Mayor Bloomberg's Final Budget Slashes Teacher Jobs, Afterschool Programs

By Jill Colvin on January 29, 2013 2:28pm | Updated on January 29, 2013 5:05pm

CITY HALL — Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled his final preliminary budget at City Hall Tuesday, laying out a $70.1 billion plan for the next fiscal year that includes the loss of hundreds of teachers through attrition and other classroom cuts.

The budget, which will be Bloomberg's last, is rosier than in some recent years, thanks in part to rising tax revenue.

But it also contends with the potential loss of $724 million in state education aid over the next two years thanks to the city's failure to reach a deal with the teachers' union on a new teacher evaluation system — which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made a condition for the cash.

“That loss will be directly felt in our classrooms, starting with the likelihood that we’ll have hundreds of fewer teachers than we expected as a result of job losses to attrition," Bloomberg told reporters during a presentation at City Hall, which will be his last of its kind on the job.

Because of the cuts, the city will lose 700 teachers and guidance counselors through attrition during the remainder of the current fiscal year and will have to cut back on substitutes and scale back extracurricular activities and afterschool programming.

And in the 2014 fiscal year, which kicks off in July, the city will reduce the number of teachers by an additional 1,800 though attrition, resulting in increased class sizes, Bloomberg said.

The proposed cuts will also result in the loss of more than 700,000 hours of afterschool programs, including tutoring for struggling students, and $67 million less for school supplies, including textbooks, he said.

But Bloomberg said the "suffering... is more than worth it" if it prevents the city from adopting what he's slammed as a "sham" teacher evaluation system.

Bloomberg and the teachers union have been locked in a battle over a teacher evaluation deal, which fell apart in the early morning hours of a Jan. 17 deadline, costing the city $250 million in aid this fiscal year. The city now has until Sept. 1 to get the system up and running, or it will lose another $474 million in cash.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew released a statement blaming the city for the funding loss.

"Since it was Mayor Bloomberg who walked away from a teacher evaluation deal, the city should ensure that the lost $240 million come from central bureaucracy and bloated contracts, not classrooms and instruction," Mulgrew said in a statement.

While the latest budget avoids layoffs, it cuts funding to many areas and threatens to close 20 fire companies, which the City Council has used its own funds to prevent in previous years.

"We should have learned from our experience with Sandy that we have no slack capacity in our emergency response capability," City Council Finance Chair Domenic Recchia, Jr. said in response.

The budget also includes the $4.5 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, which the city expects to be fully paid for with federal aid.

And it rests on the assumption the city will be able to pocket $600 million by auctioning off 2,000 new yellow cab medallions in the coming year —  even though the plan is currently held up by the courts. The amount is less, however, than the $790 million Bloomberg had originally expected to net through the auction, to account for expected delays.

But while the plan balances the budget in the short-term, it leaves the next mayor facing a deficit of $2.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2015.

Bloomberg vowed years ago that he wouldn't leave his successor with the same budget mess he inherited when he took office, when the deficit was $4.8 billion. And he said Tuesday he believed he had achieved that goal.

"I think so," he said when asked about his previous comments. "We've invested an awful lot in infrastructure. We've cut an awful lot of expenses... In retrospect you can always have done more. But you know you can only fight so many battles at a time."

But the plan left his prospective successors reeling.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the council had "serious concerns about the negative consequences reflected as a result of the absence of a deal on teacher evaluations," and called a further failure to strike a deal "potentially devastating."

"While some level of attrition is always a reality, the mayor’s proposed extreme high levels of teacher attrition would be detrimental to the quality of our city’s education system," Quinn said, announcing new hearings on the plan, kicking off in March.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, another mayoral candidate, said he was frustrated by the cuts, especially when it came to childcare.

"I'm sick of this city going the wrong way on early education," he said.

Another expected candidate, City Comptroller John Liu, said the mayor should have fought harder to reach a deal on teacher evaluations to prevent losing the education cash, and questioned whether things would have been different were Bloomberg not on his way out of office.

"At the end of the day, it's the kids who are going to pay the price for him being an ideologue," Liu said.

The unveiling of the preliminary budget typically kicks off months of rallies, debate and negotiations. The City Council and the mayor must agree to a final budget by the end of June.

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