Layoff notices going to thousands of Phila. school workers

 Layoff notices going to thousands of Phila. school workers (Emma Lee/NewsWorks Photo, file)

Layoff notices going to thousands of Phila. school workers (Emma Lee/NewsWorks Photo, file)

The School District will be sending out thousands of layoff notices today.

In total, 3,783 District employees would be laid off, a number that includes 676 teachers, 307 secretaries, 283 counselors, 127 assistant principals, 1202 noontime aides, and 769 supportive services assistants.

Superintendent William Hite sent an email to employees last night saying that, due to “catastrophic financial challenges,” the District will be mailing “layoff notifications to many of our colleagues.”

Robert McGrogan, head of Philadelphia’s principals’ union, Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, confirmed that almost all the 160 assistant principals in his bargaining unit will be receiving notices, effective July 1.

Plus, all principals are at emergency meetings with District personnel to receive instructions on what to tell employees who receive the notices regarding health coverage and other issues. District officials still have no commitments for money to close a $304 million budget gap. It is asking for $120 million from the state, $60 million from the city, and $133 million in union concessions.

The School Reform Commission adopted a “doomsday” budget last week that provides a principal and a core group of classroom teachers for each school and nothing else. It has already said it will lay off all counselors, librarians, art and music teachers, secretaries, and support personnel, including noontime aides, in the schools.

Some layoffs can be rescinded if more money comes through. If positions are restored, seniority provisions in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract will trigger a massive reassignment of teachers, which can impact school stability — an important factor in assuring student achievement.

Hite has said in the past that there could be as many as 3,000 layoffs. There are 1,200 noontime aides alone. The layoffs will include some additional central office personnel, but will primarily be based in schools. The District’s collective bargaining agreements require a set period of notice before layoffs can take effect.

School layoffs breakdown (Provided by the District)

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Breakdown of Philadelphia school layoffs, 2013 (PDF)

Breakdown of Philadelphia school layoffs, 2013 (Text)

The new fiscal year begins July 1, and the city and the state are not required to complete their budgets until the end of June. Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, was to meet with District officials today at 3:30 p.m. to hear the details.

He met with some reporters earlier in the afternoon. “Frankly, it’s just wrong that this is happening,” Jordan said in an interview. “If these cuts are allowed to stay in place, we will open something called a school in September, but it’s wrong and bad for kids.”

He noted that this isn’t the only mass layoff in the District’s history. Something similar happened two years ago with the initial disappearance of federal stimulus money — the event that helped trigger the current situation. Harrisburg used the money to replace some state aid, and then didn’t replace the money.

Jordan said he was willing to make accommodations with the District to avoid too much staff instability as teachers exercise seniority rights if and when positions are restored. However, he said that is harder to do if the restorations occur piecemeal instead of all at once. “If they bring back 10 at a time or three at a time, it gets more difficult to navigate that,” Jordan said. PFT members do have the right to say “now that I’m back, I prefer to leave my school and go to one five minutes from my home.”

Before the SRC’s budget adoption, Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky suggested to his colleagues that they could adopt a budget that assumed some additional funds in order to avoid this scenario, but he was rebuffed. Dworetzky was the sole vote against the budget.

Mayor Nutter has proposed a package of taxes on liquor and cigarettes, as well as more aggressive tax collection, that would raise an additional $95 million for the schools. But he needs enabling legislation from Harrisburg for most of it. Nutter and Hite have been lobbying hard, visiting Harrisburg on Tuesday to press their case. But the Republican governor and legislature have been pessimistic about the chances of the District getting the $120 million it is asking for.

Negotiations are underway with the PFT, but its contract does not expire until the end of August. The District is asking for a restructuring of compensation as well as a 10 percent pay cut. Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, described the development as “a devastating day for our city’s children. The doomsday cuts will turn our schools into glorified daycare centers, depriving students of the proper education they deserve.”

Librarian Carol Heinsdorf, who was a finalist for the Teacher of the Year award this year and has nearly 30 years with the District in six different schools, called it “a sad day for the District.”

“When school libraries are deemed unimportant by the people in power and authority, our democracy is threatened,” said Heinsdorf, who has often spoken before the SRC. Counselors said that not only do they help students choose and apply to college, but deal with a myriad of problems.

“It’s scary, what’s going to happen,” said Christine Donnelly, a counselor at Academy at Palumbo. “We deal with kids with suicidal ideation…the teachers are great, but they are not trained. When they think a student is being abused, they call the counselor.”

“I don’t think they [the SRC] think we’re expendable, but I think they could have done more to keep us,” added Donnelly.

Teachers and parents leaving Mifflin Elementary School in East Falls on Friday were worried. “It’s going to hurt the kids,” said parent and volunteer Maryann Salmon. She also noted that there isn’t enough supervision in the halls as is and worries that it will be even worse after these layoffs.

Grandparent Earnest Walker agreed. “I think it’s a shame, a disgrace. Everything seems to have a priority, except the children,” he said.

Teacher Gina Spinelli said that “they’re ruining the education system. Yes, staff are losing their jobs, but kids are really the ones that are being hurt.” Her colleague, Evan Kallish, was more optimistic. He said that the budget was not the “final word” and noted that the schools are still “waiting for the community, city of Philadelphia to come up with more money” and that “hopefully with a new budget, there will be a clearer picture.”

The School District was to hold a briefing on the announcement at 4:30 p.m. today. 

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