While many Queens legislators and educators said they were relieved about 4,100 teacher layoffs were averted in a budget deal announced by Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) last week, they emphasized borough schools do not emerge unscathed.
“We worked very hard to ensure there were no layoffs of teachers,” said Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who taught for more than two and a half decades at PS 199 in Long Island City. “Unfortunately, there will be some attrition. While we’re glad we can help to solve the budget problems the Department of Education faces with that attrition, it’s still going to mean higher class sizes, and that’s a major concern to me.”
Bloomberg’s original proposal to axe about 6,100 teaching positions, 4,100 of which would have occurred through layoffs, had been met with ire from the United Federation of Teachers, educators throughout the city and legislators.
The budget deal, which council members were expected to vote on Wednesday, was met with a collective sigh of relief from many education officials.
“I want to thank all the parties involved in this agreement for their willingness to come together to prevent the harm that would come to our students from a massive loss of public school teachers,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
As part of the agreement, which was announced during a press conference late Friday night, the UFT agreed to end all teacher sabbaticals for one year and require all teachers in the reserve pool who do not have full-time assignments to work as substitute teachers. The union concessions are expected to save the city a total of $60 million.
As part of the agreement, every public school in the city will sustain a 2.7 percent cut in their budgets, which Rob Caloras, the immediate past president of Community Education Council 26, said would prove disastrous for schools in his district, which covers many of the borough’s northern neighborhoods.
“Where do you get 2.7 percent?” Caloras asked. “You cut back on toilet paper? You cut back on crayons? On any of those things that make school a little more enjoyable? That 2.7 percent is books, music instruments and science equipment. It’s going to kill schools in District 26.”
Arthur Goldstein, the UFT representative for Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, said his school is expected to lose $5 million next year — $3 million because of the 2.7 percent cut and $2 million because the school will not receive Title I funding. Francis Lewis does not have enough students to qualify next year for the Title I funds, which are monies meant for schools with many low-income students.
“It’s going to be devastating,” Goldstein said. “I feel the mayor is saying, ‘mayor to Francis Lewis: go to hell.”
Goldstein said the school is “frantically” trying to make sure it does not lose teachers because of the budget cuts.
A decrease in teachers would mean even larger class sizes for Francis Lewis, which has been notoriously overcrowded for years, representatives from the school said.
Any increase in schools throughout Queens would spell trouble in a borough long plagued by crammed classrooms, Dromm said.
“That 2.7 percent cut could mean a loss of four or more teachers in a school,” Dromm said. “Principals may be able to find ways to do those cuts without layoffs, but many of them have said they’ve already cut to the bone. There’s nothing left to cut.”
According to a recent report from the city Independent Budget Office, four of the five districts with the highest concentration of classes above the city’s population guidelines are in Queens.
In District 24, which covers Corona, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Woodside, Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood, 90 percent of classes have more students than agreements between the city and the UFT allow. Districts 28, which includes Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Jamaica; 25, which covers College Point, Whitestone, Flushing and Murray Hill; and 26, which includes Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston and Auburndale are also included in the IBO’s top five list.