'Facing' the School Layoffs Head-On

Website puts a face to teacher and school staff layoffs in Philadelphia with hopes of reversing the decision

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    NEWSLETTERS

    FacesofTheLayoffs.org

    Using a new website, a group of Philadelphia educators hopes to save the jobs of nearly 4,000 Philadelphia school teachers, aides, counselors and support staff being laid off at the end of this school year.

    Called Faces of the Layoffs, the site features profiles and testimonials about some of the 3,783 School District of Philadelphia employees losing their jobs.

    “Staff who are in tears, smile when they hear their face is up there (online) and students are checking it to and going to comfort their teachers and support staff,” said history teacher Dave Sokoloff, who's featured on the site.

    Built by the Teacher Action Group (TAG), an organization of 100 teachers, the site is seen as a way to get the public involved in saving the city’s schools.

    “The goal is to educate people in Philadelphia and really across the state about layoffs, to get all of the jobs back, but also turn around the dismantling of public education in Philadelphia,” TAG member and a Science Leadership Academy teacher Larissa Pahomov said.

    The School District of Philadelphia, the eighth-largest school district in the United States, sent thousands of layoff notices on June 7. The district is eliminating all assistant principals, secretaries and guidance counselors. Nearly 700 teachers and more than 1,200 aides also got pink slips.

    District Superintendent Dr. William Hite says a $304 million budget shortfall led to the “draconian” cuts. In addition to the layoffs, schools will be cutting art and sports programs and extra-curriculars.

    Dr. Hite has asked the city and state to kick in cash and unions to make concessions to stave off the changes. He has said should the money come through, the layoffs would be reversed. However, with budgets due by the end of June, the outlook does not look good.

    Philadelphia City Council approved a tax on cigarette sales Thursday to raise $45 million for schools, but the tax can’t be levied until the state legislature gives the OK. So far, they have not.

    As part of the Faces of the Layoffs, profiles of more than 140 teachers and staff feature testimonials of support from the students they teach, colleagues and parents.

    “Mirta is not only there for her students, but for the teachers. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by the kids’ issues and Mirta is always there to give us guidance and support. No counselor? It just won’t work next year,” an entry for Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences counselor Mirta Scheffer reads.

    A call to action on her profile says you can save her job “with one phone call” to Councilwoman Marian Tasco.

    Anissa Weinraub, an English teacher at Bartram High School who’s been in the district for seven years, was first to be posted. She sees the site as a way for people to recognize the human impact of the cuts.

    “When you look at those faces of the layoffs, it will become very clear to you how those who are supposedly elected to provide for us are actually just setting up the students in this city for failure,” she said.

    At Northeast High School, Sokoloff has been rounding up profiles for colleagues, who like him, will no longer work in the school in a few weeks.

    “This website is about bringing people together and reminding us that we are stronger together instead of being ripped apart.”

    “Many of the people I talk to say that they feel like outcasts; just because the community doesn't know how to respond.”

    While hundreds of teachers are facing layoffs, the bulk of the cuts affect support staff – who play a vital role in the education of the students they serve.

    “These people aren’t stereotypically the first people you think of when you think of what makes the school run, but they’re often the most important people to the daily routine of the school,” Pahomov said.

    Pahomov says the project, in addition to hopefully putting pressure on lawmakers, gives those part of and outside the school community a chance to see just whose affected.

    “A lot of parents have been commenting, a lot of alumni have been commenting so they’re people who otherwise who may not have even found out they were laid off.”

    TAG hopes to get at least one staff member from each of the district’s 242 schools on the site. And all three teachers hope this effort will be the force to change the tide.

    “My hope is that we open school operating fully funded because that's how education gets done -- with full resources,” Sokoloff said.

    “If the money doesn't come through, there isn't any point in opening school. It's just too dangerous, physically and no one would take it seriously. No one."


    Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.