Answer BCPSS educators' questions about the budget and layoffs
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March 25, 2017
To the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners and the Baltimore Teachers Union:
The prospect of massive layoffs and the repeated extension of contract negotiations between BCPSS and BTU have created a climate of extreme stress and uncertainty for everyone in the district. According to the BCPSS “engage” website 2017-18 Budget Development Status update: “Approximately $30 million in savings generated from cuts and restrictions on spending and hiring at the district office will help close the projected gap. We are also continuing negotiations with our unions to identify potential savings through things like furloughs, changes to employee health insurance, or salary freezes.” According to a Baltimore Sun article published on March 24th, Del. Maggie McIntosh expressed that it was her understanding that “teachers unions…are expected to make concessions that would help avert widespread layoffs.” Much of the stress that BTU members are feeling comes from the uncertainty and lack of transparency around how this process will play out. By our calculations, if the State and City give us the $180M promised over three years, we’ll be given $60M this year. To that we may add $10M that Jack Young is reallocating from the police budget to education and $30M in ‘savings’ that Dr. Santelises says has been identified. Even with these funding restorations or savings measures we are still $30M short of the $130M total we need to fund the gap. By deduction, the missing $30M would have to come from layoffs and/or concessions in teacher contract.
At the BTU General Membership meeting last week it became clear that teachers are overwhelmingly in support of avoiding anything that would be detrimental to our ability to provide a quality education to our children, such as massive teacher layoffs. However, several questions were raised about how much savings we could expect from the various cost-saving measures, such as furloughs, pay freezes, changes to the salary structure, etc., we’ve been reading about in the media. BTU leadership responded that the Board had not yet provided them with that information and that we should take that question to the Board directly. It seems highly unlikely that over the last few months of working diligently to close the budget gap these calculations were not made. We request that the Board share the cost-saving calculations for whatever scenarios are being considered in ongoing negotiations so that the membership can have productive conversations and make informed decisions that would be in the best interest of our students.
Dr. Santelises has made it clear that some layoffs will almost certainly need to occur, even if some of the gap is closed. We are seeking clarity on questions that are crucially important to employees, such as:
1) What is the latest date teachers will know whether they have been laid off?
2) What will be the process of deciding what teacher is placed in an open position if multiple teachers have the same certifications and years of service in the district?
3) Will early retirement packages and/or severance packages be offered to employees who voluntarily separate from service?
4) If we know that layoffs are unavoidable, why has the Board signed contracts with BCTR, TFA, and UT, and continued recruitment efforts by holding a job fair? What positions are being recruited for that BTU members at risk of being laid off couldn’t fill?
5) Why is the Board approving school budgets that utilize uncertified contractors that, at times, lack even a Bachelor’s degree, such as employees of Playworks, Bring the Noise, Single Carrot Theatre, Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center, and the like? These contractors are being left to supervise children without the oversight of certified teachers. Despite the Board’s own policy that “contractors may not be used in place of certificated teachers,” schools are increasingly depending on contractors to fulfill the COMAR requirements that all students receive instruction in the arts and physical education.
Furthermore, there are numerous concerns about what types of cuts will comprise the $30M in savings from the district office. If positions are going to be cut, what plan is in place to address the ongoing problems with processing teachers’ certification renewals and tuition reimbursement requests, and applying AUs in a timely manner. Lengthy delays in processing paperwork and failure to respond to our inquiries are not merely inconveniences. In recent months, numerous teachers have suffered serious consequences due to the Human Capital office’s inability to keep up with their workload, which overwhelms this understaffed office. Despite submitting all required documents well ahead of certification renewal deadlines, teachers are being summoned to Central Office and given the ultimatum to either sign conditional certificates or be terminated while their renewal applications go unprocessed.
Teachers need answers to these questions in a timely manner so that they can focus their attention entirely on the business of educating our children. Despite how painful these answers may be to hear, we would prefer transparency to ambiguity. Unless there is a re-scheduled Community Budget Forum in the first week of April at which this information could be shared, we will look for an update on the engage website or in our work email prior to spring break.
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