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Parents and DOE reach tentative deal on parent-paid aides

Parent-paid teaching assistants may be able to keep their jobs for at least another year under a tentative agreement reached today by parents and city officials.

The proposed solution came from schools chancellor Joel Klein, who recommended that teaching assistants who are hired and paid for by parent associations be renamed “substitute school aides.” Though the change appears to be cosmetic, the new job title allows parents to bypass the citywide hiring freeze and retain their current employees at a similar salary to what they’ve paid for years.

According to Department of Education officials, calling parent-paid support staff “substitute school aides,” would allow them to work under D.C. 37 union rules, rather than those of the teachers union (though they would not be D.C. 37 members). Under the D.C. 37 contract, substitute school aides are paid about $12 per hour and are not given benefits — conditions that mirror their current work situation. Parent associations can pay them throughout the year, rather than having to collect all the money before school starts, as some had worried. Were these employees to become members of the teachers union, they would have to be paid significantly more and receive benefits, which few parent associations say they can afford to offer.

Previously, these employees were vetted and hired by parent associations to serve as recess aides, clerical workers, and teaching assistants. They were not affiliated with any union. After the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, complained that city schools were employing non-UFT workers for UFT jobs, the DOE said it would crackdown on the practice.

One thing working in the PTA’s favor is that the job title, “substitute school aide,” is already being used in some schools, although DOE officials could not say how widely.

The tentative agreement, reached during a meeting today at Tweed Courthouse which Klein, UFT president Michael Mulgrew, elected officials and parents attended, is not a sure bet. D.C. 37 officials were not present at the meeting and have yet to agree to go along with the plan.

It may be a tough sell. Today, the DOE released the number of teachers and administrative staff who have been “excessed” this year, meaning that they have lost their jobs and are looking for work within the school system. According to the department’s numbers, 900 school support staff employees have been excessed, among them many substitute school aides. Currently, there are only 100 vacancies for these positions in the city. With hundreds of its own members already looking for jobs, it could be difficult for D.C. 37 to allow these employees to work under its job title, but not hold union membership.

“Everyone in the room felt very positive about the chances of having supplemental assistants or whatever specific title they will have, in the classroom this fall,” said City Councilman Daniel Garodnick. “But again we did not finalize it today,” he cautioned.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the UFT said this wasn’t a long term solution. “We will be exploring ways to develop some apprenticeship or internship program so these teaching assistants can eventually become teachers,” he said. As for support staff who do clerical work and are not on the teaching track, “That’s something we’re going to have to work out,” he said.

“I think everybody’s happy with this short term solution,” said Jennifer Noban, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Lillie Devereaux Blake School (P.S. 6), who attended the meeting today. Noban said her school had 17 parent-paid aides.

D.C. 37 officials could not be reached for comment this evening.

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