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Hartford Schools' Layoffs Confuse, Anger Those Affected

By DAGNY SALAS | Courant Staff Writer

July 11, 2008

The impact of the cuts in the radical reorganization of the 2008-09 Hartford schools budget is now being felt.

And for many employees directly affected, it has been a rude surprise.

When Leigh Keynon, a special education teacher at Quirk Middle School, walked into the principal's office this week, getting laid off was the last thing she expected.

"It came out of nowhere," Kenyon said. "I don't know how they didn't know this in May [when school was still in session], but a month and a half later, slots are being cut six weeks before school starts in September. Now I don't have a job."

In the past several weeks, at least 85 employees in the school district have been laid off, most without much warning, according to numbers provided by school employee union heads 16 special education teachers, 31 custodians, two guidance counselors and 36 secretaries.

The number of positions eliminated sits at 73.4, according to documents from the board of education. Schools spokesman David Medina said he was not sure where the exact number of people laid off stands, but he did not dispute the number 85.

"It's quite possible it went up to that much," Medina said. "Once we released our budgets and our estimates of what was going to happen where, principals were free to shift things around. They're still playing around with budgets. There's a lot of fluctuation going back and forth right now."

In announcing his $372 million budget in April, Hartford School Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski proposed moving money and staffing away from a "bloated" central office and into the schools. The net result, he said, would cost jobs in administrative staff and in support staff, such as social workers, nurses, speech and hearing specialists, psychologists and social workers. It was also understood that special education instruction, representing $87.2 million of the total, would take a hit because the level of state aid had been cut. In May, the approved budget projected to slash 75 positions to save a reported $4.9 million.

Many of the layoffs since the end of June, according to union heads, have occurred without warning or explanation, prompting outrage and confusion, said Larry Dorman, spokesman for Council 4, the state's largest AFL-CIO union, which represents about 35,000 employees in state and local government and school systems.

"We question why this had to happen. We understand these are difficult times, but that doesn't help the school system," Dorman said. "They keep schools clean and sound. The schools will be less clean and less sound with vacant positions. I don't think the school system has a plan for how the work will get done."

Mark Blumenthal, president of AFSCME Local 566, which represents district custodians, said service workers are the "bloodstream" of the system. "These are bottom-salary people," Blumenthal said. "We're not asking for the key to the city. We're just asking for our jobs."

Hartford PTO Council President Millie Arciniegas complained about a lack of communication to parents by the board of education.

"When are they going to inform parents on what's going on?" Arciniegas said. "If they have a plan to privatize, let us know. We have a right to know who is taking care of our kids in the schools."Medina declined to say whether any moves toward privatization are being considered.

"Positions were eliminated, and we are reorganizing schools to improve scores to elevate expectations," he said. "That's our only purpose in doing anything so kids can achieve. The fact that Hartford schools have been at the bottom of the pile for years is not a rumor."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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