December 2, 2020

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Syracuse school district weighs furlough days for teachers, staff, if state cuts funding

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Syracuse, N.Y. — The Syracuse school district could save nearly $1 million a day if...

Syracuse, N.Y. — The Syracuse school district could save nearly $1 million a day if everyone from the superintendent to lunch monitors took an unpaid furlough. And they may have to.

Suzanne Slack, the district Chief Financial Officer, said that if the state cuts aid in the coming months, everyone may have to take some furlough days.

“This is similar to what the city did,” Slack told Syracuse City School District board members during a work session tonight. “If we were to furlough everyone – from the superintendent to the last hire – it would save $960,000.”

The district’s budget is $486 million this year. More than $200 million of that is salaries for teachers and staff.

Superintendent Jaime Alicea said he has already been discussing the possibility of furloughs with the district’s various unions, who would have to agree to them.

The district has already cut some expenses by instituting a hiring freeze on all non-instructional staff. The coronavirus pandemic has have saved the district money on some fronts because the students have been at home since March. Transportation costs, energy bills for the buildings and supply costs are all among the expenses that are down, Slack said. And the district is saving money by canceling fall sports. It also temporarily laid off bus aides and some other staff while the in-person opening has been delayed.

But Covid-19 has had its own costs, she told the board. The biggest is still looming: A potential 20 percent cut to state aid because of the state’s financial trouble.

And then there’s the money the district already spent, including $5.9 million on computers and WiFi hotspots to distribute to students. It spent about $2 million on extra cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for staff and teachers. All told, the extra cost of Covid-19 has been about $7.6 million.

Board Vice President Mark Muhammad asked whether teachers should be paid differently because they are having to work remotely, something they did not expect when they started the job.

“Is pay different for hybrid/remote. Some people say going from face to face to remote, should make more. I didn’t sign up for this,” Muhammad asked.

Slack said she’s heard the opposite, that teachers who are going in during these times should be paid more.

“I’ve heard it both ways. And I think they’re valid,” Slack said.

The answer, though, is that teachers receive the same pay because that’s how their current contracts are.

Neither the board nor the superintendent addressed today’s news that the Syracuse teachers union does not think the district is ready to open for in-person education Oct. 5. Right now, all students are learning remotely.

Bill Scott, president of the union, said there are so many concerns that haven’t been addressed that it would take a miracle to open Oct. 5. They include everything from air quality in the buildings to having enough space for students to be socially distant.

Scott also said he was concerned that the three high schools that are under construction would not be ready for students Oct. 5. Thomas Ferrara, who gave an update on the district’s building projects, said the schools would be ready.

Marnie Eisenstadt writes about education, people, public affairs and the Syracuse City School District. Contact her anytime email | Twitter| Facebook | 315-470-2246

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