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Teacher layoffs still a possibility, Klein tells City Council

President Obama might have spoken too soon when he said the federal stimulus could prevent teacher layoffs in New York City. Depending on how state legislators choose to disburse the stimulus funds, the city could still be looking at a loss of 2,000 teachers, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told members of the City Council’s education committee this morning.

The city Department of Education believes it is entitled to 41 percent of the state’s $2.4 billion in education stimulus funds because it receives 41 percent of state funds overall, Klein said today at the council’s hearing on the DOE’s preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. This formula would give the DOE more than $500 million in stabilization funds, allowing it to avoid teacher layoffs.

But he said some lawmakers “are taking a different view,” instead suggesting that the city should receive a third of the state’s stimulus money for schools because it serves a third of the state’s public school students. Under this scenario, the DOE would receive just $360 million in stabilization funds, and about 2,000 teachers would have to be laid off. Klein, who was in Albany yesterday to lobby for the city schools, declined to identify the lawmakers to reporters after his testimony, saying that the negotiations are internal and ongoing.

Either way, cuts to schools’ non-teaching staff would be severe, Klein said, with a minimum of about 2,500 positions being lost in the first scenario and as many as 25 percent of school-based non-teaching staff positions being eliminated in the second. These positions include school aides, family workers, and other school personnel. Klein said the DOE would require at least another $200 million from the state to be able to prevent all layoffs. Testifying after Klein, teachers union president Randi Weingarten, who was also in Albany yesterday, said she had spoken with lawmakers about bringing state funding for the city schools to $700 million. But Klein told the council, “So far there’s no indication they’re considering that.”

The DOE is also seeking flexibility about how to spend state stabilization dollars, Klein said today. He said that some schools will receive the bulk of the $400 million in additional stimulus funds earmarked for students with disabilities and low-income students. If the stabilization funds are disbursed according to the state’s regular funding formula, some schools would experience severe cuts, as much as 10 percent of their budgets, while others would see no change in their budgets at all, Klein said. He said he is lobbying the state to ease districts’ spending requirements so that he could ultimately reduce all city school budgets by the same proportion.

The state is supposed to pass its budget by Wednesday, the first day of its new fiscal year. Negotiations are expected to go down to the wire, but once they are complete city officials will be able to project the extent of budget cuts to the DOE, Klein said. “When will Albany pass its budget?” Klein asked. “Once we have that, then I think the last part of this will be the usual passage of the city budget.”

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