Teachers union responds to beginning of layoff recalls



Members of the BEU, BSC and BPO met over Zoom on June 7 to discuss the coming school year and the issuing of RIFs to paraprofessionals in the district.

Representatives from the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) came together at 7 p.m. on June 7 to discuss the state of the town’s paraprofessionals, details about the lowering budget deficit, interactions with the School Committee and plans for the upcoming school year. The meeting was sponsored by the Brookline Parents Organization (BPO), which helps parents receive a voice in factors with the Public Schools of Brookline. The meeting featured members of the BEU and was moderated by WBUR reporter and Brookline resident Meghna Chakrabarti.

Recently, the Brookline School Committee (BSC) rejected Interim Superintendent Ben Lummis’ proposed budget plan that called for the elimination of 30.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions for the district. The BSC instead voted to eliminate teachers’ 2 percent universal wages increase for next year and borrow $2.2 million from the town.

While many teachers from the BEU have spoken out against the BSC because of the recent reduction-in-force notices (RIFs, or pink slips), paraprofessionals have not yet been heard, as the BSC does not have to let them know until June 15, which is the deadline for them to issue RIFs.

Wendy MacMillian, a member of the BEU and former paraprofessional herself, mentioned the devastating impacts the RIFs could pose in the upcoming days.

“On June 15, we suspect the majority, if not all, of the paraprofessionals will be receiving their pink slips. We have been told prior to the Thursday meeting that all of the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP) paraprofessionals will be laid off,” MacMillian said. “I think it is hard to estimate the distress of many of the potentially impacted paraprofessionals, who make low wages of about $23,000 – $24,000 [annually] and have already lost their other jobs during this pandemic.”

Jason Montrose, a Special Education teacher in the BEU, said his department would suffer from the reduction in Brookline paraprofessionals.

“Especially for the special education department, those relationships [between students and paraprofessionals] are essential. Our department relies heavily on our paraprofessionals, and the upcoming plans for the district would worsen the situation,” Montrose said.

Many BEU representatives stressed the lack of transparency between the union and the BSC. Jessica Wender-Shubow, the President of the BEU, described her frustrating interactions with the BSC.

“When we asked for budgetary details from the School Committee, we only received partial explanations and received them late. We are actively meeting with some of the town and School Committee leaders this coming Tuesday, and we will have to ask for details directly,” Wender-Shubow said.

Recently, the town stated the original budget shortfall of $6.3 million has now been reduced to $500,000 due to BSC decisions. According to Wender-Shubow, this rapid closing of the budget gap demonstrates how the BSC was overly impulsive in issuing RIFs.

“The fact that they went from a $6.3 million deficit to a $4.4 million to $500,000 is disturbing. It is disturbing there were $26 million––as best we can estimate––in layoffs and then in the course of six days, [the budget deficit] has been disappearing,” Wender-Shubow said.

Brookline has recently created an interim committee to help navigate the town’s budget shortfall, which has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bob Miller, Vice President of the BEU, said he is concerned that the BEU would not be adequately represented in the committee.

“The committee wanted three representatives to voice the opinion of the BEU. The BEU has over 1,200 members, so there is no way, even with our current forms of communication, that those three people could satisfy and explain the needs of all our members,” Miller said.

After briefly discussing the state of the district’s paraprofessionals and interim committee, Chakrabarti posed a few questions regarding the layoffs and wage freezes some teachers may face in the upcoming months. Wender-Shubow said she is hesitant about freezing teachers’ 2 percent wage increases.

“There was dialogue{between the BEU and the BSC}, but we did not believe it was fair for us to have wage freezes until we completely understood what the School Committee was doing and what their further intentions are,” Wender-Shubow said.

To conclude the conversation, Chakrabarti asked about the union’s predictions for how the Brookline Public Schools will operate during the 2020-2021 school year. Miller said it is important for teachers to receive contracts or some form of job security before the fall semester.

“For the next school year, the next steps for the BEU are getting a new contract from the town for job security and making sure the environment of classrooms, and all of the schools in the district, is okay from the student perspective,” Miller said.