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Mayor: Federal funds can prevent DOE layoffs, if the state wants

If 15,000 educators are fired this year, it will be the state’s fault, Mayor Bloomberg said today at a press conference where he unveiled a preliminary version of next year’s budget.

The city is staring down a $4 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, Bloomberg said, larger than what he anticipated just a few months ago. To close the budget gap, he’s proposed a plan that would require city agencies to eliminate nearly 20,000 positions. Most agencies would be able to cut positions simply by not hiring anyone new to replace workers who leave or retire. But the Department of Education would have to fire nearly 14,000 educators whose salaries are paid with state funds.

Those jobs could be protected if the state fills in the holes in its budget with federal stimulus money. The stimulus bill has not yet been finalized but it appears sure to include significant bailout funding for strapped school districts.

“Here’s a chance for Albany to pay for their fair share of education with somebody else’s money,” Bloomberg said.

But he said repeatedly that New Yorkers can’t simply assume that the state would direct enough of the stimulus money to the city. “If there’s ever a chance for us to put pressure on them, it’s now,” Bloomberg said.

And to parents who are concerned about school funding, he said, “Call Albany because that’s what I’m going to be doing.”

Some cuts at the DOE are unavoidable, according to documents distributed at the press briefing. The city plans to let about 1,400 positions go unfilled when educators retire or move away. And the DOE plans to cut expenses by making some operations more efficient, such as by giving projects that might have been completed in the past by consultants instead to DOE employees.

But Bloomberg said there was little room for the DOE to slim down its budget. “We’ve streamlined basically all that we can,” he said.