A Defining Bloomberg

Our Nice-Guy Mayor Makes Some Bad Budget Choices

It's the contract that sets the daily school agenda, mandating prep and other free periods, as well as the number (180) and length (six hours) of school days, less than any other major urban system. Because of these requirements, city teachers spend on average only two-thirds of their time in a classroom, also earning expensive year-long sabbaticals every nine years. All Bloomberg is looking for is a 20-minute longer day in exchange for the largest salary hikes in decades, hoping ostensibly that he can get more in 10 months, when this long-overdue new contract expires.

The generosity is another concession to the Albany masters who are setting so much of Bloomberg's agenda. It is astounding to contemplate, but the teachers union has given $332,700 to the Assembly Democrats and $219,000 to the Senate Republicans since 1999, with another $145,000 thrown in for the State Democratic Committee. In exchange for mayoral control of the system, they will soon force Bloomberg to sign off on a contract that takes care of teachers without changing anything for children.

With a new state-budget agreement also expected to dump hundreds of millions of new dollars into city schools, the proposed Bloomberg cuts may wind up largely rescinded, paving the way for a budget agreement with the education-fixated council even if there are no tax hikes. Only 11 of the 51 councilmembers got UFT contributions in 2001, totaling a mere $15,925; but the council, too, may wind up part of the UFT-engineered consensus soon to emerge.

One of the widely appreciated advantages of this billionaire mayoralty is its claimed independence from special interests. But, elected without a cent of anyone else's money, Bloomberg is nonetheless proving that his, too, might well become a compromised government, a captive of the relationships that grip the governmental partners any mayor must accommodate. That contagion is in the Albany air, and as clean and on the merits as Mayor Mike might want to be, even his billions can't immunize him from its crippling effects.

Research assistance: Annachiara Danieli, Jen DiMascio, Lauren Johnston, Peter G.H. Madsen, Jess Wisloski

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