MTA slams spike in layoffs and nonrenewals

MTA slams spike in layoffs and nonrenewals

Leominster WOA
More than 500 people stood out in Leominster on June 17 to protest education cuts. The district handed down 198 pink slips to educators.

Layoff and nonrenewal notices have been sent to more than 2,030 teachers and Education Support Professionals in 47 districts where staff are represented by the Massachusetts Teachers Association. The list only includes districts where local associations have reported that 10 or more educators have received layoff or nonrenewal notices that have not been rescinded.

While some nonrenewal notices are issued every year for a variety of reasons, such as declining enrollment or the elimination of programs, the MTA has seen a spike in pink slips this year due to the failure of the federal and state governments to approve adequate funding for local school districts in time for them to budget for the staffing they will need in the fall.

Hundreds of MTA members fought back last week by participating in car caravans and rallies in 13 locations across the state to protest current and threatened layoffs, demand full funding of our public schools and colleges, and make clear that education justice is racial justice.

“We are going to need more educators, not fewer, to reopen safely in the fall,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy. Najimy said that adequate staffing is a central plank of the MTA’s own reopening platform.

“The state must live up to its constitutional obligation to provide the funding needed for schools to operate effectively and safely during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she continued. “Doing so is part of dismantling a system of institutionalized racism wherein students of color attend schools with significantly less funding. While the education and well-being of all students have been disrupted, our students of color have been harmed the most.”

Preliminary guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education calls for schools to significantly reduce class sizes to enable social distancing. Smaller class sizes would require districts to hire more staff, yet this year many will have to operate with fewer if the layoff notices are not rescinded.

“Safety guidelines and school budgets are on a disastrous collision course.”

MTA President Merrie Najimy

“Safety guidelines and school budgets are on a disastrous collision course,” Najimy said.

Even aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, educator layoffs are very disruptive to students and school communities, as well as to the staff members being laid off. In addition, laying off educators in the middle of a recession means that most will have trouble finding work, and their reduced spending power will make the recession even worse.

Najimy said that, in addition to staffing, the state must provide districts with resources to buy personal protective equipment and other supplies needed to address the health crisis. While the federal CARES Act will help, it does not come close to providing the $1.8 million that a national administrator group estimates each average-sized district will need.

“The state has an obligation to fund health and safety mandates, as communities are already strapped trying to maintain the staffing levels needed for both in-school instruction and crisis education remotely,” Najimy said.

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The MTA is continuing to call on the U.S. Senate to pass a bill similar to the HEROES Act, which was passed by the U.S. House to extend a lifeline to public schools and colleges, as well as to state and local governments.

The MTA is also calling on the Legislature to fully fund the 2019 Student Opportunity Act, increase funding for public higher education, and provide whatever additional funding is needed so that both public schools and colleges can reopen safely. Public higher education faculty and staff already have been affected by furloughs and layoffs, and more are threatened if funding is not provided.

“If the state doesn’t currently have the needed resources to fund our public schools and colleges, the Legislature should act on the power it has to approve taxes that would require more from the very wealthy and profitable corporations,” Najimy said. “Many of them have done extremely well during this pandemic, while so many people are suffering.

“We reject the call for ‘shared sacrifice,’” Najimy said, “when 17 billionaires in Massachusetts saw their net worth increase by $11 billion in the two months between March 18 and May 19, just as the COVID-19 numbers were skyrocketing along with the state’s unemployment rate. What are they sacrificing?

“The coronavirus pandemic is making the astronomical gap between the rich and everyone else even wider,” she continued. “It is empty rhetoric for politicians to say ‘Black lives matter’ unless they follow up with action. They can act right here, right now, through their powers over taxes and budgets.”