At a tense City Council meeting Wednesday, councilmembers sounded off on proposed cuts to the Department of Education as Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott testified that teacher layoffs may be necessary. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
There were a lot of numbers flying around at City Council on Wednesday but just one key question.
"If we don't want to lay off teachers, can we find alternative cuts in a $23 billion budget?" asked Manhattan Councilwoman Margaret Chin.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said no, repeating Mayor Michael Bloomberg's claim that more than 6,000 teachers need to go to save $269 million, 4,100 of them through layoffs.
“With 70 percent of school budgets tied up in compensation costs, we have little choice but to reduce the size of our workforce,” said Walcott.
The city's Independent Budget Office released a report while the City Council hearing was underway that stated that the mayor underestimates the number of teachers who will voluntarily retire this year.
It also said that with more highly paid senior teachers retiring, the mayor's budget would only require losing 5,200 teachers, 2,600 through layoffs. The mayor's office said the IBO's math doesn't add up.
While there is a lot of debate on specific numbers, one thing is clear: Whether by layoffs or attrition, it is going to be hard to avoid losing teachers.
With a month until the budget's due, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn began the process of proposing alternative cuts to the Department of Education, saying she had already found $75 million worth within the DOE.
“A budget is a document which articulates your priorities,” said Quinn. “Our priority is preventing the layoffs and finding other places, not in the classroom, where these cuts can come.”
Quinn suggested cutting $13 million in technology, $35 million in special education and $7.5 million in busing.
However, some of those proposed cuts, like special education, are in areas mandated by state law.
At the same time, councilmembers pressed the chancellor about a rash of scandals involving high-priced contractors.
“Millions of dollars they are ripping us off,” said Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson. “When they are ripping us off, they are ripping off our children.”
“We're going to punish those bad individuals, and we're putting internal controls in place to make sure it doesn't happen again,” said Walcott.
Walcott revealed he terminated one of those contracts Tuesday night, a $6 million deal with Future Technology Associates. He said the DOE will save $2 million by doing the work itself.