As the city prepares to absorb Governor Cuomo’s painful but necessary cuts in school spending, it seems clear that layoffs are inevitable. The only real question is how those layoffs will be conducted-wisely, or stupidly. Only Albany can provide the answer.
State law requires Mayor Bloomberg to lay off teachers based on seniority, a procedure he rightly regards as absurd. It’s possible that most of the young, energetic teachers hired in the past five years may be sacrificed if Albany doesn’t end the practice of “last in, first out.” Mr. Bloomberg is demanding, pleading, begging Albany to give him the power to reduce payroll based on merit, not seniority. “I say enough with Albany rules,” the mayor said over the weekend. “You just cannot do this.”
A rare outbreak of sanity may be on the horizon. The New York Post reported the other day that some legislators are considering a compromise that would allow the mayor to dismiss teachers who are not in the classroom-the onetime denizens of the now-banished “rubber rooms,” as well as teachers performing administrative duties because their schools have been shut down.
If given the power to remove teachers who do not actually teach, the mayor may be able to shed as many as 4,000 jobs regardless of seniority, the Post reported. That would go a long way toward cutting payroll without impacting classroom education. But if even more layoffs are needed, and they might well be, Mr. Bloomberg and the Department of Education need to cut jobs based on performance only.
The teachers’ union will fight to retain the status quo-what else is new? But if Governor Cuomo is as intent on shaking up Albany as he says he is, he needs to make this issue a priority. His fellow Democrats in the State Assembly live in fear of the teachers’ union. Mr. Cuomo should tell them that they will have more to fear if they stand in the way of progress.
Layoffs are unfortunate. But if they are going to occur, they should be done intelligently, not by some outdated formula.