July 29, 2009
Parent leaders and city officials are finally meeting tomorrow to discuss the crackdown on teaching assistants hired by parent associations.
In the weeks since the Department of Education announced it would begin enforcing a long-ignored policy that requires parent associations to employ union members at union salaries, parents have scrambled to come up with ways to keep their school aides. But some have said they’re working in the dark, and without a clear understanding of whether they’ll be able to choose the people they hire or determine how much to pay them.
The meeting, which will be held at 10:30 a.m. at Tweed Courthouse, will include parent association members, elected officials, DOE employees, and a representative from the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers. It was a complaint from the union that prompted the DOE to begin enforcing its policy.
Patrick Sullivan, co-president of the Parent Teacher Association at the Lower Lab School (P.S. 77), said the meeting had been called so that DOE officials could explain the policy to parent leaders and so parents could offer solutions of their own.
“I think there’s going to be a range of proposals,” Sullivan said, adding that among them would be the suggestion to create new job titles for support staff.
Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said that unless an employee’s job description was significantly different from a paraprofessional, it would be difficult for the DOE to create a new job title. “If it’s still doing sort of the same things, I think we’d still get to the same point where this should still be a UFT person,” she said.
Another concern for parents is whether they’ll be able to afford to pay their employees’ union-set salaries and benefits. While some schools are careful to match union salaries, others pay less and few offer benefits. Many parents said they anticipate having to dismiss employees they can no longer afford and some are worried that they’ll have to raise all of the money by August in order to hire anyone.
“We want to be able to pay for the positions throughout the year,” Sullivan said. “PTAs don’t have the money now. We fundraise throughout the year, nobody has money in August for a full year of salary and benefits.”
Forte said that parents and principals could reach their own agreements on deadlines for fundraising. “There’s nothing in the chancellor’s regulations that says all the money has to be there by August,” she said. “But if the funding dries up, the principal is then liable for that cost.”
Many of the parents who will be at tomorrow’s meeting have children attending elementary school on the Upper East Side, where overcrowding has propelled parents to hire teaching assistants to effectively decrease class sizes. Keith Powers, chief of staff for Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, said representatives from P.S. 6, P.S. 77, P.S. 116, P.S. 183, and P.S. 290 would be there, as would Bing and City Councilman Daniel Garodnick.
Sullivan said he has been trying to arrange a meeting with the DOE for months, but had gotten no where until he called elected officials. “This is long overdue,” he said. “Right now the obstacle is not the UFT, the obstacle is the DOE.” Sullivan said his school, P.S. 77, has 14 parent-paid assistants.
Having parent associations hire support staff “benefits everybody,” said Andrew Lachman, treasurer and political action chair of the PTA at the Manhattan New School (P.S. 290). “This benefits the DOE, it benefits the taxpayers, it benefits the teachers, and most importantly it benefits the children. We should all find a way to make this work.”