SCHENECTADY — More than 100 teachers, social workers and school counselors and over 200 paraprofessionals in Schenectady city schools lost their jobs Friday night after the school board approved a long list of layoffs as the district faces down a potential 20-percent loss of state aid.
During an emergency meeting Friday – the board’s third meeting this week – the board approved the layoffs in a set of resolutions that listed staff who had only just learned their fate in the hours before the meeting.
Teachers and other staff with the least seniority were let go as the district slashed 107 educator positions, including some that were vacant, about 10 percent of the district’s roughly 1,000 educators. Another 231 paraprofessionals, employees who monitor halls, assist in classrooms and deal directly with students, were also laid off.
Friday’s staff cuts come after the board on Monday rescinded 15 job offers and on Wednesday approved dozens of other support staff layoffs. Another round of layoffs, including over a dozen administrators, is expected at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting, interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak said Friday.
Board members struggled during the meeting to find the words to express how badly they felt about the situation the district has found itself in and the actions they were taking, but board members tried to address the laid off workers directly.
“You are valued, we know so many of you and how much you have dedicated to Schenectady and our students and our parents and that is not going without notice,” board member Bernice Rivera said. “There is nothing I can say that is right at this moment, but we truly appreciate everything you have done.”
The layoffs included 26 elementary-school positions, 14 social workers and teacher positions spread across every grade and subject area and touching every corner of the district. Reading specialists, special education teachers, arts and music teachers, school counselors and speech therapists were all affected. Laid off staff were determined based on seniority and rules outlined in state law and the district’s teachers contact. Many were notified via a virtual call with the superintendent.
Bochniak said these kinds of layoffs would typically unfold over months but that districts were forced to work through the cuts in a matter of days after their aid payments started to fall short. He said as soon as the district started to see an increase in funding the district would start to hire back positions, starting with the people who were let go from the district.
“I know this is a horrible thing, but I hope it is temporary and we can call you back sooner rather than later,” Bochniak said.
The layoffs, which amount to nearly $22 million in budget cuts, were also coupled with the suspension of a litany of district initiatives aimed at supporting struggling students. Many teachers who had previously held specialized positions will return to classrooms. The district shifted all of its students in grades 7-12 to all-virtual, except certain special education students, and consolidated elementary school students into half the school buildings, all in a bid to save money. District officials project a loss off around $28.5 million in state aid if the reduced payments continue and are never refunded.
Board members also noted how hard the district had fought in recent years to receive enough state dollars to implement new programs and hire more teachers and staff. The district had seen some improvements in recent years, registering a high school graduation rate about 70 percent for the first time in over a decade.
“To watch much of what was gained for our students and gained for our community and city wash away very quickly is very difficult to watch and even more difficult to be a part of,” board President John Foley said. “It’s very disheartening.”
The job cuts come as districts across the state face state aid payments reduced by 20-percent as the state struggles with a loss of revenue due to the pandemic shutdown. District are also taking on new expenses as they prepare for scores of health and safety precautions and a combination of in-person and hybrid instruction. But the impact of the reduction has hit the neediest districts first and hardest. Albany city school leaders on Thursday outlined similarly devastating layoffs there.
Since Schenectady and Albany rely on state funding for a larger share of their budgets than wealthier districts, the 20-percent reductions stretch far deeper. But if the state aid reductions continue through the fall and winter, other districts will find themselves facing difficult budget choices in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Schenectady educators and staff are set to return to work after the Labor Day weekend. And at a rally outside the state Capitol on Friday and on social media, Schenectady teachers promised to continue pushing elected officials to restore funding.
“We will never stop till we get all the funding Schenectady and Albany and all New York schools need!!!” the Schenectady teachers union tweeted out Friday evening.