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City estimates savings of $300 million by laying off teachers

Chancellor-designee Dennis Walcott testifies at the New York City Council's Education Committee's Budget Hearing
Chancellor-designee Dennis Walcott testifies at the New York City Council's Education Committee's Budget Hearing

City school officials said today that they would need roughly $300 million to avoid laying off thousands of teachers next year.

Today’s twice-delayed City Council hearing on the DOE’s preliminary expense budget for 2012 focused on how to avoid teacher layoffs and the current “last in, first out” rules that require the city to lay off teachers based on seniority.

Testifying before the City Council for the first time in his new role as chancellor-designate, Dennis Walcott fielded questions about how the city can avoid mass layoffs. And, although he’s still being referred to by some DOE officials as Deputy Mayor, Walcott was treated just like his predecessors by the Committee: with skepticism.

Council members were quick to offer their congratulations and support to Walcott, but then became less welcoming when the subjects of teacher layoffs and ending “last in, first out” rules were raised.

Many council members questioned whether or not Mayor Bloomberg had requested enough funds from Albany, with several suggesting that perhaps the $600 million Bloomberg requested ($200 million of which was set to go to schools), was deliberately low, perhaps as a strategy to continue pushing for changes to “last in, first out” rules.

“How much money do I need to save these teachers jobs?” asked Upper West Side Councilwoman Gail Brewer.

According to Walcott’s prepared remarks, if the teaching workforce was reduced by 6,166 teachers — 1,500 through attrition and the rest through layoffs — the DOE would save approximately $435 million, with $300 million in savings coming from layoffs alone. The proposed savings of $300 million would be a fraction of next year’s proposed budget of $19.1 billion.

DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan says that the way the DOE calculates the amount saved by layoffs and attrition is the same. It is arrived at by multiplying the number of potential layoffs (4,666) by the average salary of a newer teacher (around $53,000). The same average salary is used for both layoff and attrition budget estimates, since attrition is higher amongst newer teachers.

During the hearing, the cost of saving teaching jobs fluctuated wildly, with some members citing the November 2010 plan. Council Chair Robert Jackson repeatedly asked Walcott and Chief Financial Officer Veronica Conforme to explain the calculations, until Walcott said he would double-check the numbers.

Overall, the DOE is looking to save $700 million via teacher layoffs, attrition, and mandate relief, such as paying less into pensions, according to Morgan. Even if the state or the city were to offer to fill in this gap, she cautioned that it still might not be enough to ensure that all teachers keep their jobs because other rising costs — such as heating oil and student busing — could increase the city’s budget gap.

The DOE’s Preliminary Budget from February is excerpted below. Mayor Bloomberg’s full Preliminary Budget Report for 2012 is available here and the Council’s response to the Mayor is here. The final budget is due to be released on May 5th.

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