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Monday, February 28, 2011

Teacher Layoffs In A Worst Case Scenario

February 27, 2011
City Details Worst-Case School Layoffs

The New York City Department of Education made public on Sunday a list that estimates the number of teachers each school will lose to layoffs if the state does not allocate more money for schools and seniority rules are not changed.

The layoffs, totaling 4,675 teachers, 6 percent of the active teachers in the system, would spare virtually no academic subject or neighborhood, and they would affect 80 percent of the approximately 1,600 public schools in the city. Most would lose one to five teachers; nine would lose half of the teachers they have.

The list details the worst case, and its projections may never materialize. City Hall chose to release it as the State Senate prepared to vote on a bill that would allow the city to lay off teachers based on factors like performance and disciplinary records, rather than seniority. By releasing the list, the department hopes to draw more parents to its corner by reminding them that virtually no school would be untouched.

Natalie Ravitz, the Education Department’s chief spokeswoman, described so-called “last in, first out” layoffs as “an arbitrary standard” that punishes schools that have chosen to hire teachers who are new to the profession.

The bill is likely to pass the Senate, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has a strong base of support, but it is bound to meet fierce resistance in the Assembly, particularly among members of the New York City delegation who have opposed the way the city goes about closing failing schools.

“It’s unlikely that we will simply sign off on a unilateral power grab by the mayor in the area of seniority without significant input and modification to the legislation,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who represents a broad slice of central Brooklyn, including some of the borough’s poorest neighborhoods.

Seniority rules are under assault in many states, and teachers’ unions have fiercely defended them, saying that without them, principals and school districts would be able to fire teachers on a whim. Michael Mulgrew, president of the city teachers’ union, called the layoff list “a political maneuver to create panic” among parents, teachers and school administrators. “That’s how the mayor works now,” Mr. Mulgrew said.

The city has not laid off significant numbers of teachers in more than three decades. When it found itself in a similar financial situation last year, Mr. Bloomberg was able to avert layoffs by eliminating raises for teachers and principals for two years.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed budget would cut aid to city schools by $1.4 billion for the next fiscal year. Mr. Bloomberg has said he would be left with no option but to lay off 4,600 teachers to balance the Education Department’s books, assuming that just $200 million in school aid would be restored during negotiations. Another 1,500 positions would be lost to attrition.

The school that stands to lose the highest percentage of its teachers is Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering in Harlem: 14 teachers, or 70 percent of the 20 it employs. It is a relatively new school, and so employs a large percentage of new teachers, who are the first to be laid off under seniority rules. The largest number of actual layoffs would come from the New Rikers Island School, a high school for jail inmates, which would lose 21 out of 69 teachers.

The list does not reflect the number of teaching positions each school would lose, only the number of teachers who would be laid off. A school like Columbia Secondary might, for example, lose only a couple of teaching positions, but would have to replace roughly a dozen laid-off younger teachers with more senior teachers from elsewhere in the system, a situation principals have resisted because it restricts their ability to choose their own staff.
PS 130

About 320 schools would see no layoffs, because they have not hired new teachers recently. Some schools, like Public School 130 in Bayside, Queens, and P.S. 57 in the Park Hill neighborhood of Staten Island, have employed the same teachers for many years.

According to the list, the only teachers who would be spared from layoffs are those who teach special education, English as a second language and speech improvement, positions that are harder to fill.

Tom Rochowicz, 28, a global history teacher at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School in Manhattan, would most likely be laid off, as would two other teachers at the school. He was hired in September after teaching for two years in California, followed by two years at a charter school in Brooklyn.

“I want to teach for several more years, I want to get on school leadership, but it’s hard to plan your career, it’s hard to plan your future, if you’re going to lose your job,” Mr. Rochowicz said. He is a member of Educators 4 Excellence, a group of current and former teachers, mostly young, who oppose seniority-based layoffs.

At the Yorkville Community School on the Upper East Side, which opened in 2009 to help alleviate crowding in other neighborhood elementary schools, the layoffs would add a complicating layer to the personnel changes that the principal, Samantha Kaplan, will have to enact in the fall.

The school started with five kindergarten classes, expanded into first grade this year and will be adding second grade classes in September, for which Ms. Kaplan plans to hire six teachers. But she would also have to contend with getting rid of 4 of the 13 teachers on staff.

Because she hired new teachers in the school’s first year, but not in its second, some of its original faculty members would be the ones to go.

“There’s more than experience that goes into making a great teacher,” Ms. Kaplan said. “To our school, it’s their familiarity with the building, with the culture, with the students. It would be a huge loss if we were to lose that.”