A poll released Thursday showed voters overwhelmingly support New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's push to base the threatened layoff of thousands of teachers on performance, rather than the current system of seniority.
The Quinnipiac University poll found 85 percent of voters want to spare the best teachers, regardless of how long they've been on the job.
They want to end the so-called last-in, first-out policy that would be used if the city and school districts statewide have to resort to cutting teacher jobs.
State school aid would be cut 7.3 percent under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget, and Bloomberg and education advocates say that could force thousands of layoffs.
In the poll, even 75 percent of households with union members support performance-based criteria.
"Voters, especially voters with kids in public school, want to keep the best teachers on the job and to heck with seniority,'' said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac poll. He said 64 percent of voters also support raises for teachers based on merit and about the same share want to make it easier to fire ineffective teachers.
In addition, the poll found 50 percent of voters have a favorable view of public school teachers, 22 percent had an unfavorable view, and 25 percent said they didn't have enough information to draw a conclusion. Fifty-one percent have a negative view of the powerful teachers unions that support the seniority system, with 39 percent having a favorable view.
Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers says that although the seniority-based layoff policy is flawed, "it's better than letting politics take over the process, and they know that's what's going to happen if you let politicians start making these decisions.''
Richard Iannuzzi, president of the statewide New York State United Teachers union, agreed that performance should be part of the equation. But he said a system created in law last year that could lead to a fairer system won't be ready for any imminent layoffs.
"I don't think you can give up seniority because we don't have a way to replace it today with an intelligent performance monitor,'' he said Thursday.
"We certainly can do more on the performance end and we are,'' he said.
Bloomberg had no immediate comment. Cuomo has said schools can avoid layoffs if they cut waste and rely on reserves. Cuomo, in Binghamton on Thursday as part of a tour to present his budget, said an "objective evaluation strategy for layoffs'' is needed.
"Seniority alone is not the best measure and we should be looking at the merits and we should have an objective evaluation,'' he said.
The poll questioned 1,457 registered voters from Feb. 15 to Monday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.