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The city Department of Education laid off 28 Queens public school employees Friday represented by District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal employee union.
The cuts represent a fraction of the more than 600 school aides, family paraprofessionals, community associates and other school support staff members the department handed pink slips to across the city in an attempt to close a budget gap.
Of those 28 employees, 17 were laid off from schools in District 27, according to DC 37. The district, which covers Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and the Rockaways, is also the city’s most overcrowded district, according to preliminary numbers released by the United Federation of Teachers last month.
At a City Hall rally Friday, representatives from DC 37 and Local 372, which represents 25,000 DOE employees, criticized the department for a lack of transparency and claimed the layoffs to be an act of retribution by Mayor Michael Bloomberg against the unions for refusing to let the administration tap into a health and welfare stabilization fund during the city’s budget negotiations earlier this year.
“There is also an obvious racial and socioeconomic disparity in the way the city produced the layoff lists,” said Local 372 President Santos Crespo. “Most of the jobs lost would affect poorer communities that are already in need of critical social services and suffering with higher unemployment rates.”
The mayor’s office did not return a request for comment by press time Tuesday.
At a hearing before the Council Education and Finance committees Tuesday, city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that after negotiations with DC 37 and Local 372 fell through, the UFT stepped in and a deal was reached that averted teacher layoffs.
“I remind you all of this history because in the past week, the mayor and I have been accused — by some members of this Council — of turning our back on workers. We have been accused of racial insensitivity and political retaliation, despite the fact that our school budgeting process is transparent and governed by a guiding principal that school leaders — not me or the central administration — are empowered to make the best decisions for their students,” he said.
City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), who is on the Education Committee, said the $28 million the department projected it will save through the layoffs could be offset by up to $11 million in payments the city may have to dole out in just one year for new unemployment and food stamp claims by the laid-off employees.
“These are not, in our opinion, smart cuts,” he said. “It’s a strange priority list. If I were making cuts, I wouldn’t be cutting the lowest paid employees.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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