The fallout from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to eliminate thousands of teaching positions in the city's public schools spread quickly throughout northeast Queens.
Part of an austere budget plan to cover losses in state and federal funding, Bloomberg's presentation at noon Thursday included cuts not only to education, but social services, capital construction projects and the city's combined workforce.
But it was the proposal to cut 6,166 teaching positions — 4,666 of which would be done through layoffs — that quickly made the mayor's in months past more and more real, even among his most vocal critics.
"I could only hope that he’s just posturing and that the budget allows for him to avoid major layoffs of teachers or any city agencies," said Community District Education Council 26 president Rob Caloras.
The threatened layoffs also heated up the debate over education reform, most pressingly, regarding the state's "first-in, first-out" rule covering city teachers.
The mayor, former schools chancellor Joel Klein and others have made the case for keeping teachers based on merit evaluations — a process Caloras roundly criticized in the wake of today's proposed layoffs.
"It’s really despicable that he plays this game over and over again," Caloras said. "He’s yet to come up with a better way to assess teachers. He just relies upon test scores. It’s ludicrous."
A Bayside grandmother at Marie Curie Park today said she thought the "first-in, first-out" policy was a double-edged sword.
"If they're newer teachers just coming in, how good really are they?" said Barbara Burton, a former student at Flushing's P.S. 163 with granddaughters attending Saint Robert's in Bayside.
Another mayoral critic, state Sen. Tony Avella, D-Bayside, accused Bloomberg of harboring a "vendetta" against teachers.
"Clearly, there are ways to assimilate this cut without cutting teachers," Avella said.
According to Bloomberg, the cuts in education spending are necessary to close an estimated $4.58 billion deficit without raising taxes.
Bloomberg also pointed the finger at Albany for the city's steep cuts in funding for education.
According to the mayor's office, the city's share of non-federal education spending rose from 50 percent in 2002 to 62 percent expected in 2012. In the same period, the city claims the state's share has declined from 50 percent to 38 percent.
"We’re ready to do our part to help the state, but we don’t deserve to be penalized for our responsible actions," Bloomberg said. "If the state does not come through, layoffs and service cuts will be more severe."