No Teacher Layoffs, But City Schools Still Face Budget Cuts

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Teachers were spared from layoffs after the city reached a deal with the union and Department of Education last week — but principals were told Monday they have to shed $178 million from their budgets in the fiscal year starting next month.

The cuts add up to an average cut of 2.4 percent from the schools, though some schools could feel even deeper cuts.

"The first thing that will probably happen is they move past the non-mandated things," said Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan, who noted art, music, enrichment classes and library hours would be the first to take a hit.

Though 4,100 teachers' jobs were spared, principals can still eliminate teaching positions through a process called "excessing," which is different than a lay off because teachers remain on the city payroll.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly called for limiting the amount of time excessed teachers can remain in this Absent Teacher Reserve pool, which costs the city around $100 million a year. There were more than 1,100 teachers in the pool as of April.

The mayor argued that teachers who can't find permanent positions often aren't very good, but the union claims principals may not want experienced and, therefore, more expensive teachers.

Under the new agreement, the city can assign substitute teachers from the ATR pool to different schools each week instead of pairing them with just one school for the entire year.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the city will carefully track which schools need substitutes, but it won't force any principal to take a teacher he or she doesn't want.

"They could get a better shot at finding a better position in this new format, which is why we did this," teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said.

The deal saves the city more than $40 million because schools won't have to hire as many additional per diem, or daily, substitutes. The city is also saving another $17 million by eliminating sabbaticals (paid time off) for tenured teachers. Both measures are subject to approval by the union's delegate assembly, which is meeting Tuesday.

Bloomberg had threatened to layoff 4,100 teachers, but many political observers doubted he would go through with them, especially since couldn't convince Albany to scrap the so-called "last in, first out" rule that requires new teachers to be the first to go regardless of merit.

But the mayor said the budget fix was temporary.

"This year we put $2 billion more into education," to make up for a loss of federal funds, he explained. "We don't have that for next year."