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Losing School Jobs Doesn't Always Mean Layoffs

Bruce Kimmel is a former member of the Norwalk Board of Education and Common Council. He's also a fourth-grade teacher in the New York City Public Schools.

There’s been a bunch of articles recently about the Norwalk Board of Education’s 2010-11 operating budget. Superintendent Marks, to her credit, has included all the major stakeholders in the budget-crafting process and has consulted with the city’s Finance Director, Tom Hamilton, regarding how much the city can afford to allocate for education in the coming fiscal year. According to the superintendent and BOE members, the budget that is being developed is lean and will probably necessitate cuts in operations and positions.

It’s important to note that reductions in positions do not generally lead to actual layoffs in a district the size of Norwalk. Retirements and normal attrition among teachers and administrators are invariably greater than the number of positions that are recommended for elimination. I was surprised a few years ago, after the BOE’s recommended spending increase was severely slashed by the Common Council and Board of Estimate, and after former Superintendent Corda predicted dire consequences for the system, that the board hired a host of new people the following September to fill vacancies.

Superintendents (as well as the press) sometimes blur the distinction between losing positions and losing people,   because nobody wants anyone to lose their job. I served on the BOE from August 2005 until February 2009, and on a number of occasions I made this point for the public or for the press – causing Superintendent Corda to agree the likelihood of actual layoffs was small, at best. Not that I was keen on cutting positions; I just didn’t like the scare tactics being employed to hoodwink the public into supporting the BOE’s budget request.

Even though we are relatively early in this year’s budget cycle, I have already heard rumblings about layoffs. I, too, do not want anyone to be laid off, except, of course, for incompetence or a refusal to buckle down and work effectively. Based on the present budget discussion and the economy, it seems fairly certain that some positions – not people – will indeed be cut.

What generally happens is that personnel whose positions are eliminated move into vacancies caused by retirements and attrition. Administrators are occasionally bumped into much lower paying jobs. But I believe our administrative contracts have provisions that protect them from sudden steep decreases in salary that are budget-related.

Nobody likes to consolidate or eliminate positions. But let’s look at it from another perspective: Is there hard statistical evidence – not the kind that’s based on a mishmash of anecdotal data about something that might have worked here or there – that administrators or out-of-classroom personnel, such as numeracy or literacy “coaches,” truly influence academic achievement?

As this year’s budget discussion progresses, let’s keep two things in mind: Probably no administrator or teacher will be laid off next year because of cuts; and, if positions are eliminated, every effort should be made to ensure that student achievement, objectively measured, is not adversely affected.

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