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Now playing on prime-time television, a layoffs arms race

The city teachers union and Joel Klein’s education advocacy organization are engaging this week in a televised game of one-upmanship over layoffs, and the advocates seems determined to win the war for airtime.

Both the union and the advocacy group, Education Reform Now, debuted television advertisements this morning, and ERN just announced that it will begin airing a second commercial this week as well.

The union’s ad targets Mayor Michael Bloomberg, arguing that the mayor is pushing for layoffs while ignoring both parent wishes and the city’s financial realities.

“I don’t know what Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda is, but he should stop playing politics with our kids,” a Harlem parent, Candace Frazer, says in the ad.

The spot also argues that teacher layoffs are unnecessary because the city is carrying over a $3 billion surplus from last year. City officials dispute that figure, claiming that the rollover is not enough to cover the deficit caused by state budget cuts.

ERN’s two six-figure ads assume that imminent layoffs are a given, and argue that eliminating the state law that requires the least senior teachers to be laid off first is the best way to protect students when those layoffs happen.  “Albany budget cuts mean thousands of New York City teachers will be let go,” one ad’s narrator says.

Like ERN’s earlier ad attacking seniority-based layoffs, the 30-second spots don’t attempt to define how teachers should be judged on merit, part of the current disagreement between Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The mayor supports a bill that passed the state Senate last week that would base layoffs on a long list of criteria, including whether or not a teacher has been rated unsatisfactory by their principal, their absentee rate and their value-added scores. The governor has argued that the state needs a more rigorous teacher evaluation system before seniority-based layoffs can be abolished.

In addition to ending “last-in, first-out,” one of the ERN ads also urges voters to generally support Bloomberg’s education agenda, which the spot characterizes as boosting graduation rates and recruiting “top-notch” teachers. In fact, the city has had a hiring freeze in place for two years, which prevents most principals from taking on teachers new to the city school system except in certain subject areas and neighborhoods.