As the district prepares to reduce 136 staff members, including 96 teachers, school board member Emanual Capers is proposing four furlough days for the next school year to generate $4.4 million in savings.
Capers said the district estimates one furlough day will generate $1.1 million that would otherwise go towards payroll. He wants the four days spread throughout the year — one every marking period. He proposed districtwide furloughs two weeks ago to create savings to reduce layoffs and renewed his call on Monday morning.
“I know the union is going to be mad,” said Capers. He said cities and other school districts impose furloughs on employees to prevent layoffs.
John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers’ union, called the proposal “insulting.” He said city teachers have made sacrifices by paying high employee health contributions. He also pointed to the union’s concession last school year in which it agreed to modifications to the district’s compound drug program. He said this saved the district over $32 million.
“The result of a four (4) day furlough would be devastating to the dedicated employees of our District as well as to the students who deserve to be in school receiving a thorough and efficient education,” said McEntee in an email. “If Commissioner Capers is looking for additional cost saving measures, the Union suggests that he recommend that state-appointed district Superintendent, Dr. Donnie Evans be provided an I.O.U. in lieu of his remaining portion of his bloated $218,000 annual salary plus benefits and bonuses.”
School board president Christopher Irving said the board has not had any discussion on furloughs. He also noted collective bargaining contracts will require buy-in from the teachers’ union to impose any furlough days.
“At this point in time it’s a moot point because the budget has been adopted,” said Irving.
Capers said this is the year the teachers’ contract expires. He sees this as an opportunity to work out a deal to impose furloughs on district employees. “It has to be negotiated with the union, I know that. This is a negotiation year. This should have been negotiated in the last teachers’ contract,” he said.
When told of Irving’s remark that it’s a moot point since the budget has been adopted, Capers said the next year’s budget discussions will start with a massive deficit. He said unless the district plans ahead it will end up laying off a good number of teachers and property owners will be hit with a much bigger tax increase.
“We’re going to face our worst deficit later. I’m proposing furloughs to save teachers’ job,” said Capers.
Imposing furlough to generate savings is not a viable option because by state statute tenured employees cannot have their salaries reduced unless its through tenure charges, said Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools. Last year, the district discussed the idea. “This was never something we planned to do,” she said.
The district will start next year’s budget $25 million in the red if the state continues to flat fund city schools, business administrator Daisy Ayala told the school board last week. The district this year grappled with a $42 million budget gap which led to cuts in majority of school budgets, deferred maintenance, consolidation of schools, and other cuts.
“The city does it, everybody does it, why can’t we?” said Capers. The mention of furloughs at a state meeting by the district’s business administrator as a means to reduce budget shortfall in late 2015 led criticism from the teachers union.
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This report was updated with input from the teachers' union on April 10th, 2017 at 5:40 p.m.