The last two years have been disastrous for public opinion of Mayor Bloomberg’s school policies, according to a new poll.
The poll, conducted last week by Marist, found that just 27 percent of New Yorkers approve of how Mayor Bloomberg is handling the city’s public schools. That’s down from 53 percent in June 2009, the last time the question was asked. Since then, longtime chancellor Joel Klein resigned and was replaced with education newcomer Cathie Black; test scores plummeted after revelations about the quality of state tests; and Bloomberg has waged high-profile battles over school closures, charter schools, and teacher layoffs.
Black’s own poll numbers have been abysmal. Just 17 percent of New Yorkers approve of her performance, according to a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month, and 34 percent said they didn’t know who she was or couldn’t judge her. (In contrast, Klein’s approval rating, always the lowest among public officials, bottomed out at 33 percent in 2007 after he cut school bus routes in the middle of winter.)
Today’s poll also probed New Yorkers’ views on the fight over “last in, first out” layoff rules, which Bloomberg wants to end, and found that half see the mayor’s position as a power grab.
The poll asked respondents for their assessment of Bloomberg’s motivation for seeking to end seniority layoff rules, offering them choices first between concern for the city’s budget and a bid for additional school control and then between budget concerns and a desire to weaken the teachers union. Respondents could also say they were unsure about Bloomberg’s motivation.
Given the first choice, half of the people polled said a bid for control is behind Bloomberg’s anti-“last in, first out” campaign. Thirty-eight percent said they believed Bloomberg is driven by budgetary concerns. This split was even more pronounced in households with public school parents (57 percent to 34 percent) and with union members (59 percent to 32 percent).
The second choice yielded a more even divide, with 44 percent of respondents saying Bloomberg is motivated by budget worries and 43 percent answering that Bloomberg is trying to weaken the teachers union. But respondents from households with public school parents and households with union members were more circumspect, with 50 percent of the first group and 48 percent of the second group citing anti-union sentiment.
The poll also contains bad news for the teachers union, which has been battling the idea that its support for maintaining seniority layoff rules is driven by self-interest. Fifty-six percent of respondents said the union’s stance is meant to “just protect teachers with seniority,” while 35 percent said they thought the union was motivated by a desire to “keep teachers with the most experience in the classroom.” Surprisingly, a higher percentage of respondents whose households include a union member — 62 percent — said they thought the teachers union’s fight is aimed only at protecting senior teachers.
The breakdown of survey responses by political affiliation suggests Bloomberg’s recent school policy moves hold ideological appeal for Republican voters. Thirty-six percent of them said they approve of how he is handling the public schools, and 71 percent of them said, as Bloomberg has, that the union is merely protecting its longest-standing members by defending “last in, first out” layoff rules.