Nearly engulfed by a sea of children, area officials, union leaders and other supporters braved the rainy weather Friday at PS 15 in Springfield Gardens to protest upcoming budget cuts by the Department of Education, which will result in the layoffs of school aides, parent and community coordinators, health aides and family workers.
About 800 such workers will be given pink slips come October; none at PS 15, however, and the impact will be felt across the city. Union officials contend that schools are always in need of enhanced social services and letting workers go will only serve to increase the country’s already high unemployment rate.
Over the last three years, 2,200 school and health aides, cafeteria staff, loaders and handlers, bookkeepers and other workers have been given the ax, according to the union.
“School aides, especially in schools that are particularly overcrowded are essential, doing all of the work that has to be done that’s not in the classroom,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village). “You can’t just do it with teachers. Teachers are most important, but you can’t do it without administrators and school aides and parent coordinators and support people that give kids what they need to learn.”
Union officials contend that at a time when school enrollments, dropout rates, school violence, substance abuse and truancy are rising, the DOE should not be removing these workers, who they say provide the necessary services needed to keep students safe and focused.
“These layoffs have to stop,” said Santos Crespo, president of Local 372. “They are cutting vital services, direct vital services to these students. These students have built relationships with our members. Our members, while they’re in school, are basically their caretakers.”
Santos noted that the workers scheduled for layoffs are the lowest paid DOE employees, barely making $20,000 a year. He added that while the agency and the mayor have stated that they need to save money to fill in budget gaps, they continue to spend money on expensive consultants. Santos called upon parents to contact the Mayor’s Office and the schools chancellor to voice their outrage about the cuts.
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) expressed similar sentiments, stating that cuts should be made elsewhere. “The city can reduce the consulting contracts and easily save those jobs,” Scarborough said.
The DOE did not respond to an email request for comment.
Sallie Robertson, a retired crossing guard and union member, said the cuts would be “devastating,” adding, “I’m retired, but I’m out here fighting for the people coming in because I want them to have the same benefits and stuff that I have.”
Isa Gordon, who has worked as a school aide at PS 15 for the last 15 years, said although she did not receive a pink slip, her heart goes out to those who have. “We have homes. We have families,” she said. “We are the backbone of the school. Everybody relies on us.”
Susan Brown, who has been a school aide at PS 15 for 14 years, said she thought the move to fire 800 workers was “disgusting,” adding, “The classrooms are already so overcrowded, and they depend on school aides a lot.”