Short-Sightedness is Yet Another Union Blunder

City Hall and the teachers’ union worked together to avert catastrophic layoffs of teachers a few months ago. Too bad the union representing support staff in the schools couldn’t figure out a way to repeat that success.

As a result of District Council 37’s short-sightedness, some 672 people are out of work. They received layoff notices a few days ago. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott expressed his sorrow over the plight of the laid-off workers, but he made it clear that the union was not so sympathetic. Had its leaders tried harder to find other savings, the layoffs would not have been necessary.

The good news, if there is any, is that the jobs should not affect classroom instruction. Class sizes will not grow. Instructional aides will continue to lend an invaluable helping hand, especially for students with special needs.

The jobs that will be lost may have served a purpose, but they do not seem especially critical to learning and critical thinking. Positions such as “parent coordinator,” “family assistant” and “community associate” actually sound somewhat superfluous to the important work that takes place inside the classroom. One such worker told The New York Times that her job as a community associate was important because students “need people in their school building that look like them and identify with them from a positive standpoint.”

Perhaps there is evidence that student performance improves when children see adults in their schools who share their racial or ethnic background. But that argues for a more diverse teaching staff, not the creation of a new layer of support staff with hazy job descriptions.

Still, whatever the merits of these positions, those who held them would have continued to have them had their union been more flexible. The chancellor understands that sad fact. The union, of course, does not.