Will employees take a pay freeze in Syracuse city schools to save jobs?

T he superintendent of the Syracuse city school district is pushing the proposal for a pay freeze district-wide to save jobs.

On Wednesday night the school board passed a $331 million budget. It includes cutting 583 jobs. As part of an incentive, 155 people will retiring. To save jobs more than 400 jobs, Superintendent Dan Lowengard wants the 4-thousand employees in the district to take a one year pay freeze. Lowengard says administrators have said they would agree to that. Lowengard will be retiring in June.

"We could be looking at almost 450 layoffs which would be awful," Lowengard said. "It would be tragic economically for this community. It would be tragic for our schools and so as I've said this is a last resort kind of thing, we have to ask our employees to help."

Lowengard brought up this proposal last year but the unions did not agree to it. He says he's more "optimistic" this year because last year they asked late and other districts in Central New York are taking pay freezes this year. He says even if employees agree to the freeze it doesn't mean there won't be layoffs, but there wouldn't be as many.

Syracuse Teachers Association represents 34-hundred employees in the district. Kevin Ahern, the president, says they understand the district's financial situation.

"With regard to our contract, we are not opposed to having conversations about it," Ahern said. "We are not necessarily opposed to doing something with the contract, what that ends up looking like is yet to be determined."

Two of the bargaining units have one more year on their contract. For two others, the contract is up in June.

"We are hoping to, rather than negotiate this publicly, have some collaborative conversations to see what we may or may not do," Ahern said.

When asked if it was something the STA was open to, Ahern responded, "We're open to whatever will be best for the district, our members and the kids."

Lowengard says pink slips will be going out next week. If jobs are saved, he says the notices will be rescinded.

The district still does not know how much funding will be coming from New York State. The state, however, is facing a $10-billion deficit and Governor Cuomo's proposed budget calls for cuts in education aid.