Buffalo School Board lays off 63 instructors just before start of school year

Buffalo's already-troubled public school system further debilitated by smaller staff

As school begins this fall and teachers start collecting permission slips and homework assignments from their new students, 63 recently laid-off instructors will be picking up nothing but unemployment checks.

Less than a month before the beginning school year, the Buffalo School Board approved the layoffs in a 6-2 vote. When the board approved the school district’s 2014-2015 budget, it did not discuss extensive layoffs of this nature.

The hasty manner of these firings would seem to suggest some unpredictable change in enrollment. In reality, there is no such excuse.

The majority of the layoffs were due to the closure of School 115 and Bennett High School’s reduced capacity. These layoffs were not unexpected in the least. And yet, teachers did not receive news of their unemployed status until August.

Now dozens of teachers find themselves without jobs and without time to search for new positions. Layoffs of any sort and at any time are unpleasant to say to the least, but suddenly and summarily firing over 60 teachers without warning is – or should be – unacceptable. Sixty-three teachers who spent their summer vacation thinking that their jobs were secure now face the daunting, if not impossible, prospect of finding employment only days before the school year begins.

These teachers aren’t the only victims of the layoffs. Students will suffer as well, as teachers fortunate enough to still have their jobs now face expanded class sizes in schools that are already struggling. Buffalo’s rate of on-time graduation is the second worst in New York State, with only 53.1 percent of high school students finishing on time.

Because seniority largely dictates who goes and who stays, newer teachers lost their jobs, while staff members at schools that closed were re-assigned to take the place of laid-off employees. Consequently, students will arrive to school to discover that familiar faces have been replaced.

At schools like Star Academy, whose student body includes immigrants, refugees and students who are homeless, this change can be devastating. Students lose not only their teachers but mentors and parent figures as well. Seniority and experience are important but so is familiarity and stability.

It is these schools – schools with special needs students, non-English speakers and students living below the poverty line, schools with graduation rates of less than 40 percent of their students – that urgently need to retain their staffs but instead, these faculties will experience the most turnover.

If the school district needs to save money so desperately, perhaps it should reconsider its hiring practices regarding district superintendents. The past two superintendents have left their posts early, costing the district $337,500 in severance pay.

The money the district paid two employees to quit their jobs could have kept teachers in the classroom instead.

With priorities like that, it’s no wonder that last year the number of Buffalo students who were deemed proficient in English and math was a paltry 33.6 percent.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com