The longer I do it, the more I realize budget debates are all the same. The only thing that differs is the size of the fight.
The debate over the school budget has become pretty serious, with more than 200 people showing up at a budget hearing this week, followed by a three-hour aldermen hearing about schools. This column, which appeared before those hearings, got 60 comments and drew education advocates, union bashers and simple spendthrifts to the table.
After going through a tough union negotiation battle with my company this fall and winter myself, I understood that such events have an effect on morale and condition of the workplace. When you take that idea and apply it to people who educate children all day, I thought it touched on something interesting … how worrying about your job year after year affects the face you put on for the kids each day. I also wondered is it solely up to the teachers to make their workplace better or do city and school leaders have a responsibility in it too.
Threat of layoffs creates ‘terrible’ morale for school staff
The school board’s decision to pink slip 161 school staffers last week came as a surprise to some board members, who entered the chambers that evening under the assumption that the votes to pass a reduction in force were not there.
Since then, the reality has sunk in, especially for teachers, and the union leadership has met to discuss the ramifications of the layoffs. As of Wednesday, there were no plans to bring the entire union membership together to talk about concessions.
With little movement expected from either side, both school and union top officials said the vote has further chipped away at the staff’s already low morale.
“Right now, people aren’t feeling good, especially after that meeting,” said Manchester Education Association President Ben Dick.
Staff morale is “terrible,” said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan. “People are very anxious and concerned about their livelihood.”
Although the deadline for laying off teachers is not until May, Brennan said his staff will soon determine how to spread the 161 pink slips throughout the district.
“We certainly have the obligation to give all the staff time to get into the job market earlier,” said Brennan.
When those pink slips do come out, they’ll be hand delivered by Brennan, which he sees as his responsibility.
“My name is on the bottom of that page,” he said.
Mayor Ted Gatsas sees the teachers’ down attitude in another light.
“It seems as though the morale in the city (employees) was the same thing,” said Gatsas. “We came to an agreement with the unions on concessions, and it seems the morale has changed 180 degrees.”