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Walcott feels darts from union's pain

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 10/13/2011, 11:12 a.m.
It didn't take long for Tuesday's City Council hearing with New York City Schools Chancellor...
Walcott feels darts from union's pain

It didn't take long for Tuesday's City Council hearing with New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to get combative.

Filled with shouting matches and testimonials calling the Department of Education's (DOE) negotiation tactics disingenuous, the old Emigrant Savings Bank building in lower Manhattan was the site of much anger over Walcott and company's official layoffs of 700 public school employees last Friday. DC 37 President Lillian Roberts testified on the alleged underhanded tactics of the DOE.

"The mayor's Department of Education claimed these layoffs, which targeted primarily poor and minority districts, were necessary to close a gap in its $23 billion budget. I am here to tell you that these layoffs were financially unnecessary," said Roberts.

"The DOE said laying off nearly 700 school aides, paraprofessionals and other support staff would save $38 million. Union calculations based on Office of Management and Budget criteria put the actual savings at $22 million."

Roberts told members of the council and those in attendance that, in trying to avoid layoffs and provide much-needed savings to the DOE, DC 37 and Local 372 had proposed savings that would have cut hours for all hourly employees in the unit and scheduled unpaid furloughs for over 10,000 members on days when students weren't in attendance.

According to Roberts, the employees feeling the brunt of the DOE's kick average a salary of $19,000 a year.

"Our proposals, which were consistent with DOE's agreement with the United Federation of Teachers that averted the June teacher layoffs, would have saved more than enough to prevent all of Friday's layoffs, but DOE refused to cancel the layoffs, showing clearly that the motivation was political, not financial," said Roberts.

"During this process, an old lie resurfaced as a vicious attempt to drive a wedge between DC 37 and its members. This outrageous accusation blames DC 37 and myself for the Municipal Labor Committee's rejection this spring of a mayoral plan to tap into the Health Insurance Stabilization Fund [money set aside to protect member benefits] to pay teachers' salaries."

New York City Council Members Robert Jackson and Leticia James were none too pleased with the layoffs. "These layoffs are just the latest in a long-lasting series of damaging cuts to schools," said Jackson.

"There were alternatives," said James.

Walcott told the council that the situation is not different from what was 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 averting teacher layoffs, included 1,000 nonuniform, nonpedagogical layoffs," he said.

Last week, the AmNews reported on upcoming protests by DC 37, AFSCME and Local 372 against the reformed layoffs. "The Bloomberg administration's plan to lay off more than 700 school support staff on Oct. 7 shows a reckless disregard for the well-being of New York's 1.1 million school children and their families," declared Roberts last week.

"Principals were mandated to make these cuts by the city apparently to close a budget gap. Yet when the union offered a proposal generating real savings to bridge the budget gap and save the jobs of these valuable workers, the city cut off discussions," she said.

Local 372 President Santos Crespo Jr. also testified at Tuesday's hearing and noted that the majority of the school aides who were being laid off are from neighborhoods like Bushwick, Harlem and the South Bronx. These aides have a certain relationship with kids who might be on the brink of dropping out of school and keep them in class. Crespo expressed his frustration at the current situation.

"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. "These firings have pulled the rug out from the workers as well as the children, their parents and school administrators. They have not only broken a vital link between schools and the communities they serve, but could lead to additional problems within the schools themselves."