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UFT: Emergency layoffs mean losing good teachers forever

Randi Weingarten
Randi Weingarten
Hayleigh Colombo

The head of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, lashed out today against Mayor Bloomberg’s preliminary budget, which warns that New York City could have to lay off about 15,000 educators.

No surprise there: Obviously the head of the teachers union would oppose a plan to fire her members, especially when they make up almost 80 percent of the personnel whose jobs are on the line.

What’s more interesting about the UFT’s press release are the hard numbers Weingarten cites in it. During the 1970s, when the city nearly declared bankruptcy, 10,000 teachers were laid off. As their contract stipulated, when economic conditions improved, they were offered jobs in the system. But only 3,000 of them off accepted an offer to return, Weingarten said in a press release. “We are going to lose thousands of excellent teachers that the city Department of Education hired and spent money to train because they are going to look for other jobs,” she said

Weingarten also explained what 15,000 represents in today’s Department of Education: “Anyone with three or fewer years of service would probably lose their jobs if the city goes through with this threat,” she said.

The UFT’s entire press release is below the jump.

UFT slams mayor’s proposal to lay off educators en masse
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to lay off more than 15,000 public school educators if the city does not get the state and federal aid it seeks would hurt a generation of students and cripple the school system, to say nothing about the havoc it would wreak on the lives of the dedicated teachers the system has asked to come and make careers here, UFT President Randi Weingarten said on Jan. 30.

Responding to the mayor’s plan to have educators account for 15,630 of a proposed cut of 19,650 positions – almost 80 percent – in the annual city budget he issued today, Weingarten said, “Every time we lay off a teacher it is a direct service cut to children.”

“I am astonished that at the very same time that President Obama is making public education a first priority, the city is seemingly making education a last priority,” she said.

“We know times are tough and that everyone needs to share in making sacrifices, but this is shockingly disproportionate and unfair,” said Weingarten at a press conference at the Lower Manhattan headquarters of the 200,000-member union representing New York City’s public school educators.

“The union has pledged, and indeed has been, working together with the mayor on the federal recovery and on ensuring we get a fair share from Albany,” Weingarten said, “But making virtually all our first, second and third-year teachers pawns in this political battle is callous and unfair to them and their students. Worse, in blaming Albany, the city itself masks the magnitude of its own cuts.”

Weingarten noted that the city received an additional $600 million in state education aid last year only to have the city cut education by more than $400 million, and the city is planning to cut almost $943 million in the next school year.

“Not since the 1970s have there been teacher layoffs of anything remotely like this, and at that time all city workers shared the pain,” Weingarten told reporters while accompanied by some of the newer teachers who would be at risk of losing their jobs if the proposal is implemented.

“This would be devastating for me,” said Rob Walsh, a third-year teacher from PS 19 in Manhattan. “I struggled to be a teacher. I always wanted to be able to give back to the community. More importantly, the children would be losing so much. We are in an increasingly competitive world and we need to give kids everything we can and not take anything away.”

“Class sizes are already bulging at the seams,” said Tiffany Braby, a four-year teacher from MS 319 in Manhattan. “If we lose 15,000 teachers, that will have a seriously detrimental effect on students.”

Weingarten acknowledged the difficult position Mayor Bloomberg faces in trying to cope with the current fiscal crisis, but said this proposal is totally misguided.

“Separate and apart from the chaos and the service cuts this would mean for next year, if this proposal were enacted, new teachers will not want to apply to work here because they won’t know what’s going to happen to them. And we are going to lose thousands of excellent teachers that the city Department of Education hired and spent money to train because they are going to look for other jobs. After the 1975 fiscal crisis, of the 10,000 teachers asked to return only 3,000 accepted.

“And this is what it would mean for next year: Anyone with three or fewer years of service would probably lose their jobs if the city goes through with this threat. There’s no way that we could lose that many teachers and not have it affect the quality of education in our schools and raise class sizes. It will be only the beginning of a decline that could hamper our school system for years to come and send middle-class families elsewhere,” she said.

Weingarten welcomed the city’s efforts to lobby Albany and Washington for much needed aid, noting that the UFT and its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, have been fervently lobbying Congress to pass the federal economic stimulus package proposed by the Obama administration.

But she added that the city should consider other alternatives to layoffs if such aid is not realized and take its share of responsibility for finding cost savings.

“If this is necessary then the city can prove it by implementing an immediate hiring freeze, a retirement incentive and other cost-saving measures we have proposed that would equal $931 million and therefore avoid layoffs, she said. For example, the union estimates that a hiring freeze alone could save the city $406 million in payroll costs plus fringe benefits. And there are 25,000 educators who could be offered a retirement incentive that could save $300 million. Reducing administrative costs could result in another $225 million being saved, she said.

“The city should not repeat the mistakes of the Seventies when education was cut so badly that it took the school system decades to recover,” Weingarten said. “Children don’t get a second chance for a good education, which is why we need to make sure our schools are not hammered by huge cuts in the teaching force and harmful reductions in services to classrooms. The city should be investing in schools, not cutting, because the future of New York City, the state and the nation depends on a well-educated society and work force.”

Weingarten noted that in addition to fighting for a stimulus package in Washington and fighting budget cuts in Albany, the UFT and dozens of other unions, advocacy organizations and civic groups have formed a coalition that is trying to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers – children, the elderly and the needy – from budget cuts. The coalition is planning a massive March 5 rally for a fair budget for all New Yorkers outside City Hall.

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