New York City Teacher Left Jobless Despite Bloomberg Budget Deal
NEW YORK -- Andrea Schulman, an English as a Second Language teacher at P.S. 102 Bay View in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the past three years, knew it was only a matter of time before she would lose her job.
She loves working at P.S. 102, where her trips down the hallways were lengthened by rows of smiling children waiting to say hello.
Shulman's principal broke the news gradually, giving warning signs as soon as it seemed the school's ESL population may be dropping.
"It all blurs together," she recalled. Two weeks ago, the principal called her into a meeting and told her the budget was being slashed so badly she couldn't afford to keep a fifth ESL teacher.
Shortly afterwards, a colleague casually asked why Schulman's name did not appear on the school's organizational chart. "I put two and two together," Schulman said. "That's how I knew this was for real."
Schulman's story may seem strange at first. A budget deal for the New York City schools that Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut with the City Council was trumpeted for preventing the layoffs of 4,000 teachers.
But here's the rub: Schulman, 35, wasn't laid off. She was 'excessed.'
Layoffs occur when a system-wide reduction in force mandates the axing of a certain number of teachers. Excessing is the process by which teachers at individual schools are fired because of a local lack of resources or demand.
The Bloomberg budget deal was misleading, according to David Bloomfield, an education law professor at the CUNY graduate center.
"The city council and the mayor and the union all wrapped their arms around one another and assured the public that we would have stability in our public schools," he said. "That's just not true."
Bloomberg did say, according to The New York Times, that "nobody should think we're out of the woods on teachers or anything else."
Chiara Coletti, a spokesperson for the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, said budget cuts keep coming year after year.
"The cumulative effect is that principals are having to excess very good teachers because there isn't enough money left in this bare-bones budget," she said.
Coletti said that budget issues require such heavy staff reductions that now some principals plan to teach to fill in the gaps.
"There's a depletion of the teaching force, because there isn't enough money in many schools," she said.
Excessed teachers are cut out of schools that can no longer afford them, for one reason or another. They're given full salary and go into the city's Absent Teacher Reserve pool, where they have the opportunity to enter "open market" period of school hiring. If teachers don't find placement by the end of that time, they're automatically placed or leased out as substitute teachers on a weekly basis to different schools.
Schulman is grateful to still be on payroll, but will miss her students at P.S. 102.
"I was part of a wonderful school," Schulman said. "The idea of being a substitute, changing week to week, that's not how you build a community and a strong school."
While a spokesperson from the New York City Department of Education said the number of excessed teachers has not been finalized, Schulman said she's heard estimates as high as 1,000.
"While everybody was celebrating the 'no layoffs,' people were forgetting that with the budget cuts, schools were forced to displace teachers in excess," Schulman said.
The excessing process is particularly tough for Schulman, who says she found it difficult to find her place within the teaching profession to begin with.
"I never thought I was going to be a teacher," she said. Her mother taught in New Jersey, and encouraged Shulman to pursue a different career. So she studied university administration in college and worked for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she planned major events.
But she says she found the work wasn't challenging enough.
When she didn't know what to do, she went to France for several years. As it turned out, "You really need to speak the language to find a job," Schulman said. Through a friend, she found a job where the language barrier was less daunting: teaching English.
"I fell in love with it," she recalls. When she came back to the U.S., she knew what she wanted to do. "Having gone to another country, as an adult with a masters degree, I had to learn how to spell my name and write a check. I was kind of a woman-child," she said. That's why she chose to teach ESL.
"People are coming to this country every day in that same position," she said. "I felt that I'd been there. I was in a new country learning a new culture and a new language. That's helped me in my teaching."
Schulman joined the New York City Teaching Fellows, spending her first of four years teaching in the city at P.S. 139 in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
After feeling she had little support there, she transferred to P.S. 102, a school where 48 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in the 2009-2010 school year.
"There's more accountability" at P.S. 102, she said. "It's amazing how much happier teachers can be when they feel that their services are valued."
But the signs her job might not be hers to keep began to add up this year. The budget was strained. A teacher on maternity leave came back. Fewer students would be placed in ESL. And despite her three years teaching in the school, Schulman is still the least senior of her ESL colleagues.
"It's a pretty terrible feeling," she said.
She's glad the teacher layoffs proposed by Bloomberg didn't go through. But she noted schools are still losing money.
At P.S. 102, a school of 1,200 studetns, Schulman says three teachers were excessed. Because of those losses, the school is cutting a kindergarten class, a first grade class and Schulman's ESL position.
Schulman is now bouncing between interviews, but her situation is less certain than she'd like it to be. Most schools don't have their budgets set, and few know with certainty how many teachers they can hire.