24 School Layoffs Approved; $8M To Go

Students’ tearful speeches, parents’ proposed alternatives, a union’s last-ditch buyout suggestion: none of it worked. A week after being given hope that their jobs might be saved, two dozen full-time educators were still told they’re out of work after all.

The Board of Education voted at a Tuesday night special meeting at Celentano School to lay them off.

Citing the need to place faculty before school starts next week, they unanimously approved Superintendent Carol Birks’s recommendation to lay off 15 school counselors, five library media specialists and four physical education teachers, all of whom don’t have any other certifications.

Christopher Peak PhotoAnother 16 employees who initially received pink slips in the mail —  half of them social studies, literature and business teachers at the high schools —  have all returned to work or found other jobs.

“We believe in and value the people who work in our organization, but we have to make some difficult decisions,” Birks said before the vote. “We will continue to work closely with the teachers union, as well as all other unions, to see if we can come up with some additional savings. But at this time, to ensure that we are ready for school to begin on Aug. 30, we have to advise our staff what their assignments are going to be as we continue to engage in negotiations.”

Celentano’s cafeteria was packed with people as administrators awaited their new positions, counselors and librarians came out to support their colleagues, and parents wondered what would happen to their kids. Ministers and politicians mingled.

They listened; they didn’t get to speak up this time. Unlike last week meeting, when the board tabled a decision on the layoffs after hearing heartfelt testimony, this meeting was over in less than 20 minutes, without any comment from the public or much debate among the board members.

Most of the negotiation had gone on long before the meeting started. The special meeting had initially been scheduled for Monday afternoon, but it was pushed back to give the board members an extra day to figure out what to do.

On Tuesday afternoon, just before the meeting, two board members, Ed Joyner and Joe Rodriguez, moderated a sit-down between the district administration and the union leadership. The discussion focused on a buyout plan to try to avoid the layoffs. Birks said she was open to the idea, but she wanted more time to crunch the numbers.

Meanwhile, Darnell Goldson lined up the other votes to make sure that the system would be ready for classes to start. As of Tuesday morning, he said, he thought he only had three votes. Eventually the board voted unanimously, even winning over Nico Rivera, the non-voting student representative who had spoken out against cuts.

“None of us like this, but we knew that we had to do it,” Goldson said. “For the entire week, I had to pull members to the side, because everyone wanted to be able to say, ‘I didn’t vote for this.’ But as a leader, I had to make sure we had the votes to make it pass.”

Alternatives Considered


The reduction in teaching staff will save the district roughly $1.2 million. The teachers union is hoping it can convince the administration to find another way to reach that total.

“Our position on the layoffs is unambiguous,” Dave Cicarella, the union president, wrote in a recent letter to his membership. “All teachers that were laid off should be returned to their positions. Period.”

As an alternative, the union has proposed a buyout, along with furlough days. By offering continued healthcare benefits and a sick-day cash-out, Cicarella said, he hoped the schools could encourage veteran teachers earning higher salaries to call it quits early.

According to a draft of the union’s proposal, teachers could receive a payout for their saved-up sick days. Over three years, the district would pay cash for all their days, along with an additional 30 percent bonus.

For instance, if a teacher had banked the maximum 64 sick days allowed by contract, she’d receive compensation for 19 extra days with a buyout. Spread over three years, that would mean an annual payment of around $13,300.

The added healthcare benefits would be split by age. Teachers over 65 years old, who qualify for Medicare, would receive a $400 monthly stipend for six years, while younger teachers could remain on the medical plan at a quarter of the cost of the annual premium, usually around $2,700 for an individual and $5,400 for a couple.

In an initial estimate, Cicarella calculated that the retirement incentives could save about $910,000 this year. Additional savings would accumulate each year afterwards, totaling around $3.0 million within seven years.

Cicarella said the administration hasn’t dismissed the idea. “They’re absolutely looking at it,” he said. “They want more time now to look at the numbers.”

He said he’s hoping that, between those incentives and other cuts to the administration, teachers will be invited back. “They should absolutely hold out hope,” he said. “It’s painful, no question, to have 24 of my colleagues still out there, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Finding The Rest

Even after the closure of three schools and the reassignment of faculty, the district still needs to make up approximately $8.4 million, putting it more than halfway toward closing the $19.3 million deficit that was originally projected.

Birks said she has a plan to save an additional $3.6 million by maximizing grants, cutting back on utility bills, buying fewer supplies, and limiting bus trips. But she hasn’t disclosed her plans for closing the rest of the deficit.

“It is our legal responsibility to close our budget,” Birks said. “People have said to me before, ‘We went over all the time.’ We’re in a difficult place right now. The city was able to cover those cuts in the past; however, this administration does not have the resources to incur the additional costs. As a result, we have to be aggressive about how we close the structural deficit.”

As Birks tries to find additional money, Cicarella said that his union won’t consider taking a vote on furlough days unless the layoffs are rescinded.

He also also pressed Birks to hold to her additional commitment to eliminate 25 administrative positions; currently only 14 have been cut. (On Tuesday, the board also approved the transfer of seven assistant principals to fill vacancies, though it tabled Tina Mitchell’s move from Fair Haven to Hillhouse, at Birks’s request.) Goldson said he hadn’t spoken yet with the head of the administrators union, but he believes they’ve been working on ideas for givebacks. He said he expected that there will be “savings,” not cuts.


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posted by: observer1 on August 22, 2018  7:37am

The adults in the room are finally standing up. The city does not have the money for business as usual. athe rest of the city departments now have to get the message.

posted by: NHPLEB on August 22, 2018  7:47am

As we can all see,  Dr. Birks commended the Teacher’s Union for working hard to move people around and cut the layoffs needed from important teaching staff.  The same , obviously,  cannot be said for the administrator’s union.  Administrators are shuffled around but few were laid off,  and they are the ones making the bigger salaries and refusing furlough days or any cooperation.

The staff that drives buses and feeds your children and does after school nonsense was NOT cut because what parents really want is all-day, taxpayer funded babysitting,  from Pre-K - grade 12.  That’s fine but don’t be complaining about their poor education because you threw that away yourselves. And you let the big fish get away unscathed.

But just go down to Gateway and City Hall and you will see the same loafers,  hanging around, ordering lunch, going out for coffee , and collecting their salaries.  The pain should be shared by all areas of municipal employees.  So-  Who’s next?  Will the Mayor take furlough days?  Will heads of departments? Will support staff?  Tune in!  (Spoiler:  no; they won’t)

posted by: 1644 on August 22, 2018  8:16am

What would be the advantage of a retirement incentive program for the children?  If we put kids first, how does it make sense to pay people to leave, when you make get people to leave for nothing?  Shouldn’t those dollars stay in the system, rather than go to people who are leaving?  (BTW, since the state funds TRB, at least for now,  the state should forbid retirement incentives.  The state’s teacher’s retirement fund is woefully underfunded.)

posted by: 1644 on August 22, 2018  8:31am

NHPLEB:  The mayor has said that her senior staff have agreed to take furlough days, subject to the unionized staff agreeing to the same thing.  These union givebacks are built into the budget the BoA approved, though, like the amount of state aid built into last years budget, there doesn’t seem much reason to believe they will actually happen.

As far as administrators go, furlough days, and give-backs are good for temporary savings.  NHPS, and the city, need permanent reductions to their costs.  Positions need to be eliminated to save dollars not just this year, but every year going forward.  The BoE members need to focus on the children and taxpayers, not employees.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on August 22, 2018  9:27am

8.4 is NOT more than half of 19.3.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 22, 2018  10:18am

I’d like to see how the BOE got to the budget savings they say - but more importantly, what’s the plan to stay within the budget this year? $8 million off the budget cap and knowing that expenses historically through the school year rise, means there must be another $10 to $12 million in cuts. Where is it and why would you start a school year with such a big hole in your spending?

posted by: new havener on August 22, 2018  11:19am

the days of paying incenting people to leave via buyouts should be history. any way you slice and dice the numbers, you’re paying twice for the same services, and usually on the hook for full healthcare longer.

very few businesses, if any, still engage in buyouts, and the practice is bankrupting municipalities and the State…only unions argue for it, as it keeps membership up, and members happy, all with taxpayer dollars.

posted by: LookOut on August 22, 2018  11:37am

this story is why so many of us are frustrated with union leadership (NOT union members).  When the city is clearly out of money are trying the figure out how to make ends meet, the union leader suggests a 30% premium on sicks days - so we are out of money but we should give you more?  How does that add up?

[Chris: The incentive would be spread over several years, with no cash-out paid during the first year. The savings come from a big difference in salaries minus the extra sick days and benefits. From what I’ve heard, there’s been more worry about whether the deal is attractive enough to actually motivate retirements than whether it would end up being a bad deal.]

posted by: 1644 on August 22, 2018  12:10pm

Noteworthy:  Your answer is here:  “People have said to me before, ‘We went over all the time.’ We’re in a difficult place right now. The city was able to cover those cuts in the past ....”  The BoE and the administrators have been been irresponsible and complacent because the city has covered their deficits in the past, usually by borrowing.  Were the BoE ever held responsible for the deficits they create,  they would not be so complacent.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on August 22, 2018  12:52pm

“He also also pressed Birks to hold to her additional commitment to eliminate 25 administrative positions; currently only 14 have been cut. (On Tuesday, the board also approved the transfer of seven assistant principals to fill vacancies, though it tabled Tina Mitchell’s move from Fair Haven to Hillhouse, at Birks’s request.) Goldson said he hadn’t spoken yet with the head of the administrators union, but he believes they’ve been working on ideas for givebacks. He said he expected that there will be “savings,” not cuts.
Difficult decisions, we are told, have to be made, but it appears that cuts are too difficult to be made for the top-heavy administrative staff.
The public was assured on numerous occasions that the Board would resist any cuts to direct student educational services. How many times did we heard the president of the Board say he wanted cuts to be as far away from the classroom as possible.
A close examination of the school district bureaucracy will reveal that many of the administrative positions at Gateway Center are superfluous and redundant. How is it that the Board can agree to consolidating schools, but not make more administration cuts by consolidating administrative positions?
Many administrators make more than three or four teachers, counselors, school librarians or physical education teachers. If 11 more administrators were layed off, potentially 20-25 teachers could be rehired!
If sacrifices have to be made because of finances, the cuts should at least be proportionately equal between the teaching staff and the administrative staff.
But we must always remember that the teachers and school counselors who have daily contact in guiding and educating and mentoring the youth of this city are of paramount importance and impact on the lives of these students.

posted by: TFA2013 on August 22, 2018  12:59pm

Again, can someone please explain why the TESOL / Bilingual department has 3 supervisors in central office? How did they avoid the chopping block?

posted by: Noteworthy on August 22, 2018  1:58pm

Let’s Get This Straight Notes:

1. The banking of any sick days is sick. When you’re ill - you need sick days. That’s what they are there for - they are not there so you get a buyout when you retire of another three or four months.

2. Moreover - there should not be any premium.

3. Want to know what’s wrong with all these contracts - teachers, principals, fire and cops? They’re rich in benefits that are breaking the city. The payouts are wrong, the pension calculations are wrong and excessive - the arcane rules and event this happy HS is too much.

4. The city doesn’t have the extra money. We’re supposed to be cutting budgets here. Spread across three years - in three years because of the gross incompetence at City Hall, the debt payments will be more than $70 million a year

posted by: AliceB on August 22, 2018  2:12pm

I have lost all respect for these administrators

posted by: MathGuy on August 22, 2018  3:28pm

Samuel T. Ross-Lee posted
“8.4 is NOT more than half of 19.3.”

Check the article again: There used to be a deficit of $19.3 million. Now there is a deficit of $8.4 million.

That means they’ve made up 19.3 - 8.4 = $10.9 million already, which is, in fact, more than half of 19.3

posted by: nhteach on August 22, 2018  4:10pm

All teachers have been invited to a Convocation at Hillhouse on Monday. It’s unclear if Birks realizes how much she has alienated teachers with these layoffs and expensive administrative hires. I can’t imagine this going well for her.

posted by: newhavenishome on August 22, 2018  4:23pm

Banking and paying out sick days??? That is a sweet deal. No one gets that anymore. This needs to be removed from any future contracts!
Meanwhile, we are laying off classroom instructors. DUMB.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on August 22, 2018  5:09pm

Mr. MathGuy,

They edited the article without comment, but what you’re saying is NOT what they said.  They did not say that the deficit is down 8.4. They said that they had 8.4 LEFT.  But, again, they changed the language without comment, now saying “the district still needs to make up approximately $8.4 million, putting it more than halfway toward closing the $19.3 million deficit that was originally projected.”

The number $10.9 million that you’ve mention is not now nor was never in the article.

posted by: speakingthetruth33 on August 22, 2018  5:20pm

Nhteach let’s be more clear…. Convocation is mandatory for all New Haven Public School teachers. Personally I feel that no teacher should attend to make a statement let her stand up all alone in the New Haven Fieldhouse and talk to the walls….er the inept principals.  All they are about is test score results yet they fail to understand that t’s hard to cook a gourmet meal on a dollar store budget.  Teachers are spread so thin and have to wear so many hats it’s ridiculous and sickening.

posted by: Helloworldddd on August 22, 2018  6:08pm

Layoff 24 Teachers and hire 50…this will surely save money…whose dumb idea was this!

posted by: MathGuy on August 22, 2018  6:52pm

“Even after the closure of three schools and the reassignment of faculty, the district still needs to make up approximately $8.4 million, putting it more than halfway toward closing the $19.3 million deficit that was originally projected.”

If that’s not the original text, then it is what it is, but I’m saying that having $8.4 million LEFT means they’ve closed the other $10.9 million of the gap already. They didn’t do the math on it, but it isn’t wrong to say that they’re more than half of the way there.

Now whether or not they will ever get close to closing that remaining gap, and how many children’s education(s) will suffer how much as a result, and on how many teachers’ or taxpayers’ backs the burden will be borne…is a different topic altogether.

posted by: 1644 on August 22, 2018  7:49pm

nhteach & speaking:  It would be helpful if your union president would actually identify administrator positions which should be eliminated, rather than a costly scheme for induced retirements. Also, given that the teachers’ union propounds that experienced teachers are more effective, and therefore worth more than less experienced teachers, retaining less experienced teachers while losing more experienced teachers would not be putting students first.  Besides which, even accepting union’s numbers, its proposals do not generate the savings that the layoffs do. Throughout all this, I am reminded of the scene in Moneyball where Billy Bean asks, “Would you rather get a bullet to the head, or five to the chest and bleed to death?” It’s quite obvious neither the city nor the BoE knows how to fire people.

posted by: NHPLEB on August 23, 2018  5:19am

I’m not a math person but if every teacher used their lawful 15 sick days and was paid,  the district would have to pay a sub in addition to the sick days;  not even considering the disruption the absence causes and the loss of learning.

I also like the suggestion that teachers BOYCOTT the convocation and get to work on their Herculean tasks that they do every day.  Let the administrators suck up to Dr. Birks and crow about how they saved their jobs/salaries/benefits and the teachers bore the brunt of the cuts. 


posted by: nhresident30 on August 23, 2018  8:10am

Why are assistant sups paid SO much money?  I heard White House assistants are paid 180K.  Why is a school district in dire financial straits paying so much to admins.  165-175K Really extravagant while your laying off direct student service individuals.  All I know is libraries will be shut and dark -(all those tax payer bought resources wasting or walking) and guidance offices will be too busy to reach and effectively help all the kids they need to.  This is while the well connected administrators sit at GW and collect.

posted by: Karla Marx on August 23, 2018  2:44pm

Can the NHI find out how much the district is spending on Monday’s first-ever Convocation?  What is the purpose?  What are the intended outcomes?  Who is paying for it? 

Has the NHPS leadership team decided that big screens, Eventbrite tickets and the entertainment/ compliance of two thousand teachers is the best way to start a school year disrupted by layoffs, rightsizing, and the crushing of morale?  If so, then full speed ahead with Monday’s distraction party.

Or is NHPS leadership interested in treating its teachers as intellectuals and professionals who need quiet time with their colleagues to think deeply, ask important questions, and plan for a year of teaching and learning with young people? Also, will the NHPS leadership team acknowledge the real feelings of loss that teachers and school staff are bringing to Monday’s convocation?  Will they share talking points with the NHPS employees so they can explain to students where their beloved [teacher/counselor/library media specialist] ended up? 

School communities have endured threats, cuts, and severe disruptions. And now teachers will be told they’re the most important people in children’s lives and that they should feel inspired about the year ahead.  Sorry NHPS - You can’t have it both ways.

posted by: speakingthetruth33 on August 23, 2018  5:25pm

Each school will have bussing provided.  I’m assuming some schools will need several busses to fit all staff members.  Is this being provided for free by First Student?

posted by: NHPLEB on August 23, 2018  7:10pm

@Karla Marx:  go to the convocation and sit in silence.  No cheers,  clapping,  jumping up and down like poodles.  You said it.  The teachers have been screwed and by this; the students are also screwed. What a colossal waste of buses and time teachers could spend doing their job.

If teachers do go because it is a paid day ( my other comment suggested a boycott)—-  be present IN SILENCE. IN MOURNING for your colleagues who were cast aside so admins could get paid the big bucks.    And let the tv cameras film THAT.

posted by: jamesj@newhaven on August 23, 2018  8:21pm

Am I the only one wondering why BOE members are so actively involved in these negotiations?  I’m sure they’ll say that is their responsibility, but I don’t think so.  How is Birks supposed to exert any influence or authority in her negotiations if everyone knows the BOE will stick their noses in?  There are professional employees in the union and administration who can probably handle this, and I’m not sure the BOE involvement is a good thing.  Look what happened when the BOE got involved in vendor contracts.  They forced re-bids of some agreements that were favorably priced to the school system and ended up with new contracts at substantially higher prices.  My point here is that if the BOE feels the need to be so deeply involved in the weeds, there is something wrong!