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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Florida begins first round of school layoffs and pay cuts

From the Miami Herald


Without discussion Wednesday, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to cut more than 200 jobs from its facilities department and give hundreds of maintenance workers a 20 percent pay cut.

The layoffs are part of a reorganization that will save the school district $27 million. Even that is a mere fraction of what the district still has to cut. With federal stimulus dollars running out and less funding coming from the state, the school district expects to see its overall $4 billion budget slashed by at least $100 million.

After the vote, board members said they had an obligation to manage the school system’s finances responsibly.

“Given the financial situation that we’re in, we had to do what would least hurt children,” said Board Vice Chairman Larry Feldman.

Chuck Burdeen, business agent for the Dade County School Administrators’ Association, said he was disappointed the board did not open the floor for public discussion before the vote was taken.

“The bottom line is, they denied every member of my union the right to have a voice,” Burdeen said.

The job eliminations were on a list of agenda items the School Board would be tackling Wednesday. According to Parliamentary Procedure, if a board member voices a concern, the item will be pulled out for discussion.

Because no board member brought up the layoffs, they were passed.

Parliamentary procedure also prohibits the public from speaking on issues on the so-called “consent” agenda.

However, anyone can speak on any topic during the public hearing part of the meeting, which takes place nearly at the end.

Burdeen did not speak at the public hearing because the item had already passed, he said.

Union leaders had previously said they were against the proposal because the employees being laid off were needed to take care of the district’s aging facilities.

All told, 96 project managers, 71 administrative assistants and four supervisors will lose their jobs, and 280 computer technicians will be laid off, although 200 of them will be rehired on a temporary basis.

District officials said hundreds more layoffs would have been necessary had the unions representing maintenance workers not agreed to the 20 percent pay cut.

Wednesday’s cuts were to the capital side of the budget, which is used for construction and maintenance.

School district Chief Facilities Officer Jaime Torrens said the reorganization was necessary because capital revenue into the school district has been reduced and there are fewer construction projects.

“We have no other alternative,” Torrens said.

The operating side of the budget, which is used for salaries and classroom expenses, will also need to be scaled back. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has said he will do his best to protect teachers, counselors and arts and music programs, but that draconian cuts may be inevitable.

The school system will have a better idea of its finances when lawmakers finalize the state budget next month.

In other business, the board voted 6-3 to join a federal lawsuit against BP for the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the subsequent oil spill.

Board member Raquel Regalado, who brought the item, said she believes the Miami-Dade district suffered damages as a result of the spill. Her reasoning: The spill led to a decline in tourism, which meant fewer tax dollars for Florida’s schools.

Voting against the measure: Board members Carlos Curbelo, Renier Diaz de la Portilla and Martin Karp.

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