Two weeks before the holiday break, the Syracuse Teachers Association held a membership meeting to discuss the district’s sudden plans to furlough and lay off teachers and school-related professionals, plans based on rumored 20 percent cuts in school aid.
But, could this all be a proverbial failure to communicate?
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, who participated in the online membership meeting with STA members and President Bill Scott, said it’s not clear why the district is floating this proposal.
Pallotta called the Division of Budget in Albany and asked if there’s some new directive to cut staff, because the Syracuse district says it has no choice. “The answer I got is no,” he said. He also has spoken with lawmakers and with Interim Education Commissioner Betty Rosa.
Districts in several regions went through the same thing in September. After efforts to pass a second COVID-19 stimulus bill in Washington stalled, some districts threatened massive layoffs because, they said, the state told them aid was being witheld and the cuts had to be made.
NYSUT and local unions fought back — even taking legal action — and the Division of Budget promised to deliver some delayed school aid payments and to hold off on further cuts until after the elections. DOB said it was all a misunderstanding.
“They said they never told the districts that they had to do staff cuts, but that they said there’s a potential for this funding cut,” Pallotta said.
Some layoffs were averted, but many were not. NYSUT continues its Fund Our Future initiative that calls for new federal stimulus funding for education and state revenue enhancements, including taxes on the ultra-wealthy.
“Now in Syracuse, we’re looking at the same problem, but with only one district,” Pallotta said. If the DOB were taking major steps to cut aid, he said, this would be happening all over the state.
NYSUT expects to see a significant pandemic aid package coming from the federal government soon. The state Legislature may be prepared to discuss revenue enhancement proposals, as well. The new session begins in January.
Pallotta said the timing of the Syracuse action just doesn’t make sense.
“If the state were going to do a mid-year cut, this would be one of the biggest news stories going, and we’re not seeing that,” he said.
STA President Scott said 85 percent of the district’s funding comes from the state, and proposed cuts could result in a $40-$70 million shortfall. The district has already enacted a central office hiring freeze, begun austerity spending and program reductions, and wants to cut $15 million in spending for the remainder of the school year, he said. Scott said he is conducting a survey of STA members to gather input going forward.