human capital

UFT: Emergency layoffs mean losing good teachers forever

Randi Weingarten
PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Randi Weingarten

The head of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, lashed out today against Mayor Bloomberg’s preliminary budget, which warns that New York City could have to lay off about 15,000 educators.

No surprise there: Obviously the head of the teachers union would oppose a plan to fire her members, especially when they make up almost 80 percent of the personnel whose jobs are on the line.

What’s more interesting about the UFT’s press release are the hard numbers Weingarten cites in it. During the 1970s, when the city nearly declared bankruptcy, 10,000 teachers were laid off. As their contract stipulated, when economic conditions improved, they were offered jobs in the system. But only 3,000 of them off accepted an offer to return, Weingarten said in a press release. “We are going to lose thousands of excellent teachers that the city Department of Education hired and spent money to train because they are going to look for other jobs,” she said

Weingarten also explained what 15,000 represents in today’s Department of Education: “Anyone with three or fewer years of service would probably lose their jobs if the city goes through with this threat,” she said.

The UFT’s entire press release is below the jump.

UFT slams mayor’s proposal to lay off educators en masse

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to lay off more than 15,000 public school educators if the city does not get the state and federal aid it seeks would hurt a generation of students and cripple the school system, to say nothing about the havoc it would wreak on the lives of the dedicated teachers the system has asked to come and make careers here, UFT President Randi Weingarten said on Jan. 30.

Responding to the mayor’s plan to have educators account for 15,630 of a proposed cut of 19,650 positions – almost 80 percent – in the annual city budget he issued today, Weingarten said, “Every time we lay off a teacher it is a direct service cut to children.”

“I am astonished that at the very same time that President Obama is making public education a first priority, the city is seemingly making education a last priority,” she said.

“We know times are tough and that everyone needs to share in making sacrifices, but this is shockingly disproportionate and unfair,” said Weingarten at a press conference at the Lower Manhattan headquarters of the 200,000-member union representing New York City’s public school educators.

“The union has pledged, and indeed has been, working together with the mayor on the federal recovery and on ensuring we get a fair share from Albany,” Weingarten said, “But making virtually all our first, second and third-year teachers pawns in this political battle is callous and unfair to them and their students. Worse, in blaming Albany, the city itself masks the magnitude of its own cuts.”

Weingarten noted that the city received an additional $600 million in state education aid last year only to have the city cut education by more than $400 million, and the city is planning to cut almost $943 million in the next school year.

“Not since the 1970s have there been teacher layoffs of anything remotely like this, and at that time all city workers shared the pain,” Weingarten told reporters while accompanied by some of the newer teachers who would be at risk of losing their jobs if the proposal is implemented.

“This would be devastating for me,” said Rob Walsh, a third-year teacher from PS 19 in Manhattan. “I struggled to be a teacher. I always wanted to be able to give back to the community. More importantly, the children would be losing so much. We are in an increasingly competitive world and we need to give kids everything we can and not take anything away.”

“Class sizes are already bulging at the seams,” said Tiffany Braby, a four-year teacher from MS 319 in Manhattan. “If we lose 15,000 teachers, that will have a seriously detrimental effect on students.”

Weingarten acknowledged the difficult position Mayor Bloomberg faces in trying to cope with the current fiscal crisis, but said this proposal is totally misguided.

“Separate and apart from the chaos and the service cuts this would mean for next year, if this proposal were enacted, new teachers will not want to apply to work here because they won’t know what’s going to happen to them. And we are going to lose thousands of excellent teachers that the city Department of Education hired and spent money to train because they are going to look for other jobs. After the 1975 fiscal crisis, of the 10,000 teachers asked to return only 3,000 accepted.

“And this is what it would mean for next year: Anyone with three or fewer years of service would probably lose their jobs if the city goes through with this threat. There’s no way that we could lose that many teachers and not have it affect the quality of education in our schools and raise class sizes. It will be only the beginning of a decline that could hamper our school system for years to come and send middle-class families elsewhere,” she said.

Weingarten welcomed the city’s efforts to lobby Albany and Washington for much needed aid, noting that the UFT and its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, have been fervently lobbying Congress to pass the federal economic stimulus package proposed by the Obama administration.

But she added that the city should consider other alternatives to layoffs if such aid is not realized and take its share of responsibility for finding cost savings.

“If this is necessary then the city can prove it by implementing an immediate hiring freeze, a retirement incentive and other cost-saving measures we have proposed that would equal $931 million and therefore avoid layoffs, she said. For example, the union estimates that a hiring freeze alone could save the city $406 million in payroll costs plus fringe benefits. And there are 25,000 educators who could be offered a retirement incentive that could save $300 million. Reducing administrative costs could result in another $225 million being saved, she said.

“The city should not repeat the mistakes of the Seventies when education was cut so badly that it took the school system decades to recover,” Weingarten said. “Children don’t get a second chance for a good education, which is why we need to make sure our schools are not hammered by huge cuts in the teaching force and harmful reductions in services to classrooms. The city should be investing in schools, not cutting, because the future of New York City, the state and the nation depends on a well-educated society and work force.”

Weingarten noted that in addition to fighting for a stimulus package in Washington and fighting budget cuts in Albany, the UFT and dozens of other unions, advocacy organizations and civic groups have formed a coalition that is trying to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers – children, the elderly and the needy – from budget cuts. The coalition is planning a massive March 5 rally for a fair budget for all New Yorkers outside City Hall.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.