Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Praying for Alice

A woman I'll call Alice is a school aide at my school. Alice is pretty much one of my favorite people that I work with. Knowing that we teachers are occasionally a teeny bit backed up and sometimes we need things yesterday, Alice can pretty much always make an emergency run to the supply closet for you or escort a sick or wildin' out child to a quiet space. Teachers here have been known to help her elementary-age kids start their homework while Alice finishes running attendance or numbering new textbooks. We love Alice and Alice loves us.

Unfortunately, as many as 800 school aides are facing layoffs later this fall, Alice among them. And unluckily for Alice, she's dealing with health issues in her family from both the previous generation and the next, as both her mother and her son have been hospitalized in the past month. Her ex-husband is extremely slow about paying child support. Her school aide job is just about holding things together for her family, and in a few weeks, they won't have that income (or health insurance) to count on, either.

I have to admit that I don't know a lot about the labor or financial situation behind the school aide layoffs, though I can tell you for certain that Alice earns her paycheck and then some. She's hardly inessential staff around here. Our principal has been attempting some budget maneuvering to keep her on, but it seems that, with a citywide layoff happening, there isn't much he can do.

I don't know what it proves or even how much money it could save to lay off the school aides, who are making less than $30,000 a year for what is often difficult and thankless work. Teachers and administrators can't function without efficient and attentive school aides. They form relationships with the students that can succeed when others fail, so the loss of school aides also represents the loss of more caring, trustworthy adults with whom students can work. Not to mention the high personal cost of a layoff to an individual and a family, a cost that may prove to be disastrous in Alice's case.

Alice told me yesterday that she's not hopeful about the ongoing negotiations with the city. "I'm praying," she said.
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