First, the mayor said he’d have to lay off 21,000 teachers, a quarter of the city’s teachers. Then, three days later, he backtracked. He sounded almost disappointed when he said, “We’ll have to find another way” to deal with anticipated budget cuts. The next day, the governor released his budget proposal and declared, “There will be absolutely no need for layoffs.”
Gov. Cuomo is right: There is no need to lay off educators, even amidst ongoing fiscal challenges that the state faces. But for weeks and weeks Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Cathie Black have been running around telling everyone that layoffs are coming and therefore we need to abolish seniority rules that ensure layoffs happen in an impartial way.
The mayor’s real agenda has nothing to do with the necessity or lack thereof of layoffs and everything to do with City Hall’s determination to attack teachers. Instead of seeing layoffs as the disaster they would be for the city’s children and treating them as a last resort, the mayor and the chancellor have embraced them as an excuse to let principals fire whomever they want. But even the principals’ union understands that this is a bad idea — that why it is also opposed to eliminating seniority rules.
Without seniority, the potential for abuse is too great, as we see in the case of the principal in the Bronx who ordered her assistant principals to give U-ratings to teachers she didn’t like.
The city’s and state’s budget woes are real, but so are the options that can prevent layoffs. At the Department of Education, contracts and consultants and other costs that do not service classrooms can be cut. At City Hall, waste and fraud like the CityTime scandal can be reined in. Retirement incentives can be offered. And in Albany, the millionaires’ tax can be extended to add several billion dollars to the state budget.
All of us who care about children — educators, parents, community allies, and I hope the mayor and the chancellor — need to put aside political games and ideological agendas and work together to prevent layoffs and advocate for the funding our schools need.
Michael Mulgrew is president of the United Federation of Teachers.