The city’s school district is laying off 128 employees, including 88 teachers, according to details released on Tuesday.
Data shows the district is laying off English, math, science, biology, social studies, and bilingual teachers. Among the layoffs are 12 music and 7 art teachers that superintendent Eileen Shafer hired last year to restore art and music in the district after almost three decades of state control.
Shafer also hired librarians and substance abuse counselors to improve literacy and reduce cases of student drug use in the district. Number of students tested positive for drugs in the district had reached a 15-year high in the 2015-16 school year.
The district is laying off 6 librarians and 7 substance abuse counselors. 3 elementary school guidance counselors are also being laid off, according to the data.
Furthermore, the district is laying off 6 vice principals, 5 supervisors, 3 secretaries, a parent resource center employee, 2 teacher mentors, a human resource recruiter, a field investigator for registration, a security officer, a director of energy and project control, a reading specialist, a paid planetarium intern, and a data management specialist.
“We worked hard to recruit effective teachers to come to Paterson, and now we’re letting these great teachers go. We assigned management of educational programs to capable supervisors who will now be transferred out of their jobs,” said Shafer after the layoff notices were issued in mid-May to close a more than $40 million budget shortfall. “We gave entrusted school buildings and student populations to dedicated vice-principals who will be transferred out of their positions. The worst part of all of this is that with most – if not all – of these educational professionals is that they were doing a terrific job for our students and families. What happened to them is in no way a reflection of their professional competence, and that is unfair.”
Shafer has said class sizes could climb to 40 students in September.
“My first reaction is this is horrible. Just horrible. I figured we’d lose the teachers in art and music because they were the last ones hired,” said Rosie Grant, executive director for the Paterson Education Fund. “The district brought back art and music, but it was not full-time for every child in every school.”
Grant said education advocates campaigned to get art and music restored in the school district. Students in the city excelled in art and music winning recognition and awards.
“Every time we have to cut the budget, we lose media specialists, art and music teachers,” said Grant. “We treat these subject areas as if they are extracurricular, but they are not. They are a part of a good, solid, core education. Kids need media specialists.”
Grant said without media specialists school libraries are turned into storage rooms. There was a steep drop in the number of students reading 50 or more books several years ago after the district cut librarians.
In 2015, there were 1,923 students, who read 50 or more books. In 2016, there were 1,400. 50 Book Club is a program run by the Paterson Education Fund.
“Generations are going to be affected by this,” said school board member Emanuel Capers. “When you cut teachers, students are not getting educated.”
Capers pointed out he voted against the budget.
With larger class sizes, the work load on remaining teachers will increase. He worried some of them will “burn out” or leave for other school districts.
School board members have long complained about lack of substance abuse counselors in the district. Over the years, some have said the lack SACs contributed to increasing number of students tested positive for drugs.
“Given the statistics what happens when you have fewer substance abuse counselors?” asked Grant.
Grant and Capers blamed the state for underfunding the district. Parents, community leaders, and teachers protested the budget cuts in Trenton. The state provided a slight increase in education aid, but much of it was gobbled up by charter schools. It received $13.23 million more in state aid for the next school year, but $9.42 million of that will go to charter schools.
Shafer is hoping the state will provide a supplemental aid increase as it did few years ago to the district.