By Joe Anuta
The city Department of Education released a list of possible teacher layoffs late Sunday night in response to Albany budget cuts and schools all over the borough could be affected.
According to the list based on seniority, about 80 percent of Queens schools would be affected. District 24 would be hit hardest with 8 percent of its teachers getting pink slips. Districts 26, 29 and 30 have the least proposed layoffs with 4 percent, while District 25 faces a 5 percent cut.
Special education teachers, bilingual, English as a Second Language and speech therapy teachers would be excluded from the cuts.
PS 58 in Maspeth could lose the most teachers at 17. Six teachers at PS 290 and four teachers at Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability could each be cut by 50 percent, the highest percentage in the borough.
Elected officials, the teachers union and parents all blasted the layoffs, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended as a necessity to balance the budget.
Parents such as Kathryn Thome, whose children go to school in Forest Hills, were outraged by the cuts.
“Frankly, it’s disgusting and it makes me very upset,” she said. “I don’t even know how they can do it. If they lose teachers, what is that going to make their class size?”
But 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 the 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,” he said.
But a representative from the United Federation of Teachers said that 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 believes 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,” she said.
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 that the administration has used for the past several years.
“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 email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.