NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers want decisions about which teachers to fire based on performance not seniority, a poll showed on Thursday, giving Mayor Michael Bloomberg a boost in his conflict with the teachers' union.
By a margin of 85 percent to 12 percent, voters say layoffs should be based on performance rather than seniority, the Quinnipiac University poll said.
The poll was statewide, but the issue is hotly contested in New York City, where Bloomberg proposed laying off thousands of teachers in his budget for fiscal 2012 and wants to end the practice of eliminating the most recently hired.
The dispute is part of a national debate about how cities and states should balance budgets under stress from the sluggish economy and reduced federal aid, a crisis that has injected volatility into the traditionally safe $2.8 trillion municipal bond market.
Fifty percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of public school teachers versus 22 percent with an unfavorable opinion, but a similar majority of 51 percent said teachers' unions played a negative role in education. Thirty-nine percent said unions played a positive role.
Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) have been in a running dispute on the "last in, first out" policy.
The union says layoffs should not be necessary under the city's budget and that past methods to evaluate teachers were flawed and a new system begun last year was still unproven.
School principals oppose a discretionary firing policy because of the politics involved, UFT spokesman Dick Riley said.
"They (principals) know layoff by seniority is not an ideal system, but 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," Riley told Reuters in an email.
UFT television ads target Bloomberg for emphasizing who to fire rather than how to save jobs and criticize his tax policy for not extracting more from the wealthy to help fund education.
The February 15-21 poll of 1,457 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent, Quinnipiac said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Diane Craft)