investment urban areas, lowering tax revenues back into system itself. Yet, 0-6 programs prevent future crime

Prisons serve powerful financial interests, not society they claim to protect.

Originally, the current system was put in place for discounts, maintain standards, etc. Instead it leads to vendor favoritism.

Now principals spend budgets (more than adequate to run good schools) simply to maintain next years' allotment.

School secretaries are forced to spend funds quickly with approved "vendors" regardless of what is actually needed.

If PTA, SLT or Princ. save $, they are penalized getting less $ in future.

I do not advocate tenure as it is now. Improvement in teaching and learning may be measured using methods principals do not use properly and require time, which they are not encouraged to do.

I used diagnostics in my classroom before "teaching to the test."

For ex., 1st week, teachers give students baseline exams to determine strengths and weaknesses. Then MONITOR goals and strategies with student, parents, AND with a principal who cares. Students may work with teachers at lunch and after-school.

Our society must recognize that teachers do not teach for money.

Even the highest paid suburban teachers bring skills and experience to schools that are far more valued in business.

I propose we take a page from suburban hs who allocate $ to academic centers staffed w/ teachers who tutor on their professional period. Actually, the UFT union contract requires teachers to do hall or lunch duty, which often wastes teachers' talents and makes them resentful.

The problem is that tutoring centers, study halls and even libraries in many NYC DOE hs schools are not available due to "overcrowding."

HS teachers cannot meet students during Prof Period b/c all classrooms are occupied.

How can teachers be accountable for scores if they are forced to do "whatever extra they can" in stressful conditions?

All of these factors are worse for Special Education and ELL students. If these were monitored carefully, NYC DOE would be fighting civil rights cases continually.

Feb. 08 2011 02:06 PM
Bob Drake from Bronx

Tenure for high school teachers is NOT the same as university tenure. It is simply a due process procedure granted to teachers who have undergone three years of satisfactory performance and applied for it. Since half of new teachers leave the profession withing six years, these tenured teachers should benefit the city because they have demonstrated their quality and their commitment. Teaching is an art not learned overnight. There is a benefit to retaining senior teachers because, whether formally or informally, they mentor younger teacher who seek them out. Principals have a reason for wanting to eliminate senior teachers because they are more expensive and have a history at the school, sometimes more than the young principals being trained at Bloomberg's so-called leadership academy. Bloomberg has done many good things for NYC, buyt he does not understand education. As a friend once told me, "Education bubbles up from the bottom, it doesn't trickle down from the top." Bloomberg out to be listening to the senior teachers that he disparages.

Feb. 08 2011 11:11 AM
Brownell from East Village

The primary issue on all of these matters is trust. The mayor cannot be trusted. Period. For Mayor Bloomberg, this is a fiscal decision. New teachers may or may not be fresh and dynamic, but they surely are cheaper, and money is the driver behind his "Quality" initiative. Even on the merits alone, though, the Mayor's current framing of "Quality, Not Experience" is not valid.

First, there is no "case-by-case" procedure to measure the quality of teachers. There is a flawed test-based computation and a corrupt principal structure to make the "case-by-case" decisions. Principals are notoriously petty dictators and political hacks where favoritism is the ruling principle in their little roosts. Test scores have been shown everywhere to be an unreliable measure of teacher quality. A uniform seniority rule has obvious shortcomings, but at least it is consistent, transparent and roughly fair.

Second, experience does not affect teaching in the same way as office work or physical labor. In office and physical jobs, you can be ineffective and remain on the job as long as your physical strength holds up, but - like medicine and law - education has powerful structural forces that weed out most bad teachers long before they qualify for retirement. Most teachers leave the profession within five years, or they learn how to be effective. You can be excellent or mediocre, but you simply cannot stand in front of unruly pupils year after year without delivering a modicum of instruction and order. So again, experience has obvious faults, but it beats the alternative as a measure of teacher quality.

The mayor'shypocrisy is easy to refute for the pension add-ons, but he seems to be making more progress against teachers. I deeply hope he will not succeed in yet another anti-labor initiative.

Feb. 08 2011 10:58 AM
Paul in Manhattan from Manhattan

The Mayor targets special education students who are in private schools paid for by the city. As a parent of such a child, who is autistic and at age 14 is performing at a 2nd grade level (which is a miracle) I can only ask Mr. Bloomberg where the public schools are that can serve these children? I would not be putting my son on a bus to a special-needs school in New Jersey every morning if there was a viable program available in the New York City school system. Many of these private schools are in fact less expensive than the public schools.

Feb. 08 2011 10:36 AM
Brian from Hoboken

"Seniority is merit based"?! What planet is this guy living on? Why does EVERY other job I know that my friends and I are employed in leave is subject to termination for non-performance? Why are teachers so afraid of this? It is ridiculous. I am in sales Everyone can have up years and down years due to factors beyond our control. But after a couple years, the best sales people have mostly good years and the worst are consistently at the bottom. So can anyone make a snap judgment on performance of me or a teacher or anyone else based on a short snapshot of performance? Probably not. But some of the pathetic teachers out there are well known within their community and school. But they coast along. Disgusting.

Feb. 08 2011 10:36 AM
jawbone

BTW, I found it difficult, requiring checking several screens, to get to the comments.

Used to be a link was provided at the segment entry.

Whassup?

Feb. 08 2011 10:34 AM
jawbone

I can't imagine there wasn't a signed document of some sort --loan papers? repayment agreement?-- for the loan of almost $2M (considered real money back then) to the city from the pension funds.

Now, I would think this has the same bearing as a, well, contract.

I've noticed that on Wall Street contracts, especially with the highest paid and higher ups, were sacred. No matter whether the banksters receive gov't bailouts or were losing money, those bonuses, being contracted, had to be paid. Contractua obligationl!

Yet, when it comes to little people type workers...meh, what's a contract? Any contract can be broken, along with unions, right? And the sooner the better, all in the name of Cheap Labor, that great Republican holy grail.

Cheap Labor remuneration, of course, only applies to little people, especially where there are lots of them. The elites? Well, by definition they are not considered to be on the same plane of justice or contract enforcement! They are elites and deserve their high pay. Little people? Well, that's what high taxes for, to be applied to those little annoying gnats.

Not a good way to run a society, methinks.

Feb. 08 2011 10:32 AM
Latisha from Bronx

Cities and towns need to have some type of controlled bankruptcy to clear off many of these obligations, much like a bankrupt company. The tax payer is not an endless source of revenue. We are at a point where there are more non-workers collecting than people actually working in many places. There also needs to be new laws to stop politicians from pandering to public workers in exchange for votes.

Feb. 08 2011 10:31 AM
Jacob from Brooklyn


A lot of hard working, great teachers that do not "play ball" with administrators will be the ones targeted.

How do you define merit? Don't be so sure that some of the best teachers will be cut if seniority rules are abolished.

Feb. 08 2011 10:29 AM
RLewis from the bowery

A loan to Koch from a cop pension fund??? It could be true, but really hard to believe. Brian, how about a show where we can get some facts. Who's telling the truth about these pension funds? Let's look into it.

Feb. 08 2011 10:29 AM
JT

Is there any research that tells us if the seniority based firing rules are driving new teachers away from public schools?

Feb. 08 2011 10:29 AM
RLewis from the Bowery

So sad that when we get to the details that actually provide understanding, both Brian and the guest claim that, "it's over my head." Guys, that's where the rubber meets the road. Why are we just covering the surface? I can get that at the regular news outlets.

Feb. 08 2011 10:25 AM
Katie from Huntington, NY

Bloomberg knows nothing about teaching. He wants to fire the most experienced teachers (read higher paid) under the guise that seniority isn't fair, he wants to lay off teachers, drop their salaries...and then, when test scores suffer and kids fail, he'll again blame the teachers for not doing their job. Seniority and tenure were enacted to protect teachers from people like him.

Feb. 08 2011 10:22 AM
phil

The mayor claims that charter schools get better results than regular public schools for less money; why not require them to create and run special ed programs, thus saving the city the cost of private schools?

Feb. 08 2011 10:21 AM
Anon from BKLYN

Outrageous! Totally undemocratic. The mayor stacks the deck to his advantage by appointing education officials. Then he asks Albany to give him control of the schools. Is it any wonder that he gets his way?
Typical of King Bloomberg

Feb. 08 2011 10:20 AM

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