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How teacher layoffs would happen, if they come, which they could

A week from today, Mayor Bloomberg plans to release his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Yesterday, though, he was in Albany to lash out at Governor Paterson’s proposed budget for the city, which he said would force him to fire thousands of city employees.

Could these layoffs hit the schools? In the future, yes, that is completely possible. But for now, mass firings are just a rhetorical tool. Lots of balls are still in the air, including the state budget, which won’t be finalized until the end of March; the city budget, which comes at the end of June; and the federal stimulus bill, which seems very likely to include some funds for schools. Any one of those could tip the balance away from the worst.

If the worst does come true, it will be the mayor, and not the state or the city Department of Education, who will ultimately determine whether teachers are fired. If the mayor — Bloomberg for now, maybe someone else in the future — authorizes layoffs, the teachers contract has strict guidelines dictating how they’d occur. The basic principle: Those hired most recently go first. (This is what happened the last time the city laid off teachers, during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.)

If the mayor doesn’t order layoffs, schools could find themselves in an even tougher spot, because they’ll have to endure more budget cuts in other places, like programs and supplies. Though some principals tell me they’d rather handle budget cuts by eliminating teachers’ positions, not by cutting services, that might not be possible, either. The DOE forces principals to cover those teachers’ salaries until they find a job somewhere else in the system. Overall, barring a stimulus or Wall Street miracle, we’re looking at a bunch of possible futures, none of them good.

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