September 28, 2011
By Marc Bussanich
The deadline to lay off 700 members of Local 372 is fast approaching. While the Department of Education (DOE) pays high-paid consultants whose titles sound intriguing but vague (“innovation managers, “achievement coaches” and “talent managers”), it wants to cut school aids, health aids, and family auxiliary paras, some of the lowest-paid union workers in the city’s school system.
Local 372’s President Santos Crespo said the union is currently negotiating with the city to avert the layoffs, but the union continues to stage rallies to tell the DOE there’s no reason to lay off low-wage workers when there’s a budget of $4.3 billion for consultants. This past Tuesday, Local 372 members, joined by some elected officials, rallied in front of M.S. 571 in Brooklyn where students and parents chanted “Save School Aids.”
While Local 372 struggles to win a new contract, it’s also engaged in the movement to make sure that charter schools pay rent for the space they occupy in public school buildings. Last week, Crespo joined the New York City Parents Union and other education advocates at a press conference to demand that charter schools start paying rent. “If the city charged charter schools for rent, it would generate $100 million annually, enough to pay the approximately $30 million of salary for a new contract for my members,” said Crespo.
Crespo realizes that the growth of charter schools ultimately fulfills the DOE’s goal to privatize public schools. But he is not entirely opposed to charter schools, as there are differences between for-profit and non-profit charters.
Crespo mentioned that The Renaissance Charter School is a “model charter school” because the school has been able to produce high success rates even though the city and state has cut about $300,000 worth of funding.
Crespo noted however that the union was initially opposed to charter schools because of charters’ relying upon taxpayer money. When Crespo was in Albany for a hearing about charter schools’ funding advantage over public schools, he said he lumped all charter schools in one basket. “Renaissance was quick to call me and give me an earful.”
When he realized that Renaissance was still able to teach effectively despite the city and state cuts, he was more appreciative of Renaissance’s efforts.
“The city and state cut funding to Renaissance and still expect the school to achieve the same academic level before the cuts. I credit Renaissance for defying the odds.”
While Crespo commends Renaissance, he is not pleased with the for-profit charter’s compensation structure. “A good indication of how the city views the charter network as a boondoggle is reflected by Eva Moskowitz’s [owner of the Success Charter Network] annual salary of roughly $300,000 for managing five schools, while Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott earns less for managing a city-wide system.”
Nonetheless, as the charter school network continues to grow, especially as the state has lifted the cap on the number of charter schools from 250, the opportunities for Local 372 to organize will probably grow as well.