School aides still on track to lose their jobs after meeting

The job status of more than 700 Department of Education employees remains in limbo after a meeting between City Council members and education officials yesterday yielded no progress towards a deal to prevent layoffs, according to people who attended.

Council members said they remained optimistic that the layoffs, which affect school aides who are among the lowest paid workers in the city. But they said that a deal would require more energy from education and City Hall officials.

“I know that there’s a strong effort being made on the members’ part,” said Leroy Comrie, of Queens. “I’m not sure that the administration feels wedded to the need to get anything done.”

The meeting was convened by the council’s Black, Latino and Asian caucus. They invited Chancellor Dennis Walcott to explain why the layoffs were primarily affecting low income minorities, according to several members who attended. Council members also complained they were not given notice before the layoffs were announced in August.

Letitia James, of Brooklyn, called the process “an attempt to circumvent the City council. They could have come to us before and asked for some assistance and approval.”

The layoffs actually came from individual principals, who had to cut an average of 2.4 percent from their budgets in July. Rather than eliminate teacher positions, which were spared as part of concessions made by the United Federation of Teachers, many principals chose to cut the school aides.

“The chancellor explained that schools received their budgets at the end of June and made school level decisions about which staff they were keeping and which staff to excess,” said DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz.

DOE budget officials have estimated that the layoffs will save $35 million and Walcott said at the meeting that previous proposals brought to the table by the union representing the workers, Local 372, did not amount to any real savings. Local 372′s parent labor association, District Council 37, had an opportunity to agree to concessions during budget negotiations in June, but walked away from those talks.

There are now just eight days remaining until pink slips take effect. On Oct. 7, 737 employees will lose their jobs, triggering what would be the largest layoff within a government agency since Mayor Bloomberg took office.

Schools are closed for the rest of the week and any further discussion will likely be picked up on Monday.

With the deadline narrowing, council members said that they will push for the DOE to delay the layoffs so that there is more time to come up with solutions, which could include public hearings or a budget modification. Any such move would likely require the support of Speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn declined to comment through a spokesman.

Source: Geoff Decker