By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed the elimination of more than 6,000 teaching jobs, deep cuts to child daycare services and the closing of 20 fire companies Thursday as part of his preliminary budget for the next fiscal year.
The cuts will close the estimated $4.6 billion deficit the city is facing following deep cuts in federal and state aid.
Under the budget plan, the city will lay off 4,666 teachers and eliminate another 1,500 through attrition. That amounts to more than 10 percent of city teachers, said Upper Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson, who described the cuts as "devastating."
More than 1,000 additional layoffs are also planned across other agencies, shrinking the city's total headcount by 8,300 people, officials said.
Bloomberg also announced the elimination of 16,624 of the Administration for Children's Service's 100,000 day care slots, which would force the closing of 16 childcare centers city-wide. The cut is the most significant in the program's history, officials said.
The budget also lays out closing 20 fire companies, cutting 350 police civilian positions, and reducing cultural and library funding once again.
"We are going to have to cut back on our spending. And I think it’s fair to say that is not going to be easy," Bloomberg told reporters gathered at City Hall for the address.
The budget shows the city does not intend to make up for previously announced state and federal cuts to city homeless services and seniors centers. As a result, more than 100 of the city's 256 senior centers will be forced to closed, warned Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging, who said that meals seniors receive at the centers are often their only food of the day.
The mayor also warned that the budget relies on the assumption that the city will convince Albany to restore $600 million in cuts laid out in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's state budget plan. If those funds fail to materialize, an additional round of even steeper cuts will have to be made, Bloomberg said.
"If the state does not come through, then we’re just going to have to share the pain across all agencies," he said. "The cuts to services will be more painful than ever."
A spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While many of the cuts had been laid out in previous budgets, agency heads, council members and teachers expressed their frustrations Thursday.
"It's going to hurt the students tremendously," said Ben Lewin, who has been teaching at PS 19 in the East Village for six years. "We're going to end up with too many students in the classroom."
Rebecca Solomon, whose daughter goes to high school near Stuy Town, said she didn't think the mayor cared about students.
"I think he [Bloomberg] doesn't give a damn about teachers. And I think he doesn't give a damn about kids," Solomon said.
Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew blasted the mayor's plan to cut teachers, despite unexpected growth in tax revenue.
"We've already lost nearly 5,000 teachers to attrition in the last two years, and class sizes are skyrocketing across the city," he said in a statement. "It's time the Mayor joined us in fighting for the children of our city."
Cuomo has repeatedly refuted the city's numbers and argued that layoffs are not necessary to rein in costs.
In light of the impending layoffs, Bloomberg repeated his call for the end of the state policy that requires the city to fire the most recently hired teachers first. The teachers’ union strongly opposes the change to the policy.
He also drew attention to the fact that the city will spend $2.1 billion more on city schools in 2012 than it did the previous year to compensate for the state and federal cuts — a move he described as unprecedented.
"We are putting our money where our mouth is," Bloomberg said. "We have really stepped up to the plate and made a commitment."
But several teachers said they felt Bloomberg was trying to pit younger and older teachers against each other.
"It's ridiculous," said one teacher who had been at PS 19 for five years. "Cuomo says we have enough money. Why is Cuomo saying 'yes' and Bloomberg saying 'no'?"
Others also sounded alarms.
Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said that closing firehouses — something the City Council has repeatedly fought — will undoubtedly increase response times.
"Our services will be impacted," he said.
City Councilman Lew Fidler, who chairs the Youth Services Committee, accused the administration of trying to dismantle public day care altogether.
"I am waiting for an explanation from them as to how they expect these kids to be served and how they expect working parents who are employed to remain employed," he said.
While Bloomberg had repeatedly warned that 2012 would be a tough budget year, the cuts were partially tempered by the economic recovery. The city's tax revenue increased by approximately $2 billion more than was expected, he said. The extra revenue will be used to minimize the impact of state and federal cuts.
The mayor has argued that the state budget presented by Cuomo earlier this month stripped the city of $2.1 billion in previously committed funds. The Governor's Office has repeatedly refuted the city's numbers.
Council members are planning a trip to Albany to lobby for funds, members said.
New Schools Chancellor Cathie Black also lent a hand, traveling to Albany Tuesday to press the state to increase funding levels for New York City students as ordered under a Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
The preliminary budget is typically the first step in a long negotiation process between the Mayor's Office and the City Council. The council's first budget hearing is scheduled for March 1.
The budget must be approved by June 30.
With reporting by Ben Fractenberg.