New York Post Editorial - Thursday, February 24, 2010

John J. Flanagan

The people of New York have spoken. The state Senate is taking action.

Now the rest is up to Gov. Cuomo. That is, if New York's ar chaic, seniority-driven teacher-lay off law -- "Last in, first out" -- is to be modernized, it's up to the governor.

And he has only until next Thursday to set things in motion.

It's the right thing to do.

And the people demand it.

The Quinnipiac Poll has a new survey out today, and the numbers are astounding:

* New Yorkers prefer that merit, not seniority, govern teacher layoffs by 85 percent to 12 percent.

* Even members of union households support merit-based layoffs by 75 percent to 20 percent.

* And parents of public-school children oppose LIFO by a mind-boggling 90 percent to 7 percent.

This is no abstract argument. Mayor Bloomberg said last week that the city's budget woes will force him to lay off nearly 4,700 teachers.

Done solely by seniority, layoffs of that magnitude would drive virtually all the best new teachers out into the street -- an unacceptable outcome.

Happily, state Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan of Long Island yesterday introduced legislation that would prohibit using seniority or salary as the sole criteria for layoffs.

It would require collective bargaining to establish a set of merit-based criteria for all layoffs, but also establishes a list of interim procedures for the short term:

* Those with documented unsatisfactory ratings.

* Those who are chronically absent or late.

* Those who have been convicted of minor crimes.

* Those in the absent teacher reserve.

* Those with substantiated allegations of misconduct in the last five years.

* Those teachers, some 500 in all, who remain on the payroll despite failing for five years to meet their certification requirements.

Flanagan has put his bill on the fast track: His committee will vote it out next Tuesday, with a full Senate vote within the following 48 hours.

In short, a terrific first step.

And one that -- as the Q-Poll clearly demonstrates -- mirrors the public mood among New Yorkers, who've come to recognize the obvious.

Now it's time for the rest of New York's political establishment to get with the program.

Starting with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver -- a teachers-union cat's paw who nevertheless is as responsive to his fellow Democratic assembly members as he is to union campaign contributions.

You can bet suburban and upstate Assembly Democrats will be stunned by the Q-Poll -- more than 85 percent of their constituents oppose LIFO. So Silver and his members will be much less responsive to teacher pressure than in the past. (Never mind that potential political opponents everywhere will be beating the anti-LIFO drums loudly.)

But Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos appears to get it. He cleared the fast track for Flanagan's bill, after all.

Cuomo will certainly recognize the significance of the numbers, understanding intuitively that they represent pro found public disquiet with the public-education status quo.

And understanding, as well, that the dissatisfaction represents a truly unique opportunity both to do the right thing by New York's school kids, and to set himself apart from hidebound Democrats not only in New York -- but nationally, too.

To do that, he needs to publicly endorse LIFO repeal in general -- and Flanagan's bill in particular. Indeed, he should adopt the measure and include it in an amendment to his budget before the statutory limit for such changes expires next Thursday.

It's a tack that entails some political risk, for sure.

But 85 percent of 19 million New Yorkers can't be wrong: The winds of positive change are rising, and Cuomo needs to take advantage of that before he's swept off into a corner with the rest of yesterday's politicians.

Repeal LIFO.