2011-03-11 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Keep Teachers In the Classrooms, Not The Unemployment Line
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

So let me get this straight, the Department of Education does not have enough money to save teacher’s jobs, but it does have enough to increase its budget for technology contracts by a whopping $24 million. The DOE is wringing its hands to find money to test and remediate schools found with toxic levels of PCBs, but it can – as the Daily News put it – “increase payments to high-priced computer consultants.” The DOE talks about taking money from principals’ “rainy day” funds to, for all we know, possibly even use it for such things as these contracts instead of the children for whom it was saved to help.

In a recent letter to Schools Chancellor Cathie Black, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio decried the increase in the technology contracts, which would increase city expenditures on such consultants to $52 million a year.

“With many New York City Schools already suffering from under-performance and overcrowded classrooms, there is nothing more important for our children’s education than keeping teachers in the classroom … , ” said de Blasio. “In this challenging budget environment, the last thing our children’s education can afford is a system that wastes tax dollars… This type of spending is simply not a priority for ensuring our children receive a quality education.”

According to de Blasio, the average salary for a teacher – taking into account seniority and educational background – is $72,000. The public advocate figures that approximately 333 of the threatened 4,675 teacher layoffs could be averted.

In December, New York City’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) estimated that the current fiscal year would end with a surplus of almost $1.7 billion. This surplus takes into account additional tax revenues along with projections for higher expenses.

Rockaway has a big stake in this. As reported in last week’s Wave, the peninsula is slated to lose 100 teachers if the DOE cuts go through. Some of the east end schools that would be affected are PS 43 on Beach 28 Street and Goldie Maple Academy in Arverne. PS 43 would lose 11 of its 99 teachers and Goldie Maple would lose eight of its 41 teachers.

So with the city looking at that approximately $1.7 billion surplus, the question has to be, why lay off any teachers at all? The mayor points to state budget cuts. But many point out that local layoffs are not necessary.

City Comptroller John Liu said of the proposed layoffs, “The Governor has continued to insist that the state budget he has proposed should not require local layoffs, despite the fact that the mayor has threatened to lay off thousands of teachers and send class sizes skyrocketing, even if the state comes through with major new revenues for the city.”

Many groups say the layoffs called for by the mayor and DOE are unnecessary. One such group called Bloomberg’s and the DOE’s threats of layoffs a scare tactic. The Council of School Supervisors & Administrators said on its website: “We accept Governor Cuomo’s contention that New York City, with its $3 billion surplus [due in 2013] and its revenues way above projections, does not need to have any teacher layoffs at all. We also believe that additional funds can be raised by leveling a fair tax on the extremely rich.”

The IBO does warn that state cuts in aid to the city could hamper the city’s coffers. Still, at this point we shouldn’t even be talking such drastic cuts without looking for other methods of funding.

De Blasio has already found one very real way to save teachers’ jobs. Axe the consultant increases and save 333 teaching jobs. The IBO points out that Bloomberg’s education cuts for 2012 come on the shoulders of general education classrooms. De Blasio suggests that the DOE “examine its administrative budget to identify any superfluous spending that could be used to prevent teacher layoffs. Freezing all non-essential expenditures, such as this [tech] contract, is without a doubt the right place to start.”

Our children cannot be in a position to learn if we allow the precious funds that are available to help them in the classroom be used for other purposes. We cannot prepare our children for the future, for the world around them unless they have quality teachers in the classroom and not on the unemployment line. Let the consultants take a cut and leave our teachers in the classrooms.

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