November 2, 2011
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
It’s almost a month since 672 school aides and parent coordinators of Local 372 were laid off. The union claims the layoffs were unnecessary because the City Council was prepared to allocate money to prevent the layoffs, while Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told a City Council oversight committee on October 11 that the Department of Education (DOE) made clear that about 1,000 non-pedagogical staff were vulnerable because of city budget shortfalls.
For some of the laid-off Local 372 workers, it’s been a difficult month. Saprina Williams used to work as a school aide at P.S. 223 in Queens and worked for DOE since 1993. She’s the sole breadwinner in the home where her 92-year old mother and three children live.
“Life is a mess right now ever since DOE made the decision to fire us, but I’m taking life day by day,” said Williams. But the past month has been an emotional roller coaster. “It’s been very stressful and I cry often. I’m waiting for my phone and cable to be turned off because I may not be able to pay the utility bills.”
As a school aide Williams was responsible for a lot of tasks. “I did lunchroom duty, printing copies of teachers’ hands-outs and other types of clerical work. You have to love the kids to do school aide work. My colleagues and I were responsible for overseeing a lunchroom or auditorium filled with almost 500 students. The Mayor and Schools Chancellor should come to the district to see how the students are doing because maybe then they could appreciate our important work,” she said.
As for her next moves, Williams sounded a bit subdued. “I just turned 50 years old and it’s very frustrating to have to start over. What do I do, go back to school to learn a new skill?”
Cliftonia Johnson used to work at Marta Valle High School on the Lower East Side as a parent coordinator and this is the first time she’s been laid off in her working career. She recently attended Local 372’s Jobs & Support Services Fair to help the laid-off workers receive assistance with finding low-cost healthcare options and participating in résumé-writing classes. But she was very upset when she saw that DOE had a table at the fair.
“I was shocked that, after terminating almost 700 school aides and parent coordinators, DOE was accepting résumés for seven parent coordinator positions,” said Johnson. But a colleague suggested that she submit her résumé anyway, which Johnson agreed to do because “it’s not a good feeling to get up every day and not go to work.”
Johnson said she’s remaining strong, but sometimes the reality of being unemployed bites her. But she said buoyantly, “I see myself coming out of this experience on top. I have a feeling that there’s something else that I’m meant to do.”
She’s considering going back to school possibly for a communications degree. In the interim, she’s been checking online job boards for any openings in other city agencies. Johnson is also considering querying her union to learn if she and her laid-off colleagues could meet so to motivate and support each other.
“Some of us are strong, but some other people might be feeling lonely because they don’t get to see their work colleagues anymore,” said Johnson.
Johnson is strong, but also angry because she feels the “cruel layoffs” by DOE have affected school districts made up of primarily women of color while the more affluent districts were spared. “Our role was to nurture children who might not be getting the nurturing at home. We taught the students to love themselves so that they could grow up to be productive citizens. These layoffs make me feel there is a master plan not to educate black and Latino children.”
Sharon McCorkle has been actively pursuing new job opportunities since she was dismissed as a parent coordinator at John Adams High School in Queens. “I don’t like being in this position because it’ll now take longer to reach my goals,” said McCorkle.
She’s rewritten her résumé three times and sent it off to both public and private sector employers but she’s received no replies. She’s giving herself until the new year to find a new job, but hopes she gets one sooner because her husband is expected to be laid off from his retail job of the past 17 years next week.
McCorkle started receiving her unemployment benefits this week, which is not enough to pay for medical coverage via COBRA insurance. Instead, she enrolled in a health plan with Make The Road New York, a grassroots organization, which takes effect in 60 days.
Regina Dudley worked as a parent coordinator for the past five years at High School for Global Citizenship in Brooklyn. She’s receiving unemployment benefits, but it’s been difficult trying to arrange health care for her disabled son. As with McCorkle, Dudley can’t afford COBRA insurance. She’s hoping her son gets enrolled in the low-cost Neighborhood Health Insurance via Brookdale Hospital.
But Dudley is concerned that some treatments for her son might not be covered by the new low-cost plan, forcing her to pay for the treatments out-of-pocket.
Dudley is actively pursuing new opportunities in the social services field, but “the economy sucks,” she said. “I’m e-mailing about 20 résumés every day, but I haven’t heard back yet.”
Dudley noted during the first week of unemployment she felt “very depressed” and “worthless.” After she readies her children for school and her finance leaves for work, she sits in front of the computer checking online job boards with her dog by her side. But after sitting for a while, she begins to feel a bit stir crazy so she hops on the train to downtown Brooklyn to learn of any opportunities. “I’m going to be 40 years old soon. I want to work now so that I’m not broke when I retire.”