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Finding Money to Save Teachers
June 1st, 2011

The fight over the Bloomberg administration’s plan to eliminate some 6,100 teaching positions moved to the next stage today, with the City Council reiterating its opposition and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott refusing to backs down from the plan to lay off more than 4,000 teachers, which, he conceded, would boost class size by an average of two students and lay off 4,000 teachers.

At the same time, the Independent Budget Office entered the fray saying the administration is overstating the need for layoffs.

As Walcott testified before City Council, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Finance Committee chair Domenic Recchia issued a proposal they said would pare $75 million from the Department of Education’s $19 billion plus budget, a proposal they said in their statement would eliminate the need for teacher layoffs.

Among other things, the council leaders said the department’s budget over-estimates projected costs by $35 million in a number of areas, such as spending for special education students whose needs cannot be met in public schools.

They also called for a $13.2 million cut in technology spending – a kind of bte noire for the department these days — slashing $9 million from the posed spending for professional development and a $7.5 million cut in pupil transportation costs.

While not addressing the plan directly — he said he had not seen it– Walcott generally dismissed the possibility of large-scale savings in an area except teacher costs. He said the department had already instituted cuts in some of the area mentioned, such as reducing the number of people in the press office.

In its release, the budget office does not dismiss the need for layoffs altogether but instead disputes the department’s methodology for arriving at the 4,000 plus number. The blog post by Ray Domani says the department did not account for the fact that teachers who retire or voluntarily leave the system would likely have an average salary higher than those of the junior teachers facing layoffs. Taking that into consideration, Domani writes, would eliminate the need for about 1,600 of the proposed layoffs, bringing the total number to around 2,600. Since the post came on line as Walcott was testifying, he said he had not seen it.

Council member, though, expressed about the impact the loss of thousands of teaching positions — whether through layoffs or resignation — would have on class size in the city, particularly since class size has already risen in the past two years. While Walcott said the latest cuts would boost the size of an average class by about two students, he conceded that would vary — and that worried come members.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm, a former teacher, said some classes could see four to six additional students. “I’ve talked to principals, and they are very, very concerned about the effect of these cuts on instruction in the classroom,” he said.

While a rise from say, 22.5 to 23.7 students in an average fourth grade cases night to make much difference, Councilmember Brad Lander said he expressed fears that more and more elementary school kids could find themselves in classes with 30 or more children.

Walcott minimized the effect such large classes might have.” An effective teachers can do a god job with a small class size or a large class size,” he said. “We’re in a difficult period now and class size will go up.”

In their questioning of the chancellor, individual members seized on certain areas they thought might merit cuts, including charter schools and department contracts, a ripe target given a spate of recent scandals.

“We ask you we beg of you, we plead with you to look at all of these contracts to avoid any layoffs whatsoever,” education committee chair Robert Jackson told Walcott.

Walcott said the department has examined its contracts. “Consultants have been a good political term to use,” he said, “but they provide services around a specific need.”

Other council members used the hearing to criticize the mayor for cutting services while opposing a tax on the most affluent New Yorkers. Commenting on that, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito said, “I’ve heard the mayor say there are no scared cows very often, but clearly there are sacred cows.”

Councilmember Lew Fidler pressed Walcott to say he would try to convince the mayor to lobby in Albany for a millionaire’s tax.

Walcott countered Quinn could do that. “The millionaires tax has not been part of the discussion,” Walcott said, “We have to deal with whats here right now.”

By on June 1, 2011, 3:10 pm
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