By Jill Colvin
MANHATTAN — The showdown between the mayor and the governor over overhauling the state's teacher firing rules escalated Wednesday, as the mayor urged the governor to support legislation passed by the senate, despite the governor having introduced his own, competing plan.
Speaking at the opening of the Armory Festival, Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged the governor to add a repeal of "Last in, First Out" to his budget and replace it with the rules outlined in a bill that narrowly passed the State Senate Tuesday.
The legislation would give the city the power to base teacher firings on factors other than seniority, including chronic absenteeism and poor student test scores. But just as the bill passed the Senate Tuesday, Cuomo announced that he would introduce his own version of the legislation, which would take into account both seniority as well as merit-based factors.
The governor's plan, released Wednesday, would expedite plans already in the works to develop a statewide, "objective teacher evaluation system" that would play a yet-to-be-determined role in firing decisions. The new rules would come into effect in time for the 2011-2012 school year, but would not repeal "last in, first out."
"The bottom line is we need an alternative to LIFO which is an objective evaluation system and once that is developed we can replace LIFO," Cuomo spokesperson Josh Vlasto said in a statement.
Bloomberg declined to weigh in on the governor's legislation until seeing a version earlier Wednesday. But, he said that anything short of a full repeal of "last in, first out" would be unacceptable.
"There's a simple test that we're going to apply to anything that he [the governor] does, to any proposal. And it is this: Does it repeal 'Last in, first out,' that law, and allow the city to lay off teachers based on merit this year?" he said. "Anything short of that will harm our students and jeopardize the progress that we've made in the schools."
Bloomberg has repeatedly argued that failing to repeal the law and establish a system based on merit immediately would be devastating to schools as the city moves forward with a plan to lay off 4,666 teachers, which is set to begin as early as this spring.
To underscore the urgency, the city's Department of Education released a list Sunday night outlining the potential impact of the cuts school-by-school if the policy was not repealed, with some schools losing as much as 70 percent of their teaching staff.
In a memorandum issued following the release of Cuomo's plan, Deputy Schools Chancellor John White concluded that the bill failed that goal.
"The Governor's proposal does not end LIFO, and consequently will not allow New York City to make merit based layoffs," White concluded.
Bloomberg said Wednesday that he did not believe that seniority should play any role in hiring decisions.
"The length of time that you have worked is irrelevant to whether or not you can do what our children need," Bloomberg said, arguing that "there are plenty of people who are just starting out that know how to deliver quality education."
A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that the speaker, who has no plans to bring the senate bill before the assembly, was reviewing the governor's plan.
The debate over seniority comes after several weeks of sparring between the mayor's and governor's offices. Cuomo has argued that the city has enough money to prevent teacher layoffs altogether and both offices have accused the other of misrepresenting the size of state cuts to education aide.