Teacher Layoffs Averted, Now About that Raise...

The city will not lay off 4400 teachers this fall, as planned. That announcement was made Wednesday morning just as city principals were gearing up to receive their doomsday budgets for the coming fall.

But the money has to come from somewhere. That's why Mayor Bloomberg has announced that the city will offer no raises to teachers - or principals - for the next two years. The city is facing a shortfall of $500 million in school aid from Albany. The Department of Education says a freeze on raises will save $400 million annually.

In a letter to principals, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein wrote:

"I know that we are asking you to make a difficult sacrifice at a time when many of your families are struggling to make ends meet. But at a time when the City—indeed, the entire country—is being forced to make do with less, this plan allows us to retain the most important ingredient in our schools: the hardworking educators who each day are making a real difference in the lives of our students."

However, despite the mayor's announcement that city teachers and principals will not get any raises, both unions were quick to remind everyone that such a proposal needs to be negotiated at the bargaining table. The city's last offer was a 2 percent wage increase for teachers and principals. United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said nothing had changed - just the mayor's proposal to scale back 2 percent to 0 percent.

"This is a process that the UFT has been involved with for 50 years which is called negotiating contracts," he said. "And if the mayor has a proposal then he needs to take it to the PERB board which is where it's supposed to be."

The state's Public Employment Relations Board is currently mediating talks between the city and the teachers union. The UFT's contract expired last fall and the two sides are at an impasse. The principals' contract expired in March. Both unions pledged to work with the city on lobbying Albany and the federal government for additional education aid. But with no relief in sight, Klein says he had to plan for the coming school year.

He added that teachers and principals aren't the only ones being asked the sacrifice. "Central administrative budgets have been cut by nearly 20 percent in the past two years," the Department of Education explained in another memo to staffers, "including a reduction of nearly 550 staff positions. Next year, central offices will take an additional cut of nearly $40 million with another 5 percent cut in positions."

Despite these savings, Klein said schools would still feel a squeeze this coming fall. Principals would see their budgets cut by about 4 percent, on average. And 2,000 teaching positions will not be filled, meaning class sizes could rise a little. Klein said principals probably wouldn't have to cut art or music but they might cut school aides, professional development, and after-school programs.