By Joe Anuta
The city Department of Education quietly released a list of possible teacher layoffs late Sunday night in response to federal and state budget cuts and many schools in District 24 could face more than a 20 percent cut in teachers.
According to the list based on seniority, the cuts would affect 90 percent of schools in the district, where 8 percent of teachers would be cut.
But officials and the teachers union criticized the layoffs, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended as a necessity to balance the budget.
In Maspeth, PS 58, at 72-24 Grand Ave., would lose 26 percent of its 66 teachers and PS 290, at 70-02 54th Ave., would lose 50 percent of its six teachers. In Ridgewood, Q305 Learners and Leaders, at 378 Seneca Ave.,ï»¿ would lose 29 percent of its 28 teachers and PS 239 would lose 23 percent of its 66 teachers. Forty other schools would also face cuts.
Marc Lavorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, said the cuts are necessary to rein in the budget deficit and education has suffered less cuts than other city agencies.
“We don’t have any money,” he said. “We have a massive drop in state and federal aid to the city.”
Bloomberg has pitched in an additional $2.2 billion of city tax money for education, Lavorgna said, but it still is not enough to avoid layoffs.
“Even with that major additional increase in city spending, we still can’t cover the costs of the current number of teachers that we have on payroll,”
But a representative from the United Federation of Teachers said none of the layoffs are necessary and that the mayor issued the numbers as a scare tactic.
“This is more fear-mongering from Mayor Bloomberg and it is clearly the mayor’s strategy to create a panic among parents, teachers and communities,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “Not only is this fear-mongering irresponsible, with a $3 billion budget surplus he doesn’t need to do layoffs at all.”
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) also thought that the mayor was bluffing.
“The mayor is using the threat of layoffs to push for education reform,” she said in a statement. “While there is always room for reform, it is not right to threaten people’s jobs as a means to achieve legislative ends.”
Crowley also criticized the “last in, first out” policy of the state and teachers union, which lays off teachers based on seniority.
“The mayor needs to work with the schools, the UFT and all parties involved to further develop a system that eliminates bad teachers and retains our best educators.”
But Bloomberg’s office said that the $3.1 billion the UFT is referring to has already been set aside to help soften the blow of next year’s deficit. And it is a practice the administration has used for the past several years.
“They are looking at money in this year’s budget, not next year’s. We are reducing expenses in the current year to build up dollars and then roll it into the expenses next year,” Lavorgna said. “The money is already accounted for. If we didn’t have those dollars, we would have to lay off more people.”
Lavorgna said that if Albany decides to send more money, to the tune of $1 billion, some of the layoffs might be avoided. But the mayor would also have to consider other city agencies if any additional state money is allocated to the city.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.