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Bloomberg calls for no teacher pay raises to avoid layoffs

Mayor Bloomberg called this morning for the city to eliminate pay raises for public school teachers for the next two years to forestall teacher layoffs.

The mayor said that cutting the 2 percent pay raises the city had planned to offer teachers — already a decrease from a planned 4 percent raise — would prevent the city from laying off 4,400 teachers.

A spokesman for the city’s teachers union said he had just learned of the mayor’s plan to eliminate pay raises. The mayor’s statement is silent on whether the teachers union has agreed to this proposal, an important omission as any decisions regarding pay have to be made in contract negotiations.

UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew released a statement saying the union has not agreed to freeze teacher salaries.

“The mayor has the power to unilaterally rescind the proposed layoffs, and I’m glad that he has made the right decision to avoid massive disruptions to our schools,” Mulgrew said, adding that the mayor does not have the power to “unilaterally decide on the teachers’ contract.”

The teachers union contract expired October 31 of last year and talks with the city have been ongoing for seven months. Unless the city and union reach a new contract agreement soon, teachers will go without raises next year anyway, as any changes to their pay have to be bargained with the union.

Mulgrew has repeatedly taken the position that the best way for the city to avoid layoffs is through a retirement incentive.

Chancellor Joel Klein is scheduled to give a news conference about budget cuts at 11:45 am today and a spokesman for the Department of Education said he would not answer questions about the mayor’s plan before then.

Mayor Bloomberg’s statement:

“Earlier this morning in a conversation I had with United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, I shared our Administration’s solution to the State budget impasse that has left us facing the possibility of substantial teacher layoffs: it is far better for our children and our teachers to save the jobs of over 4,400 teachers, rather than layoff those 4,400 teachers while granting raises to others.

“A month ago, the City released our Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2011. It was based on the Governor’s proposed budget, which included huge reductions in State aid for education. We warned back then that if the State didn’t restore those cuts we’d be forced to lay off thousands of teachers. But yet another month has passed and the State Legislature has still not agreed on a final budget. Our schools simply can’t wait any longer. Principals are already far past the point in the calendar when they must plan for the upcoming school year, and they need to know what kind of resources they can count on.

“Laying off thousands of teachers is simply not the answer. It would devastate the school system and erase much of the great progress we’ve made – and all the hard work we’ve put into turning our schools around. There is simply nothing more important to a child’s education than a first-rate teacher. So I have decided to eliminate the two percent raises we had planned for our teachers and principals in each of the coming two years in order to save the jobs of some 4,400 teachers.

“Make no mistake: we’ve done everything possible to find cost savings, including substantial cuts in administrative spending. And we know that teachers and their families are facing tough times too, and that this will not be easy for them. But when it came to a choice between teacher raises or laying off teachers, I have chosen to protect our children and their futures. While other towns and cities around the country are closing schools and laying off teachers, our Administration is determined to do everything possible to keep our teachers where we need them: in the classroom.

“This was not an ideal decision, and it certainly does not solve all of our budget issues. In our conversation this morning, Michael Mulgrew and I agreed that we would go together to Albany and Washington to press our case to restore more education funding. Our City’s schools have come a long way in eight years, and we couldn’t have done it without our outstanding corps of teachers.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew’s response:

The Mayor has the power to unilaterally rescind the proposed layoffs, and I’m glad that he has made the right decision to avoid massive disruptions to our schools. He also has the power to take other steps to help deal with our schools’ budget problems, such as opting into the state’s early retirement incentive, which would potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars; and using more of the estimated $3.27 billion surplus that is being rolled into fiscal 2011 to replace reductions in state education funding.

But he does NOT have the power to unilaterally decide on the teachers’ contract, and we have reached NO agreement on his proposal to freeze teacher pay. If the Mayor has concrete ideas on the next contract, he and his representatives should bring them to the bargaining table at the Public Employment Relations Board, where our contract is currently in mediation.

While we have reached no agreement on the next contract, the Mayor and I have agreed to go together to Albany and Washington in the near future to lobby for new resources to prevent devastating budget cuts to our schools, our classrooms, and the communities we serve.

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