July/August 2020 Issue
June 13, 2020

Layoffs put a face on budget cuts

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: RTA’s Tom Rossiter and the PSC’s Marie-Michelle Strah received layoff notices due to budget cuts. They shared their perspectives with state senators and staff in an online meeting.

Tom Rossiter, seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher in Rochester City Schools, got a layoff notice in May. This month he shared his story with dozens of state senators and staff.

He’ll never forget his first day in the classroom. “I corrected an eighthgrader’s behavior and he responded, ‘Why should I listen to you? You aren’t going to be here long.’ As a new teacher, I simply didn’t understand. It was the first day of school. Why would he say this?

“Twenty-three teachers that worked with the seventh- and eighthgraders at that charter school quit or got fired that year.”

Rossiter went on to share a heartbreaking tale of city kids whose needs are stifled, whose suffering threatens lives and whose horizons disappear in hopelessness. With only one year on staff in Rochester, the six-year veteran educator was among a second round of layoffs that started over the holidays in December.

Rossiter has been to funerals of former students. He has prevented suicides, had a student miss days because of a head wound suffered in a drive-by shooting, watched SWAT teams invade the neighborhood while his students were on the playground. It’s not easy. But it’s crucial.

“Students desperately need positive long-term relationships with teachers to be successful. They need to know you are truly there for them,” he said. Fortunately, Rossiter was recalled from layoff on June 9; others are not so lucky.

RTA President Adam Urbanski says the budget calls for 198 teaching positions to be cut, in addition to the 108 let go last December. “More than 84 percent of the cuts are teachers,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense. Teachers don’t make up 84 percent of the budget.”

In Albany, budget plans could reduce full-time positions by 142, including 35 layoffs. In the large Yonkers district, planned layoffs number 189.

In Troy, the city school district plans to layoff 23 reading teachers due to budget cuts. “It hits poor, urban districts harder than suburban districts,” said Seth Cohen, an executive board member of the Troy TA. But it’s not only these urban centers. Layoffs are proposed in smaller districts across the state from Jamestown to Batavia, Auburn, Massena, Granville and Riverhead.

“This is what it looks like when the state arbitrarily decides not to fund a fair and equitable education for all by leaving revenue on the table,” said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT president. “We’ve been all over the state this year to illustrate the impact these unnecessary cuts will have on our communities. We can Fund Our Future by imposing fair taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents.” The cuts to SUNY, CUNY and community colleges could be even more devastating.

Professional Staff Congress member Marie-Michelle Strah, an adjunct at CUNY’s John Jay College, received an email notice of her layoff.

“The impacts are going to be generational,” Strah told the group of state senators. “We should be adding more instructional staff.” She said the cuts of some 4,000 adjunct faculty at CUNY campuses hit 50 percent of the professors and 50 percent of the courses in her program. At the same time, the administration anticipates a 17 percent increase in enrollment.

“The quality of education is going to suffer,” she said. “Given the calls for educational and economic equity, we should take that promise seriously and not treat New York City students as second-class citizens. It’s a civil rights issue.”

PSC President Barbara Bowen told the senators it is time for lawmakers to raise desperately needed revenue by taxing the ultrawealthy New Yorkers who can well afford it. “This is a turning point in American history,” she said.

In a late-breaking development, NYSUT learned that fourth quarter state aid payments to community colleges are being delayed. That is causing some campuses to push for concessions that could result in some layoffs, as well.