CEO Gregory Thornton
A city Council committee declined Tuesday to approve hundreds of millions of dollars for Baltimore’s schools, saying education officials had misled the council to believe layoffs would be limited to central office staff — then sent pink slips to 59 school-based employees.
Members of council’s Budget Committee said they were demanding answers from schools CEO Gregory Thornton on how he’s handling the layoffs that school officials said were needed to close a multimillion-dollar budget hole. They said they would meet again Friday to consider the school system’s budget.
A school system official told the panel that the downsizing was complicated by union contracts that allowed some laid-off workers to “bump” into the jobs of others.
Dawana Sterrette, a lobbyist for the school system, told the committee that school officials eliminated 119 central office positions to close a budget shortfall, but also cut “several hundred surplus individuals” — full-time teachers and staff who are on the system’s books, but have no permanent placements.
When the “surplus” staff learned of the layoffs, some invoked union rights to “bump” school-based employees out of their jobs, Sterrette said.
She said system administrators had no choice but to then lay off employees in the schools.
“We must follow the rules of the collective bargaining agreement,” Sterrette said. “Unfortunately, some people that have been in roles deemed essential have been bumped.”
Council members said Thornton never mentioned that the layoffs would affect school-based staff. The committee chair, Helen Holton, said Thornton and other school officials had not been forthright about the impact of the layoffs.
“We were told the cuts were coming from North Avenue,” Holton said. “We were told no cuts were coming from the schools.”
In a letter to top school officials, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she planned to introduce an amendment to the school system’s budget to take “exception to this unannounced, inequitable, and arbitrary series of 59 specific layoffs from school-based budgets in which the laid-off positions still remain funded.”
Clarke asked the school board to rescind the 59 layoff notices. She said they were doing “great damage” to individual schools.
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