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Council Ed Chair: Mayor’s Budget Games Put Students at Risk

May 11, 2011

Councilmember Robert Jackson

by Councilmember Robert Jackson, Chair, New York City Council Education Committee

The 2011 cuts to New York State and New York City education budgets are packing a one-two punch that will leave bruises for years to come.

The Mayor’s Executive Budget released May 6th proposes lay-offs that will reduce the number of general education teachers by 7.5%. When combined with attrition, the cuts rise to over 10% of general education teachers. That’s one out of ten teachers gone from our classrooms and would lead to an average increase of 2 to 3 students per class; the lower estimate is from the Chancellor and the higher estimate from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

Let me be clear: I believe the threat of lay-offs is real, but I also believe that the Mayor is using the prospect of lay-offs as a strategy to force concessions from the union in renegotiating its contract, which expired October 31, 2009. Advocates, as well as the UFT, have suggested many alternatives that could produce a balanced budget, but these ideas have not been embraced by the Mayor.

Besides the direct damage these funding cuts will cause, they highlight a weakness of our current school governance law known as Mayoral Control. The Mayor should have gone to Albany to insist that the state meet the constitutional requirement to fund schools at an adequate level. Thirteen years of Campaign for Fiscal Equity litigation established that state obligation – a commitment that must be met regardless of budget surplus or budget deficit. Instead the Mayor focused on trying to persuade the state to attach part of his reform agenda to its budget. The issue the Mayor wanted to include was the sequence in which teacher lay-offs would take place. Rather than focusing on preventing lay-offs, the Mayor focused on changing how they are implemented.

Change like this needs to be negotiated through collective bargaining, not tacked on to the state budget without discussion. By making LIFO* reform his top priority, the Mayor made asking the state for city school funding a lower priority.

When it comes to the city education budget, Mayoral control has an additional drawback. Because the Chancellor now reports directly to the Mayor, the Chancellor cannot contradict the Mayor and advocate independently on behalf of students. Proponents of Mayoral Control say “Well, of course – that’s the point – the Mayor’s in charge.” But when a Mayor is concerned with his overall legacy and is concentrating on securing a specific track record, that may well mean school funding will take a back seat. It leaves our school children without an independent advocate who can speak to their needs.

We must be that advocate. Join me, parents, teachers and concerned New Yorkers from all five boroughs at 4:00 on Thursday, May 12th at City Hall Park on the Brooklyn Bridge side as we rally and then walk to Wall Street. Together we must speak out for our children, our future.

*LIFO stands for “last in – first out” and refers to the practice of budget lay-offs affecting the most recently hired staff before employees with seniority.

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