New York’s public schools were facing a potential catastrophe beginning in September. Thanks to the usual bungling in Albany and the overall poor economy, some 4,400 teachers were on the verge of being laid off because of budget cuts. The departure of so many teachers surely would have caused chaos in the classroom and only exacerbated problems in poor-performing schools.
That troubling scenario, however, will not come to pass, thanks to a common-sense solution imposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor announced last week that he will cancel raises for public school teachers and principals over the next two years. The savings, he said, will allow the city to avoid mass layoffs in the city’s classrooms.
This is, needless to say, a win-win solution: Thousands of teachers have avoided the unemployment line, which is good for them, their families and taxpayers. They will continue to pay taxes rather than be forced to collect unemployment benefits. And the city’s schoolchildren have been spared the inevitable problems that would have accompanied such a massive, sudden departure of teachers.
Unions representing the teachers and principals must be delighted, right? Now, now-you know better than that. The union bosses are crying foul, insisting that the mayor cannot unilaterally cancel a pay raise.
Unfortunately for the union, but luckily for the thousands of teachers who won’t be thrown out of work in the fall, a contract between the city and the union expired last year, so the mayor can, in fact, impose a pay freeze without having to worry about a collective bargaining agreement.
It’s important to remember that the mayor’s move does not cancel built-in raises, which teachers receive for simply staying on the job another year or by earning additional academic credits. These raises vary widely, but they can be as high as $8,000 for longtime teachers. Teachers will receive these so-called “step increases” this year. What they won’t receive are 2 percent raises this year and next year. The mayor said several months ago that he supported those raises, but worsening budget projections caused him to reconsider.
Private-sector workers know all too well that hard times demand efficiencies and sacrifices. Many public-employee unions, however, still believe that taxpayers owe them raises every year-regardless of performance or merit.
Mr. Bloomberg shrewdly figured out a way to save jobs while delivering a teachable lesson in modern economic realities. Everybody wins, except for the unions. Not a bad result.