New York City hasn't pink-slipped teachers since the '70s, but for months the smart money's been on the lucky streak ending this summer.
The budget crisis is just too massive for everyone to stay employed. And that's not just in NYC: thousands of educators have already been laid-off across the country, and the final tally could be as high as 100,000—especially if an Obama-backed, $23 billion teacher bailout continues to falter.
But today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg bucked the odds. Saying it would "save the jobs of some 4,400 teachers," Bloomberg announced that the city would hold onto the pink slips and instead cancel planned raises for city educators for the next two years.
"We know that teachers and their families are facing tough times, too, and that this will not be easy for them," the mayor said in a statement. "But when it came to a choice between teacher raises or laying off teachers, I have chosen to protect our children and their futures."
The announcement was met with a quick rebuke from Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, who said the mayor didn't have the power to unilaterally make that call.
No doubt the wrangling will continue. But this much is clear: while not everyone approves of how he did it—really, there's no way everyone goes home happy here—Bloomberg found a way to keep teachers off the couch and in schools next fall. And that means keeping class sizes from ballooning and courses from being cut—a fate facing countless school districts.
Still, by acknowledging that saving those jobs was more important than rewarding teachers for their work, Bloomberg undermined a central tenant of the merit-pay philosophy, in which he's a firm believer.
Admittedly, those raises were scheduled to be paid no matter how the students performed, which is the problem performance pay is trying to solve. But if you believe, as Bloomberg does, that money is inextricably linked to how well students do, then what caliber of work can you expect to get from 80,000 teachers who know they won't see an extra dime for two years?
If you think it takes extra money to get teachers to do their best work, then you must believe that removing money will have the opposite effect. That, or you're betting teachers are ultimately in the classroom for a different reason: the kids.