Klein on the 'Worst Case'
March 24th, 2010
Class size in New York City public schools could increase by as many as five students across the city if Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget cuts — largely echoed by the State Senate this week — take effect, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told the City Council Education Committee this morning. Klein used the grim forecast to urge council members to not only support him in trying to get some of the state funding restored but also to endorse some of his long-held goals, including lifting the limit on the number of charter schools in the state and ending the requirement that any teacher layoffs protect more senior teachers.
According to Klein’s calculations, the array of cuts in Paterson’s budget mean a total of $600 million less for the city public schools next year — and that does not include the effect a possible elimination of student MetroCards would have on the system.
In January, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the governor’s proposed budget would force the city to lay off some 8,500 teachers. Yesterday city budget director Mark Page asked the department to cut its spending by an additional 2.7 percent in case the “worst case” scenario materializes.
The school district has a budget of about $22 billion, but Klein said half of that is “locked down” in debt service, pension costs and other expenses that the city cannot cut. Some $8 billion goes directly to schools, largely for teacher salaries.
Calling the worst case “undeniably severe,” Klein told council members it would force the city “to lay of 15 percent of our math, English, science and social studies teachers.” While the cuts would be spread throughout the city, he said, they would be particularly harsh in some areas such as Community School district 7 in the South Bronx, which could lose 21 percent of its teachers, and district 2 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which could lose almost a fifth of its teaching force.
That could mean that, when school opens in September, the average elementary school classroom could have 26 students while middle school class size would be around 30 or 31, and high school class size would be over 30. Klein said he doubted classes in the city had been that large since the 1970s.
Making matter worse, in Klein’s view, is a state requirement that the department lay of its most junior teachers first. Not only does that ignore the expertise and skill of individual teachers, he said, but “last out, first out also creates the potential for downright education chaos: layoffs would trigger a chain reaction of seniority based ‘bumping’” throughout the system.
Councilmember Lewis Fidler, though, expressed concern that, if senior teachers did not have protection, their higher salaries could encourage principals to fire them first. “We shouldn’t punish people for seniority,” Fidler said. “You’re incentivizing [principals] to get rid of the most senior teachers.”
Klein also called for changes in the way the teachers deal with teachers who spend years in the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool, not teaching but continuing to draw a alary. In particular he proposed allowing teachers without assignments to draw pay for no more than a year.
Councilmember Danny Dromm, a former teacher, reminded Klein that the city agreed to some of the protection for teachers without classes in earlier contract negotiations. “What you’re trying to do is privatize public schools and do some union busting,” Dromm charged.
While several council member denounced charter schools at a hearing last week with Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, Klein got off fairly easily on that count. In his testimony, the chancellor said the state had to raise the limit on the number of charters so it could receive as much as $700 million in federal Race to the Top education funding.
But, while promising not to revisit the charter school issue, once member — Fidler left no question of where he stood, telling Klein “I’d sooner leave Race to the Top money on the table in Washington that raise the cap on charter schools.”
What to do then? Councilmember Mark Weprin had one suggestion for Klein, asking the chancellor “Have you thought of having a bake sale?”By Gail Robinson on March 24, 2010, 3:53 pm
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