Mayor’s talk earns him flak - Bloomy’s judgment questioned following teacher remark

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A Brooklyn politician says Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement that public schools will lose 15,000 teachers “is not going to happen.”

“It’s not acceptable and it’s not going to happen,” state Assemblymember James Brennan told this paper. “The mayor is making pronouncements that have no basis in reality. Who knows what’s motivating him to do this. Perhaps the groundhog that just bit him has caused some mental irrational­ity.”

Brennan was reacting to Bloomberg’s announcement that the city will lose nearly 15,000 teachers unless Governor David Paterson abandons his plan to slash funding to New York City schools by $770 million.

Bloomberg has outlined his own $500 million cut for public schools. Combining a $200 million increase to non-discretionary costs, such as educators’ pensions and school system debts, the city Department of Education (DOE) faces a $1.4 billion deficit for the next fiscal year.

In total, 23,000 municipal workers would be out of a job. This would be done through layoffs and attrition.

The mayor says he needs a significant portion of the federal stimulus money to tackle the city’s $4 billion deficit expected for the fiscal year beginning this July.

“We are looking at every way possible to restore funds,” Brennan said. “The state has a gigantic deficit and we are awaiting how much money Congress is going to provide and the president are going to provide to New York State.”

According to published reports, Senator Charles Schumer said New York City public schools would receive $1.8 billion if the federal stimulus package is passed.

But if the city does fire teachers, schools would be devastated, Brooklynites say.

“The only thing that concerns me is that they are going to have to add more students to a teacher, which is not going to be good. It’s going to be very hard for a teacher to control close to 40 kids,” said Mario Aguila, president of District 14’s Community Education Council (CEC), which is a volunteer parents group advocating for schools in Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

Martha Foote said her son’s school, P.S. 321 in Park Slope, is already considering increasing class size.

“It would be absolutely horrible. It would be a deplorable situation,” she said.

Rather than cut funding for teachers and schools, DOE should look to its pricey accountability measures, Foote suggested.

“They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on excessive testing, test prep, on school report cards, on all kinds of evaluations. They won’t touch a dime at accountability and yet they would allow these kinds of cuts to go on in the classrooms where it’s directly affecting children and their ability to learn at optimum levels,” Foote said. “The mayor has got his priorities completely turned around.”

In the last five years, the DOE cut $350 million from its administrative costs to lessen budget cuts on individual schools.

The DOE says it spends $28.2 million on accountability measures.

But the Independent Budget Office (IBO) says $105 million is spent on accountability. The DOE says IBO counts several measures the DOE doesn’t consider accountability, including school success grants and some School Support Organizations (SSO) costs.

With the economy in disarray, Brooklyn’s City Council members say now is not the time to slash funding.

“Despite difficult economic times, in the long term, we can simply not afford to mortgage the collective future of our children with such devastating cuts,” said Councilmember David Yassky. “While this moment certainly calls for shared sacrifice, we must work with officials in both Albany and Washington to ensure our children are not bearing the brunt of the serious choices we have to make.”

“Times are tough and now more than ever we need to establish our priorities. As a public school parent, I believe we need to put the needs of our children before ourselves and this budget does not do that,” said Councilmember Bill de Blasio. “Just last year, we rallied parents, teachers, students, and community members in a successful fight against harmful education cuts. Once again we need all New Yorkers to stand up to the city and state for the rights of their children and the future of New York.”

Even if budget cuts must happen, they should be spread across the board evenly – and not heavily concentrated on one agency, Brennan said.

“The mayor’s announcement seems crazy. There are deficits across the city and the state and he appears to be taking all of the city’s financial problems and pushing all of them onto the school system alone which seems pretty crazy,” Brennan said.

Updated 3:32 pm, October 19, 2011
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