October 2010
September 26, 2010

The courage to restore jobs

Author: Clarisse Butler Banks
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Sen. Chuck Schumer talks with Highland Falls teacher Dina Abed ElHadi and other teachers who were facing layoff until the passage of an education jobs bill that brought about $488,000 to the district. Photo by Meghan E. Murphy/Times Herald-Record.

Meridith Diacetis is back teaching in the district she loves.

More than three weeks after school started, Diacetis, a member of the Carthage Teachers Association, returned to her middle-level reading position in the Jefferson County district, thanks to federal jobs funding.

In Rockland County, federal aid helped the Clarkstown district bring back three teachers and 11 teaching assistants.

Poughkeepsie schools reopened an alternative school employing four teachers, a teaching assistant and several security staffers.

In Buffalo, officials expect to recall 30 math and science teachers.

"Districts taking action and putting educators back in the classroom are profiles in courage," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta.

"They've taken the farsighted step of protecting educators and ensuring students have the resources they need," he explained.

NYSUT leaders, meanwhile, are continuing to urge lawmakers to "finish the job" to release the federal aid.

Pallotta said the union is also urging officials to restore aid for teacher center positions.

Legislative leaders and the governor agreed to disburse the federal education jobs funds through a formula allocation which the State Education Department provided to school districts across the state.

Yet, even with the promised infusion of more than $607 million in federal aid to restore, retain and create education jobs, many districts across the state are reluctant to use the funding to rehire laid-off educators or restore positions right away.

The law's time frame may be a culprit. Anticipating another difficult year ahead, many school officials plan to use much of the federal aid to help prevent layoffs next year. Federal guidelines give districts until September 2012 to allocate the funds.

"Most of the teachers and teaching assistants who were actually laid off have been called back, but at the end of the day we still lose about 200 positions," said Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse TA.

Ahern said the district is not filling positions lost to attrition and plans to save the remainder of its $4.7 million allotment to deal with an anticipated budget shortfall of at least $30 million next year.

For recalled members, getting back to work feels good, albeit uncertain.

It's been an emotional roller coaster for Diacetis, who received her layoff notice just five months after purchasing her first home.

She did secure a position in another district and wrestled with the decision to return to Carthage after being told the job was guaranteed only for this year.

"I have mixed emotions, but I'm really excited to get back in my classroom and see my kids," she said. "My heart is in Carthage."