human capital

City estimates savings of $300 million by laying off teachers

Chancellor-designee Dennis Walcott testifies at the New York City Council's Education Committee's Budget Hearing

City school officials said today that they would need roughly $300 million to avoid laying off thousands of teachers next year.

Today’s twice-delayed City Council hearing on the DOE’s preliminary expense budget for 2012 focused on how to avoid teacher layoffs and the current “last in, first out” rules that require the city to lay off teachers based on seniority.

Testifying before the City Council for the first time in his new role as chancellor-designate, Dennis Walcott fielded questions about how the city can avoid mass layoffs. And, although he’s still being referred to by some DOE officials as Deputy Mayor, Walcott was treated just like his predecessors by the Committee: with skepticism.

Council members were quick to offer their congratulations and support to Walcott, but then became less welcoming when the subjects of teacher layoffs and ending “last in, first out” rules were raised.

Many council members questioned whether or not Mayor Bloomberg had requested enough funds from Albany, with several suggesting that perhaps the $600 million Bloomberg requested ($200 million of which was set to go to schools), was deliberately low, perhaps as a strategy to continue pushing for changes to “last in, first out” rules.

“How much money do I need to save these teachers jobs?” asked Upper West Side Councilwoman Gail Brewer.

According to Walcott’s prepared remarks, if the teaching workforce was reduced by 6,166 teachers — 1,500 through attrition and the rest through layoffs — the DOE would save approximately $435 million, with $300 million in savings coming from layoffs alone. The proposed savings of $300 million would be a fraction of next year’s proposed budget of $19.1 billion.

DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan says that the way the DOE calculates the amount saved by layoffs and attrition is the same. It is arrived at by multiplying the number of potential layoffs (4,666) by the average salary of a newer teacher (around $53,000). The same average salary is used for both layoff and attrition budget estimates, since attrition is higher amongst newer teachers.

During the hearing, the cost of saving teaching jobs fluctuated wildly, with some members citing the November 2010 plan. Council Chair Robert Jackson repeatedly asked Walcott and Chief Financial Officer Veronica Conforme to explain the calculations, until Walcott said he would double-check the numbers.

Overall, the DOE is looking to save $700 million via teacher layoffs, attrition, and mandate relief, such as paying less into pensions, according to Morgan. Even if the state or the city were to offer to fill in this gap, she cautioned that it still might not be enough to ensure that all teachers keep their jobs because other rising costs — such as heating oil and student busing — could increase the city’s budget gap.

The DOE’s Preliminary Budget from February is excerpted below. Mayor Bloomberg’s full Preliminary Budget Report for 2012 is available here and the Council’s response to the Mayor is here.  The final budget is due to be released on May 5th.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a  cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less five year olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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