DC 37 takes Department of Education to court
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 11/23/2011, 2:26 p.m.
It's safe to say that the largest public employee union in New York City has issues with the Department of Education.
Last week, DC 37 President Lillian Roberts, along with DC 37 Associate Director Henry Garrido and New York City Board of Education Local 372 President Santos Crespo, filed a lawsuit hoping to overturn the recent layoffs of 642 DOE employees because the layoffs were done in bad faith and in violation of State Education law.
Many, if not all, of these layoffs were of employees who were school aides and, according to Roberts, these employees average a salary of only $19,000 a year.
"It isn't a question of whether or not the city has money, it's a matter of how that money is being used," Lillian Roberts said last week. "These workers and the communities they serve are being asked to pay the price for what amounts to the administration's gross mismanagement of taxpayers' dollars. These layoffs are irresponsible, unfair and unjust."
At a city council hearing in October, Crespo noted how the majority of the school aides were being laid off from neighborhoods like Bushwick, Harlem and the South Bronx. Crespo expressed frustration with the situation because these aides have a certain standing with kids who might be on the brink of dropping out of school and keeping them in class should be the priority.
"To dismiss these trusted and loyal staffers less than one month into the new school year is, of itself, mean-spirited and cruel," said Crespo at last month's hearing. "These firings have pulled the rug from the workers as well as the children, their parents, and school administrators. And, they have not only broken a vital link between schools and the communities that they serve, but could lead to additional problems within the schools themselves."
According to DC 37, the DOE violated State Education law that requires a distribution of reduction "in an equitable manner." They also said that requiring all schools to absorb the 3.26 percent cut in the budget is unfair considering that schools in poorer neighborhoods don't have the same fund-raising ability as other schools and over 40 percent of the population receives public assistance.
"We are hoping the courts can see the blatant deceit the DOE used when they laidoff these members," said Crespo last week. "There is no clear monetary notification for the layoffs."
During last month's hearing School Chancellor Dennis Walcott told the council that the current situation isn't different from anything discussed earlier this year, but the layoffs were necessary. "Nothing has changed since we all stood together on the steps in the Tweed Courthouse on that late June evening to announce the budget agreement that, while averted teacher layoffs, included 1,000 non-uniform, non-pedagogical layoffs," he said.
According to the lawsuit, the DOE has set aside $25.7 million from additional Medicaid revenue to fund charter schools and $47.6 million to fund supplies and materials. DC 37 also pointed to the DOE's transfer for $45 million from the budget assigned to cover collective bargaining increases to covering increases in charter school tuitions as further proof of the city not negotiating in good faith.