CSEA leaders, Poughkeepsie community members call for halt to dangerous school district layoffs

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY (06/25/2015)(readMedia)-- CSEA union leaders, city leaders and community activists teamed up for a news conference Thursday where they called on Poughkeepsie City School District officials to reverse district cuts that will make district schools unsafe for students and staff.

The approved 2015-16 school budget cuts a total of nine district custodial and maintenance mechanic positions. With district custodial and maintenance crew already understaffed, the approved cuts slated to take effect July 1 will make it near impossible for remaining workers to properly service the district's aging buildings and create safe and sanitary conditions for students. These job cuts come despite district officials creating new administrative positions and recently moving forward with a raise for the superintendent of schools. Both union leaders and community activists called on district officials to use the $1 million in state bullet aid secured by Assemblyman Frank Skartados to restore these very necessary jobs.

"Every student has the right to attend school in a safe and sanitary setting, so Poughkeepsie residents should be outraged that district officials are creating new supervisory jobs while making such dangerous cuts elsewhere," said CSEA Southern Region President Billy Riccaldo, whose union represents the impacted workers. "It's astounding to see such misplaced priorities. Now is the time to restore these workers' jobs so they can do the essential summertime work that has allowed the district to keep many of these older school buildings open and viable for the student population. We thank Assemblyman Frank Skartados for securing state aid that will help sustain district finances this coming year."

Riccaldo noted that district custodial maintenance and custodial workers play a vital role in both physical safety, related to the integrity of district buildings, as well as public health. Workers strive to maintain the physical structures of the aging Poughkeepsie school buildings, some of which date back to the early 1900s. They also play a critical role in protecting students from contagious disease; when illnesses including the H1N1 virus and other flu strains hit, the custodial and maintenance workforce has worked diligently to prevent the spread of disease.

"Our workforce in Poughkeepsie has kept these schools running with a skeleton crew, but you can only make so many cuts before you are taking some serious risks with student safety," said CSEA Dutchess Education Local President Scott Rajczi, a maintenance mechanic in the Hyde Park School District. "Does the district really need two new assistant principals when these schools have already been neglected by decision makers? Does the superintendent of schools really need to pad her salary with a $20,000 raise when our students will have filthy bathrooms and leaking roofs? Poughkeepsie residents need to know that their children are being seriously shortchanged and they need to join us in fighting back."

CSEA-represented workers in the Poughkeepsie City School District play a vital, behind-the-scenes role in ensuring students attend school in a safe environment. Aside from day-to-day concerns, eliminating these jobs will cause hardship to parents this coming winter when schools lack the personnel needed to clear snow and the district may be forced to have unnecessary snow days.

"This is an outrage and a tremendous disservice to the health and safety of our children," said Poughkeepsie City Councilwoman ShaRon McClinton. "The support staff mandatory for the cleaning of our schools are being laid off, yet this district has hired administration staff. It is time for the citizens in this city to say, 'enough is enough.' We must tell the superintendent of schools that we will no longer accept this nonsense."

"The physical condition of school buildings and school grounds is an important factor in the overall safety and even health of students, staff, and visitors," said Dr. Felicia Watson, community member. "Studies have shown that student achievement can be positively or negatively affected by the physical school environment. It is imperative that every measure is taken to ensure the optimal maintenance and safety of the physical plant and grounds not solely to be in compliance with New York State Education Department regulations but equally important, to ensure the safety of any one who enters the building."