City school teachers in layoff limbo | WYPR

City school teachers in layoff limbo

Jun 28, 2017

Samantha Bookman

Earlier this month, Baltimore City Schools laid off 115 people to help plug a looming budget gap. But at the same time the school system was trying to fill 200 vacancies.

And that has left teachers and their representatives in layoff limbo.

"It’s just a mystery to me why you can’t find a place for these people," fumed Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teacher’s Union.

She said school officials could have moved employees who were being laid off into those vacant positions.

But DeRay McKesson, city schools Human Capital Officer, said that wasn’t possible. The people who were laid off were only certified to teach one course, he explained.

"Like home ec. If you were a home ec teacher and the position got cut, we don’t offer home ec as one of our course offerings anymore."

The teachers who were laid off "don’t hold certifications in the areas we’re hiring for today," McKesson said.

He said the vacancies are mostly for math, special education and elementary school teachers. And most of those who were laid off were librarians or guidance counselors.

Samantha Bookman is one of those guidance counselors. She started a step team at Roland Park Middle School where nearly 100 girls took part last year.

"I love girls and I feel like there's not enough focus on our girls," she said. "And that’s kinda what we do. We just give them opportunities to perform, get them excited about it, and then give them that little carrot, if your grades aren't good, you can't perform."

School officials said in January they might have to lay off 1,000 because of a $130 million budget gap, but later state and city officials came up with money to partially close that hole. And Bookman says she felt pretty safe.

But then came June the first. She got her notice.

"It was like 1 o’clock in the afternoon," she recalled. "Right dead in the middle of your day, like here you go."

She says the kids took it hard.

"There was a lot of tears, there was a lot questions, there was a lot of ‘I don't understand,'" she said. "They actually started a petition, you know, 'Save Ms. Bookman's job!' So that was sweet."

But chances of returning to a school job depend on someone else retiring, resigning, or taking a different type of position in the district. School officials say most of that shuffling will have settled by mid-summer.

Meanwhile, Bookman is seeking grants to at least keep her after school program alive, even if she no longer works for the school system. But she hasn’t given up hope on getting a job.

"I don't know if it's denial or not," she said. "But a lot of people are like well maybe you'll get recalled, you know, and so in the back of my mind, I'm like maybe I'll still be there."

But for now, Bookman and 114 others like her remain in limbo.

Education reporting on WYPR is supported in part by the Sylvan-Laureate Foundation