The Queens contingent of the United Federation of Teachers turned out in the hundreds for a rally outside Queens Borough Hall April 14 against Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed 4,658 Teacher layoffs, with President Michael Mulgrew saying, “We’re here today to teach the Mayor a lesson.”
A Show of Force
The protest drew virtually every elected official in the borough, a show of political force for the union as it gears up for budget negotiations in the city. The Mayor is currently proposing a reduction of 6,100 Teachers, most of them through layoffs, and has pushed to end the “last-in, first-out” reverse-seniority layoff rights.
Mr. Mulgrew said that the city had a budget surplus of more than $3 billion that it could use to avert any job cuts, and that the Mayor was “playing a political game” by insisting on layoffs, even though Governor Cuomo and his state budget staff have repeatedly said the city shouldn’t have to lose any Teachers.
“If you keep rolling over your surpluses, class sizes are going to skyrocket,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “You will see the communities rise up, because they are getting sick and tired of it all.”
He added that he was heartened by President Obama’s recent comments about scaling back test preparation in schools, saying that it was a sign elected officials could learn. But when he asked the crowd if they thought the Mayor could learn, they booed and chanted “recall, recall.”
State Sen. Tony Avella, who unseated longtime incumbent Frank Padavan with the UFT’s support last year, started the cheering for the Mayor’s recall with his remarks. “What Bloomberg has done to education is an absolute disgrace...every student that was in class during [his] tenure, we should call ‘The Lost Generation,’’’ he said.
‘Had Enough of You’
“I want to start a recall petition for the Mayor,” he continued, to cheers. “There’s no better way to send a message to Michael Bloomberg than people signing petitions saying, ‘We’ve had enough of you.’’’
Mr. Mulgrew, who said that his years as a Teacher of at-risk children means he “always has that hope inside that somebody will learn,” did not echo Mr. Avella’s call, although he did allude to it. “If you don’t learn, well guess what?” he said, as the crowd chanted “recall, recall” again.
Other elected officials echoed the union’s claim about a budget surplus. City Councilman James Sanders Jr., chair of the Civil Service Committee, said the city should “send the Mayor back to school, and I’m not talking about a charter school...we need to take this surplus, take a little bit of it, and make sure we save the Teachers.”
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz asked, “What’s going on here? What’s happening to our education? If it’s not broke, why fix it?” She cited the recently approved closing of a historic high school in the borough, Jamaica High, as an example of the Department of Education’s mismanagement.
“Why do we need 30 support staff for less than 500 children [in a school sharing space with Jamaica High] when we have 1,200 children in Jamaica High with not enough support?” she said.
‘They Don’t Care About Kids’
City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Republican who told the crowd he “ran with” the Mayor for election in 2009, said his views on the city’s policies had shifted since he took office. “It’s good to see somebody out here who cares about kids because it’s clear the Bloomberg administration doesn’t,” he said, slamming the proposed layoffs.
The Queens representative on the DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, also criticized the Mayor’s budget plans. He serves as part of a vocal minority of borough representatives on a panel dominated by mayoral appointees. Although the panel votes on important issues like school closings, relocations and DOE contracts, it has been criticized as a rubber-stamp because the majority of its appointees serve at the Mayor’s pleasure.
“Our Mayor seems to think reducing Teacher positions as enrollment continues to grow is a good business decision,” he said. “But a reduction in funding will have a direct impact on school services.”