May 31, 2011
Chancellor Dennis Walcott will take the hotseat tomorrow morning before a City Council whose members are growing increasingly restive about the city’s proposed teacher layoffs.
According to the city’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the department is $350 million short of being able to fund its teaching spots. Mayor Bloomberg is pushing to close that gap by eliminating more than 6,000 teaching spots, 4,100 by layoffs.
Insiders say council members are likely to grill Walcott on why the city’s layoff estimates haven’t wavered, despite two changes in chancellors since Bloomberg first unveiled them in November. They are also likely to demand why the city didn’t cut other parts of the department’s budget that doesn’t directly affect the classroom, such as transportation and special education, both of which are projected to see a big spending boost next year.
Many council members have said they don’t think layoffs are necessary to balance the city’s budget, and a few say they won’t vote for a budget that includes layoffs. Robert Jackson, chair of the council’s education committee, is among the elected officials set to appear at a rally against the layoffs proposal an hour before the hearing’s 10 a.m. start. He’ll be joined by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who has been lobbying against the proposed layoffs on his own; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who advocates cutting contract spending to boost the staff budget; and other officials.
But most council members haven’t stated where they stand so clearly. Tomorrow’s hearing is a chance for them to signal their intentions, offer suggestions for alternative cuts, and construct a roadmap for a month of political jockeying over the city’s spending plans.
Between the end of the council’s budget hearings on Monday and the end of June, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn must broker a deal between the council and the city to get the budget approved. Last year, council members allocated most of their discretionary spending to keeping their vow not to approve a budget that cut school spending. In exchange, the city agreed to cut central spending at the DOE and several other departments.
This year, reaching a deal that fully restores school cuts could be a taller order. Many council members are still chafing over having had to cut services to senior citizens last year. Those services are again on the chopping block, as are daycare programs, firehouses, libraries, and other services important to council members’ local communities. Council members know that using all their discretionary budget to restore school cuts would leave these other services out to dry while averting only half of the city’s planned teacher layoffs — hardly a politically expedient resolution.