Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he supports Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to expedite a new teacher evaluation system, which would allow districts to promote — and terminate — teachers based on factors other than seniority. But the mayor said that system won't factor into layoffs since it wouldn't take effect before September.
"It simply kicks the can down the road," Bloomberg said, "and it will kick some of our best teachers to the curb, and I think that will be a travesty."
The mayor called on Cuomo to include a bill in his budget amendment Thursday that would end the last in, first out policy that requires new teachers to be laid-off first. The Republican-led state Senate passed such a bill on Tuesday, but it faces an uphill fight in the Democrat-led Assembly.
"We have a budget problem this year," Bloomberg said of the need to deal with more than 4,600 teacher layoffs before the fall.
He noted the city schools alone are losing more than $2 billion in state and federal aid, and other agencies are also facing deep cuts. Bloomberg's preliminary budget also relies on an extra $600 million in state aid that has yet to materialize.
Cuomo has said his proposal to get a statewide teacher evaluation system ready by September will "allow us to replace last in, first out."
The state agreed to create such a system when it won its application for $700 million last year in federal Race to the Top funds. Teacher evaluations would be based on student achievement, among other factors.
A spokesman for Cuomo said these annual performance reviews would become a significant factor in decisions including promotion, retention, tenure, compensation and termination — meaning layoffs. This would reduce the role of seniority but not eliminate it completely.
But with Bloomberg pushing for action before the fall, the question is whether there could be some kind of compromise. Bloomberg has stated that he would like to abolish the Absent Teacher Reserve pool. This group consists of more than 1,000 teachers who don't have permanent positions but are still paid their full salaries. Many of them lost their jobs when their schools were closed or had to reduce their staff and are currently working as subs.
The mayor wants to put a one-year limit on how long teachers can stay in the ATR pool, arguing that those who can't find new positions before then probably aren't very good. But the union staunchly opposes his plan.
The teachers union also insists the mayor is bluffing and that there's really no need to eliminate 6,100 teaching positions through attrition and layoffs because the city has a $3 billion surplus. The mayor, however, said he's committed most of that surplus to preventing deeper education cuts and to shoring up next year's $4.6 billion budget gap.
With Bloomberg saying teacher layoffs are inevitable and the union calling them a scare tactics, some parents and community leaders say the solution is for Albany to extend the so-called millionaires tax. But the mayor and the governor remain opposed to any tax increases.
At a rally of about 50 people City Hall, parent Gail Gadsden of New York Communities for Change said Bloomberg should support a surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers to prevent teacher layoffs.
"He should be a part of the solution not the problem," she said. She said her son attends PS 198 in the Bronx, which is slated to lose two teachers under the current layoff plan because they don't have seniority.
In Albany, a few groups also rallied in favor of the personal income tax surcharge and housing for low-income people. Shortly after 12:30 p.m., around 150 members of the group VOCAL New York gathered at the main entrance to the Capitol and began to chant.
They unfurled banners and used them to block all of the entrances to the Capitol hallways, including the escalators. After around a half hour, the police began arresting those blocking the entry ways. The groups include Community Voices Heard, Picture the Homeless and Queers for Economic Justice. The groups work with the poor, homeless and those with HIV and AIDS.
Around a dozen people were arrested. Cuomo was not at the Capitol because he was in New York City.
With reporting by Karen DeWitt in Albany