City Budget Progresses with Help from Teachers Union

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Bob Hennelly, WNYC senior reporter and Erin Einhorn, political reporter for the Daily News, talked about the latest with the New York City budget. 

While Albany was hard at work late on Friday night passing the gay marriage bill, the New York City Council was busy concluding their budget negotiations. Mayor Bloomberg had his own announcement to make on Friday night; he'd reached an agreement with the teachers union to avoid the ever-controversial teacher layoffs and there will be no fire company closings either.

The union concedes

At the last minute, the teachers union agreed to end teacher sabbaticals for a year and they also made a shift in how teacher substitutes are used. Erin Einhorn of the Daily News explained.

Three's a bunch of teachers who have tenure so they're still on the payroll but they don't have permanent jobs and they've just been collecting their salaries and not being used fully, so now they're all going to be used as day to day substitutes which is going to save the city money from its substitute funds...They'll be used more effectively than they have been in the past. Before, some of them weren't being used completely and the city was hiring day to day subs. Now the city won't have to do that.

WNYC's Bob Hennelly said, according to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, there's also a secondary gain.

Maybe the likelihood increases that the teacher gets a permanent assignment because they get a chance to be out and about with another school environment.

The concessions don't make up all of what the city needed, Einhorn said, but it allowed them to make significant progress.

The art of negotiation

The UFT put up about $60 million in concessions during the city budget negotiations and Bob Hennelly was struck by the actual skill of the negotiators at the table.

I was very impressed with the cool approach of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Mulgrew, what a labor leader in the sense of, on one hand he is bashing Bloomberg and keeping his base fired up while he is working with Walcott and Christine Quinn the speaker to find common ground.

Not all good news

Other deep cuts are still expected and there's a scary future to contend with, Hennelly said.

We really have a disastrous fiscal years in the out years, a $5 billion budget gap in 2013 and the reality that Albany and Washington are stepping away and are going to continue cutting their contributions to the city so even tougher choices lay ahead. We dodged the bullet this time.

2,600 teacher positions are still expected to be cut through attrition, as well as 1,000 non-teacher city layoffs. Hennelly said he expects the class-size issue will remain a problem but it won't be as bad as it could have been. Parks, health and housing will also still see cuts, said Erin Einhorn, and public libraries had some of their money restored by not entirely.

The bleakest cuts were averted, but there are some cuts and citizens will notice them, I think for sure.

This Thursday is the annual fiscal year deadline.