Gary schools lay off or relocate secretaries, aides
By Michael GOnzalez Post-Tribune correspondent September 9, 2012 9:28PM
Updated: September 10, 2012 8:40AM
GARY — The Gary Community School Corp., staring down a $23 million deficit this year, has laid off about 20 secretaries and clerical aids and reassigned dozens more. With property tax revenues plummeting almost as rapidly as the student population, the cuts were long overdue, said school leaders.
Former Superintendent Myrtle Campbell was charged with reducing staff last year, but it didn’t happen, said outgoing school board president Darren Washington. The district’s secretarial staff was bloated relative to the number of students and remaining departments.
“We knew this was coming, especially when you consider everything the district has been dealing with,” Washington said. “It’s painful, but it’s something we have to do.”
The workers who would be laid off received their notices in late August, along with word their health care benefits would be eliminated Oct. 20. The remaining workers — who learned last Wednesday they would be reassigned — had to decide two days later where they would continue to work, if they opted to stay.
Newly hired GCSC Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt — who is making more than $120,000 in salary plus benefits like retirement contributions — did not make herself available for an interview on a day and time she selected, nor did she return a call seeking comment.
Even as board members and administrators looked over the multimillion-dollar deficit cliff and laid off teachers and other staff, the school district remained an employer offering generous salaries. For example, the new chief financial officer will earn a $115,930 salary, and the executive director of special education and student services will make $112,895.
Many of those administrators now will do the combined work of two or three of their predecessors, but that was little consolation to employees who are leaving or who have been reassigned.
The cuts in the secretarial pool come at a particularly challenging time, said Jim Balanoff, acting division director of Indiana for the Service Employees International Union Local 73, the union representing the secretaries and aides.
The district is converting much of its information technology, and the secretaries and aides who most work with the software are being hit by the layoffs and reassignments, he said.
“We just think laying off these secretaries is going to create more problems than it’s going to solve,” said Balanoff, adding he is a product of Gary public schools. “Yes, the district is struggling financially, but we don’t think this is an appropriate way to address that problem.”
Balanoff declined to comment on the specifics of the cuts or whether the district has complied with contractual obligations in the layoffs and reassignments, but he said the district has not tried to work with the union on the cuts.
Secretaries who the district laid off did not want to speak on the record about the cuts, but expressed concern that workers with the most experience were being let go.