Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to cut 6,100 teaching positions in next year’s budget would spell disaster for education in southeast Queens, an area already smarting from the city’s decision this year to shutter three of its schools, educators and parents said at a town hall in Jamaica this week.
“There’s money for new stadiums and pedestrian plazas, but there’s no money for teachers?” Cheri Hicks, a math coach at PS 40 in Jamaica, said at a town hall meeting sponsored by Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) at PS 80 on Monday. “When did teachers become the people to step on?”
One of a series of meetings co-hosted by the United Federation of Teachers and Queens legislators across the borough over the past week, the event was held to drum up support against the mayor’s budget proposal.
The council has until July 1 to pass a budget, and many legislators, including Wills and a number of other Queens delegates, have said they will not pass a plan that includes a large number of layoffs.
“We’re not supposed to have to fight to keep our teachers from losing their jobs,” Wills said.
Bloomberg has argued the reduction of 6,100 jobs, about 4,000 of which would happen through layoffs and the rest through attrition, is needed because of budget cuts from the state and rising healthcare and pension costs. While the mayor has argued the move would save the city roughly $300 million, the UFT and many legislators have said there are other cuts the city could make to the city Department of Education in lieu of teachers, including limiting the amount spent on outside contractors.
The department has caught a lot of flack for its use of contractors, and city Comptroller John Liu recently rejected the DOE’s proposal to spend $20 million on a contract to recruit and train teachers from “non-traditional” backgrounds.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Council Finance Chairman Domenic Recchia Jr. (D-Brooklyn) released a statement last week that detailed about $75 million in cuts they believe could be implemented at the DOE to avert layoffs, including a $13.2 million reduction in technology spending.
“Michael Bloomberg masquerades as the education mayor, but what has he really done?” asked Dermot Smyth, the UFT’s Queens political action coordinator, to which several of the parents and teachers in the audience yelled, “close schools.”
Since January, the city has voted to close Jamaica High School, IS 231 in Springfield Gardens and PS 30 in Rochdale Village.
Wills slammed the mayor for shuttering the schools and said layoffs would prove to be an additional burden for an area that has experienced more school closures than many other parts of the borough.
“Everyone in the city should be embarrassed to stand next to Mayor Bloomberg if he lays off those teachers,” Wills said.
Smyth and Wills called on the residents at the meeting to act against the mayor’s proposal, including making phone calls to City Hall and writing letters.
“If we get really, really angry over the next three weeks, we can become a collective loud voice for our children and make sure our schools are protected,” Smyth said. “What’s going to persuade this mayor is if you get loud.”
Johnetta Gantt, of Jamaica, said she plans on doing just that.
“It’s absurd,” said Gantt, who brought her son, Xavier McDaniel, 6, with her to the meeting. “This mayor, he’s a real bully. It’s crazy how he does whatever he wants without thinking of our children.”