City school board cuts 217 jobs amid fiscal pressures

Expresses regret as action passes, 8-1

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The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools voted Wednesday night to eliminate 217 positions, including 147 by layoff or furlough, to help confront a district-wide deficit expected to reach $68 million by the end of next year.

The workforce reduction was approved by a vote of 8 to 1 after individual board members cited deep regret.

The people being let go range from janitors and clerical employees to administrative staff and will include both central office workers and operational support employees at a number of the district's 66 buildings, superintendent Linda Lane said.

Officials earlier in the day began notifying those affected in face-to-face meetings, either individually or in small groups. The cuts generally are effective Aug. 1, though substitute cleaners affected by the move will be laid off today.

"This is very, very difficult. We're talking about people's lives here. Many of these people are longtime, loyal district employees," Ms. Lane said. "But we're at a place where we are clearly going to have to cut back on our expenditures."

In May, Ms. Lane warned that central office job cuts were likely this summer and that teachers also may face layoffs in 2012 as the Pittsburgh district deals with financial pressures including the economic downturn, lost federal stimulus funding and cuts in Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed state budget for 2011-12.

Even before Mr. Corbett unveiled plans that would cut $34.1 million in district operating and supplemental funds, officials were anticipating cuts in the district's $540.9 million operating budget.

Though the job reductions outlined Wednesday by and large will not directly affect student support services, Ms. Lane said, other likely cuts to come will have a more direct effect on students' education.

"We know that going forward, we are going to be talking about things that do have more direct impact on students like class sizes, programs and schools," she said.

The district is bracing for another round of school closures and realignment as it approaches the Jan. 1 start of its next budget year. Ms. Lane said the district also has been looking at a range of cost-saving moves in areas from purchasing to capital borrowing.

"We're looking at everything," she said.

The district has 4,400 employees. The job reductions outlined Wednesday would provide annual savings of $11.5 million.

Minutes before the vote, some board members described the move as the most difficult decision of their tenure, more so even than past decisions to close schools.

"As much as it pains me, and God knows it pains me, we have to do what we have to do," board member Theresa Colaizzi said.

"It's a sad day," board President Sherry Hazuda said.

Some board members placed blame with the governor's mansion, federal cuts or with individuals they contend are bent on promoting vouchers and charter schools at the expense of public education. But Mark Brentley Sr., who cast the only vote against the entire job reduction plan, said the district also must accept blame for what he called ill-advised spending even as enrollment has declined.

Mr. Brentley, a frequent critic of the administration of former superintendent Mark Roosevelt, said: "I understand now why Mark Roosevelt got the heck out of Pittsburgh."

Longtime board member Jean Fink said she's especially unnerved by what lies ahead, referring to additional cuts including possible school closures on the horizon.

"This is the beginning," she said. "I'm really scared."

Officials said the district's deficit could be as great as $100 million in 2015.

In addition to people who will lose their jobs, the administration says it will not fill a number of vacant positions. The highest-ranking position affected by Wednesday's reductions was the vacant position of executive director for finance.

A dozen employees will be transferred to school-based budgets as part of the move, officials said.

The district's central office employs 264 regular administrative workers, including assessment, technology and marketing staff. The cuts announced Wednesday represent about 33 percent of that total, officials said.

About $7 million of the savings will come from the central office.

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977.


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