Philadelphia schools lay off 17 central-office workers

Posted: August 31, 2014

The fallout from the Philadelphia School District's dismal financial situation continues: 17 central-office employees were issued layoff notices Friday.

Overall, 81 positions were eliminated, said Fernando Gallard, spokesman for the school system, but among those were 64 vacant jobs.

The laid-off workers come mostly from the district's facilities and capital improvements offices. One employee from the Office of Family and Community Engagement was also issued a pink slip.

Shedding the 81 jobs saves the district $5.4 million, Gallard said. The employees will work their last day either Tuesday or Sept. 19, depending on their union status.

"These are very difficult cuts to make," Gallard said. "It's hard to see our colleagues go."

The layoffs were no surprise - when Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. recently announced that schools would open on time, he indicated some central-office reductions would be necessary to make ends meet.

Hite ordered other temporary cuts that could be reversed if state lawmakers pass a $2-per-pack cigarette tax for Philadelphia when they reconvene in September. There will be fewer police officers in schools, for instance, and buildings will be cleaned less often.

If lawmakers do not pass the cigarette tax, Hite said, he would be forced to lay off more than 1,000 more employees, including teachers.

Gallard said the central-office layoffs were related to "labor savings" and not the cigarette tax issue. District officials have demanded millions in givebacks from the teachers' union, whose contract expired a year ago.

Still, Friday's layoffs may be reversed if the cigarette tax money comes through, but they could be permanent, Gallard said.

"We really will have to take a look at these positions, one at a time, to see if they're restored," Gallard said.

Work performed by the laid-off employees must be absorbed by others left at "440," the district's headquarters on North Broad Street.

"We're getting to a point here at 440 where it really becomes very difficult - it's an overwhelming load for those who are left behind," Gallard said. "But it's necessary. We are doing our best to avoid cuts in classrooms and schools."

The district still faces an $81 million deficit.

Robert McGrogan, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, the union that represents four of the laid-off workers, said he was frustrated by what he called the district's "doublespeak."

"They're blaming the funding for decisions they're already making, positions they want to eliminate," McGrogan said. "And these decisions are permanent."

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which represents seven of the laid-off workers, put the blame on state education cuts.

"The positions the district eliminated today illustrate the systemic erosion of a functional school system," Jordan said in a statement. "In a large urban setting like Philadelphia, these men and women are critical to providing support for our schoolchildren and their families."


kgraham@phillynews.com215-854-5146 @newskag www.inquirer.com/

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