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District announces 342 layoffs, mostly aides; move unrelated to cigarette tax

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Updated | 3:25 p.m.

The School District announced 342 layoffs Thursday, most of them noontime aides and special-education classroom assistants.

But the total also includes eight assistant principals, three conflict-resolution specialists, and 15 assistants in Head Start classrooms.

District spokeswoman Raven Hill said that these layoffs were mostly the result of budget decisions made by principals and are not related to the 1,300 layoffs that may be necessary if the legislature fails to give final approval to a cigarette tax to raise funds for the District.

Superintendent William Hite has said that without the tax, which is expected to raise between $45 million and $69 million in its first year, he would not be comfortable opening schools on time. The 1,300 layoffs, which he said would have to begin Aug. 15, would result in bigger classes and other service reductions, he said.

"I’ve indicated over and over again that I have no intention of putting 40 children in a classroom. I have no intention of reducing services beyond where they’ve been reduced," he said Wednesday.

Hite also told reporters Wednesday that there might be some layoffs relating to "repurposing" funds.

"We are repurposing staff. [Some people who are] assisting students now, their roles would be eliminated," he said. "I don’t anticipate significant layoffs, but we have repurposed some positions."

Robert McGrogan, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA), represents the assistant principals and two people who work in the central office who were laid off. He was livid and said he was considering legal action.

McGrogan said that the District says it needs more bilingual assistant principals who speak Spanish and could have reassigned people to minimize the layoffs, but chose not to.

"I know we have Spanish-speaking members working in communities where they don’t utilize the second language where they happen to work," he said. "We’re talking about people’s livelihoods. They’re being laid off and told that if they spoke a second language, it wouldn’t happen."

He said that 22 assistant principals laid off last year have not been called back. Adding these eight assistant principals, the District "is bypassing 30 employees" while advertising for some higher-level administrators who would not be working directly with children.

In March, CASA agreed to significant concessions, including salary reductions, to help address the District’s funding shortfall. The contract, which reduced starting and top salaries and modified benefits, would save $20 million over three years.

"I am beside myself," McGrogan said. "The concessions this organization took, I suspected we would be secure temporarily with regard to the workforce."

The 2015 budget approved by the School Reform Commission at the end of June included $5.5 million in reduced special-education costs, described as "management review of identified savings through more efficient allocation of resources."

Parents United for Public Education tweeted that it is considering legal action regarding cuts to special education and bilingual services.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, called them part of the "nightmare of an underfunded education system" and a "crippling blow" to students who rely on the support of the aides.

"The loss of these services is a tragedy for our neediest students and an unacceptable way to run a school district. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will work to restore each one of these positions," Jordan said in a statement.

PFT represents all the other workers on the list except for the noontime aides, who are represented by Unite Here Local 634.

The layoff notices are scheduled to go out on Thursday and Friday this week.

Following is a list of layoffs provided by the District. A LIMA is a "library and information management assistant," and a BCA is a "bilingual counseling assistant." Noontime aides supervise the lunchroom and perform other duties.

Position Type Number of Layoffs
Special Education Classroom Assistant/One-to-One 157
Noontime Aide 147
Teacher Assistant/Pre-K Head Start 15
Assistant Principals 8
Career and Technical Support Assistant 4
Conflict Resolution Specialist 3
Community Relations Liaison 2
Central Office Employees 2
BCA-Laotian 1
Sign Language Interpreter 1
Total 342

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