2011-10-02 "School Layoffs About to Fall Heaviest on the Poorest and Most Struggling" by FERNANDA SANTOS from "New York Times" daily newspaper
The pink slips have gone out, and if no deal is reached by Friday, 716 of New York City’s lowest-paid workers — school aides, parent coordinators and other members of school support staffs — will lose their jobs, the latest victims of budget cuts to the public schools.
Nearly 350 schools will be affected, in a scattered pattern, according to a list of layoffs by school, which was obtained and analyzed by The New York Times. Entire school districts and one borough, Staten Island, are untouched, but schools that serve large numbers of poor or struggling students are disproportionately affected, as are schools receiving federal money to improve results after years of weak performance.
Public School 153 in Harlem, where 85 percent of students qualify for free lunch, the measure used by the city to define children who live in poverty, will lose the most workers, seven. At Intermediate School 195, also in Harlem, where 53 percent of students performed well below average in last year’s state standardized tests, six school aides would be let go.
In Brooklyn, three elementary schools would each lose four workers: P.S. 270 in Clinton Hill, P.S. 135 in East Flatbush and P.S. 73 in Brownsville. Combined, they enroll 1,490 students; according to city statistics, 82 percent live in poverty.
Of the 44 low-performing middle and high schools receiving federal money, 19 would experience cuts of one to four workers, the list of layoffs shows.
The layoffs would affect one in four school aides, parent coordinators, health workers and paraprofessionals in District 5 in Harlem, and roughly one in five in District 23 in Brownsville, where 51 percent of residents receive public assistance, city statistics show.
Meanwhile, District 14 in Brooklyn Heights, as well as District 26 in Queens, which has the city’s highest-performing elementary and middle schools, based on the latest progress reports, each face only one layoff.
The union representing the workers, District Council 37, has not had much leverage in the negotiations. The layoffs were announced in August, after the city had defined its budget, principals had decided how to spend their schools’ money and the City Council had allocated its discretionary grants to other projects and causes.
The city’s Department of Education has maintained that it was the schools’ principals, while figuring out how to make ends meet, who chose to let the employees go. Their thinking was that losing a school aide, whose job includes supervising students’ attendance, or a parent coordinator, who serves as a link between school and families, would be less painful than losing a teacher or an after-school program.
“Schools had to absorb a budget cut, and our principals made the best staffing decisions they could for their students,” the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said in a statement. “I’m going to adhere to those decisions.”
In an interview, the president of the principals’ union, Ernest A. Logan, took issue with Mr. Walcott’s characterization. “I’m just disturbed and somewhat annoyed that it has become the principals’ decision, when it was central’s decision to impose the budget cuts on the schools,” Mr. Logan said.
School budgets have been cut by 13.7 percent on average since 2007, forcing principals to make tough choices over time. In 2009, 500 school aides lost their jobs when they were let go from the schools where they worked and could find no other placement. Pink slips went out again last year, but the jobs were saved by an infusion of federal aid. The money, however, is no longer there.
To avert layoffs this year, District Council 37 offered to limit to four the number of daily hours school aides on the layoffs list could work, and to impose furloughs for 10,000 aides, parent coordinators and paraprofessionals, who would give up pay on two holidays and on teachers’ development days, when school is not in session but the workers were still required to show up.
Mr. Logan said principals were never made aware of the proposals or told that the workers they let go would be laid off.
“Our members would rather have a school aide for less hours than not have a school aide at all,” he said.
Most school aides — 460 are being laid off, a majority of all the employees getting pink slips — work part time for the schools, earning $14 an hour, or $18 if benefits are included, for four to eight hours a day, a union official said. The job requires only a high school diploma. Parent coordinators, who work full time, make $32,300 a year. Eighty-two of them are to be laid off.
Seniority protections mean that workers let go from one school can take the job from a junior counterpart at another, a cascading process known as bumping.
Ericka Ramirez, an aide at Intermediate School 162 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, would be the only one at her school to lose her job, according to the layoff list. She has worked there for almost six years and got her first pink slip in 2008 but managed to stay after her hours were cut from six to five a day, and then to four-and-a-half, she said.
“This time I just got a letter home, explaining, you know, that I’m no longer needed,” said Ms. Ramirez, 30, who is five months pregnant with her first child. Her husband is a truck driver, and though the company he works for offers health insurance, the premium is “way too expensive for us,” she said, so she has provided the insurance for both of them.
City officials say the layoffs would save $38 million; the union says the amount is closer to $25 million.
In a statement, Lillian Roberts, president of District Council 37, characterized the layoffs as “outrageous,” saying the Bloomberg administration’s refusal to accept the union’s offer shows “a reckless disregard for the well-being of New York’s 1.1 million schoolchildren and their families.”
In private, several union officials have speculated that the administration might be using the layoffs as a way to retaliate against the union, which was one of the largest labor groups to oppose a deal in June that would have allowed the city to close its budget gap by tapping into a union health care fund.
At the time, thousands of teachers’ jobs were on the line. Layoffs were averted only after their union agreed to some concessions, like giving up one year’s worth of sabbaticals, in exchange for job security for its members — teachers, school secretaries, guidance counselors and paraprofessionals.
Ms. Roberts pointed out listings on the Education Department’s Web site seeking workers to fill jobs from which workers would be laid off. “These layoffs,” she said, “are unnecessary.”