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Guessing at size of state cuts, city plans for drastic layoffs

Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed cutting 6,400 city teaching jobs today — but he said without action from Albany, the exact number of layoffs is still anybody’s guess.

The mayor’s annual budget proposal would leave 2,000 teaching jobs unfilled and lay off another 4,400 teachers. And Chancellor Joel Klein urged principals to begin preparing for massive reductions that could cause classes to grow by nearly 20 percent.

But Bloomberg and Klein emphasized that all of the numbers could change depending on what happens in Albany, where legislators are now a month overdue in setting a budget for the state.

The city based its budget proposal on the governor’s proposed state budget, which cuts nearly $500 million from school aid to New York City and is more severe than the State Assembly’s proposed plan.

“If we don’t have any specificity in Albany, we have to act on what is a conservative best guess,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg said even if the state passes a less austere budget after teachers are already laid off, the city might not use the extra funds to hire the teachers back. “I’m not sure it’s worth a second round of disruption,” he said

In an email sent to schools today, Klein said principals would get preliminary budgets by June 1 but should start planning now for cuts that far exceed this year’s nearly 5 percent reduction. Klein told reporters today that the layoffs could mean an increase of three to four students in elementary school classes.

Bloomberg said that there is “no drop-dead date” for determining exactly how many teaching positions will eventually have to go. “We certainly don’t have to do anything before the budget is approved at the end of June,” he said.

Klein and Bloomberg used the draconian budget predictions to reiterate their wish for legislative changes to end the “last in-first out” requirement for teacher layoffs. The mayor also issued a warning that if the state budget ends up more dire than predicted, the city may have to reduce its commitment to raises for city teachers even further than it already has. In January, the city halved funds budgeted for 4 percent teacher pay raises to mitigate mid-year school budget cuts. Teacher raises are among the items at issue in the city’s current contract negotiations with the union, which are stalled.

The latest layoff estimates are lower than Bloomberg and Klein’s earlier estimates that the city would lose 8,500 teaching positions under the governor’s proposed cuts to state school aid. The reduction comes in part from more refined estimates and from a city commitment to help cover some of the DOE’s pension and benefit costs from its wider budget, spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

Here’s the full letter that Klein sent to principals today outlining the current budget plan:

From: Klein Joel I.
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 3:08 PM
To: &All Principals
Subject: Budget Update

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today, Mayor Bloomberg released the City’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. While the Mayor has done his best to insulate schools during these tough economic times, our Department still faces a cut in State funding as large as $500 million. As a result, we will need to absorb substantial budget cuts for the 2010-2011 school year.


Lawmakers in Albany have yet to pass a budget, even though their own deadline was April 1. For that reason, our fiscal picture remains uncertain. I do not yet have all the answers about how our budget will ultimately be resolved, but I do know that the coming school year will be extremely challenging for us all. We continue to have cost increases that are beyond our control for mandated special education services, contractual pay differentials for educators, facilities operations, and transportation services. As in past years, these rising costs come in addition to funding cuts from the State, and therefore make deeper school-level budget reductions unavoidable.

As you know, over the last two years, we have already endured several rounds of budget cuts. Each time, we’ve made every effort to protect schools and students. We have cut the central administrative budget by more than $116 million, or 18 percent-that’s double the percentage of cuts taken by schools. This includes headcount reductions of 550 positions in central and field offices. For the coming school year, we will cut an additional $38 million from our administrative budgets and eliminate another 5 percent of our current positions. The central budget, however, represents only three percent of the Department’s total spending. Facing a loss of $500 million from the State, we have no choice but to find significant savings in our schools and classrooms.


We plan to send you your preliminary 2010-2011 school year budgets by June 1. Based on what we know now, which may change depending on what happens in Albany, you will likely see a budget reduction significantly greater than the 4.9 percent cut you absorbed for the current school year.

I know that a cut of this magnitude will undoubtedly be painful, but I am confident that you will make the least-harmful choices-albeit ones I wish you didn’t have to make-for your students. Even before budgets are finalized, I want you to begin planning for the coming school year. You will need to evaluate your overall expenditures, including personnel, professional development, and after-school programs, to set spending priorities that will best support your students’ academic needs. In some cases, this may mean excessing teachers to retain after-school programs or cutting school aides to save teaching positions.


Unfortunately, given these budgetary realities, we must assume that it will be necessary to layoff thousands of teachers. We currently anticipate that we’ll need to let go of 4,400 school-based personnel in addition to losing even more positions through attrition. No one, not you nor I, wants to lay off teachers. And, while we would prefer to do layoffs in a way that minimizes the negative consequences for our schools and students, current State law ties our hands from doing so.

As you know, teachers have to be laid off in reverse order of seniority. According to our analysis, this seniority requirement would force us to have to lay off most of the elementary school teachers hired since the fall of 2007.

This “last in, first out” requirement fails to consider school needs as well as differences in teacher effectiveness and their real impact on the lives of our students. We all know that experience can translate into real results in the classroom-but it is not the only criterion that should be considered.

Instead, these tough decisions should be based on existing ratings from evaluations. The 1,600 teachers who received U-ratings last year should be among the first to be laid off. I also believe that teachers in the ATR pool should be let go before teachers who are currently in the classroom. Additionally, when making layoff decisions, we should consider principal observations, absentee rates, impact on student learning, and contribution to school community. If we are indeed in the unfortunate position of having to let go of teachers, I am confident that we could work together to carry out the layoffs in a manner that would be better for our schools, rather than relying on seniority alone.

I will continue to advocate for a more rational lay off system that would allow you to protect your best teachers and the best interests of our students. I remain hopeful that the State and union will come to the table with us to work out a better layoff system. As in almost every other professional organization across the country, we should base layoffs on a rigorous evaluation of performance and system needs. Our priority should be to protect our most effective teachers from layoffs.

In the meantime, our Human Resources team will be working through the layoff process. We will notify you about how layoffs will affect your individual school soon after you get your school budget.

Lastly, I want to reiterate that hiring restrictions remain in place. We could, however, be in a position this coming school year where we need to hire teachers in certain license areas, such as special education, at the same time we are laying off teachers in other areas. If you anticipate a vacancy, you can network with and screen candidates, but you should not make any offers or commitments to external candidates at this time.


We all have many questions and concerns. I invite you to participate in an interactive Web cast about our budget situation at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 12. At that time, we will discuss how we can work together to manage challenging budget times. Please click on the following link to get the call-in information and to RSVP:

The coming fiscal year is shaping up to be one of the most difficult our school system has ever had to endure. Our schoolchildren aren’t to blame for the financial mess we’re facing-and it’s unacceptable for them to bear the brunt of the State’s budget shortfall. As budget negotiations continue in Albany, you can be confident that I will keep fighting for more money for our schools.

I look forward to talking with you next week. And, as always, thank you for your hard work.


Joel I. Klein

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