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RCSD teachers considering sacrificing some benefits to reduce layoffs, RTA hesitant

Charles Molineaux
Created: December 10, 2019 07:59 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — As the Rochester City School District faced the prospect of hundreds of layoffs, advocates and lawmakers declared the need for more funding from the state while some teachers keeping their jobs demanded an opportunity to sacrifice to save their coworkers.

“It’s a matter of setting priorities,” State Assemblyman Harry Bronson said on Tuesday. “My priority is to provide a quality education for every child in the state.”  

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The 138th Assembly district democrat said he’d been lobbying hard in Albany to get enough additional money, from somewhere, to head off the cutbacks.

On Friday, 152 teachers were alerted they could be laid off effective Jan. 1. The 5% staff cutbacks proposed by Superintendent Terry

Dade also included 22 teachers’ aides and paraprofessionals, 32 support staff and 12 administrators. 

Bronson said he’d been talking with state Education Department and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office about where some emergency funds might be dug up.  

“We could look at… ‘Are there reimbursements that are in the pipeline that haven’t been sent to the school district yet?’  ‘Can we spin those funds up to get them to the school district?’ Situations like that,” Bronson said.

Any plan to actually expand the state money flow to Rochester schools got a skeptical reception from some lawmakers who questioned the district’s financial management.  

On Tuesday, credit-rating agency Moody’s downgraded the credit rating for Rochester city government because of what it labeled “poor budgeting” by the school system.

“They have to fix the structural deficiencies they have within the School district right now before I would advocate for one more penny for the city school district,” 55th district Republican Senator Rich Funke said.

The school district’s straits brought calls from some teachers for their union, the Rochester Teachers Association, to make concessions to head off layoffs, declaring themselves willing to sacrifice on perks like Professional Development Incentives (PDI) or the Health Rewards program.

"There are lots of things that we can give up that would help them to help our babies be able to have their stability in the classroom," first-grade teacher Jennifer Wolford said.

While seniority protected her job, Wolford said she was devastated by the impact of the news on the littlest students.

“They were heartbroken. They were crying,” she said. “They asked me if it was their fault.”

In unveiling his plans for layoffs, Dade revealed that the administrators union, the Associations of Supervisors & Administrators of Rochester, ASAR, had avoided the elimination of “approximately 8-10 additional positions” by agreeing to give up $450,000 in vacation cash-in pay.  

Dade invited any other interested unions to reduce the numbers of jobs eliminated by giving up concessions of their own. 

“For tenured teachers, the Professional Development Incentive is about $1,200 apiece,” said teacher and coach Jessica Metras, who would be displaced but stay employed under the cutbacks regimen. “We could save half of the positions just by giving up PDI and/or health rewards. Half.“

Suggestions of concessions brought a leery response from RTA president Adam Urbanski. 

"If we did it now, will have to do it again next year, and the year after, and so forth,” he said, casting doubt on ASAR’s deal to make concessions in exchange for saving jobs. “I fear that this may have been done partly by the district to put pressure on the RTA and the paraprofessionals and the non-teaching employees to be forced to make concessions.”

Urbanski said Dade had mentioned the possibility of concessions in conversation but that the issue hadn’t been formally discussed “at the bargaining table” and said no such givebacks would be forthcoming without guarantees that they would reduce job cuts.  

“My understanding is that this superintendent wants to go forward with all the layoffs… and get concessions from teachers,” he warned. “That ain’t going to happen.”

Urbanski predicted formal discussion that might include concessions before the Rochester Board of Education vote on Dade’s proposed budget, and cutbacks, on Dec. 19.

Teachers expressed their desire to press Urbanski to let them make concessions to save their colleagues as union leadership planned meetings with teachers later in the week.

“Our school is a family. Family helps family,” Wolford said.

“We have to do something to save these positions, and save the trauma that’s going to affect our kids,” Metras said.


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