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Teachers union and city schools heads testify on budget cuts

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Joel Klein each offered three ideas for improving Governor Paterson’s budget today. In keeping with their chilly relationship, none of the proposals overlapped.

Testifying before New York State legislators on the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee and the Senate’s Finance Committee, Mulgrew touted the idea of a retirement incentive. Lowering the age or number of work years at which teachers could retire and receive their full pensions would allow roughly 25,000 teachers to retire, Mulgrew said, saving the city about $300 million.

While retirement incentives are popular among teachers, fiscal watchdog organizations like the Citizens Budget Commission say raising, not lowering, the retirement age is the best way to reduce the city’s staggering pension costs.

Mulgrew also said he’d like to see the Department of Education’s administrative costs trimmed.

“The DOE could also save millions by cutting out high-priced consultants and bureaucracy, halting its plan to reorganize the school support structure yet again, reassessing its vendor contracts and, perhaps most importantly, moving into permanent assignments hundreds of teachers who are now working in the so-called “ATR” pool,” he said.

Klein’s solutions to the $442 million proposed cut to education centered on changes that have typically been negotiated with the teachers union, not the state legislature. The chancellor called for ending the seniority rule that could force the DOE the lay off its newest teachers first and for ending salary payments to teachers who have been in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool for a long period without finding new work.

“The school system cannot continue spending so much money on an indefinite and unconditional unemployment benefit at a time when it is struggling to maintain vital programs and services in our schools,” he said.

The UFT and the city agree they’ve reached a standstill in contract negotiations and are waiting for the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to certify the impasse, making it likely that issues surrounding the ATR pool and retirement incentives will be settled by a state arbitrator — along with the city and UFT — rather than the legislature.

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