Monday, May 27, 2024

The school district is sweetening its “early out” offers to clerks, including senior employees who are protesting passionately against being cut from the budget after years of service and, in some cases, with only months to go until retirement.

The School Committee announced the expanded, more generous buyout offers after an hourlong closed-door session at its Tuesday meeting. Some dozen clerks and Christine Colbath-Hess, president of the Cambridge Teachers Association union, stayed to hear the offer and left afterward with little comment.

Now payments for full-time workers can total $45,000 in three installments over two years, up from $30,000 over three years, read Mayor David Maher at the meeting in his role as leader of the committee, and the number of years needed to earn the package has been lowered to 15 from 20. The offers are still capped to 10 people, who must request them in irrevocable letters by Aug. 4.

Officials have been working “to expand and improve the buyout plan in hopes that if more people accept, it’ll mean we may not have to lay off anyone. There was a lot of concern that the plan we originally approved was not incentive enough,” said Marc McGovern, vice chairman of the committee.

If there must be layoffs, union seniority rules and the district’s compiling of a civil service list indicate actual layoffs would hit newer workers, not clerks with decades of service, but the clerks were not entirely mollified by the committee’s new offer.

Among School Committee business Tuesday was hearing about a June 4 fundraiser for a youth delegation fundraising for a charitable trip to Cambridge’s sister city in El Salvador. Schools there, such as the one pictured here, are in need of computer labs and other assistance. (Photo: Andrew Smith)

The problems began April 5, when the committee unanimously approved the district’s $137.5 budget, including a reorganization and restructuring that adds some services but calls for $4.7 million in cuts. The “early out” offers to avoid layoffs were to be offered to the most senior staff among those in the association’s Unit C, which represents clerical workers, or nonunion workers with at least 20 years in the district. Those who have worked the most years get the package of financial incentives first, including keeping retirement pay and benefits.

Other points the committee agreed to, although they are not officially part of the packages, include delaying the loss of positions due to restructuring until Sept. 1 and, in the meantime, ensuring workers have two hours off each week in which they can consult with financial planners.

Although the seven committee members voted unanimously for the motion Tuesday, it comes back for final adoption at their next meeting. In the meantime, the City Council considers the district budget Wednesday, and may hear again from clerks who were at the May 19 council meeting protesting the restructuring resulting in the elimination of their positions.

Committee members Fred Fantini and Patty Nolan were also there, with Fantini urging councillors to intervene to prevent layoffs and Nolan noting that, legally, they cannot interfere in the details of the schools budget.

But there was something councillors could do: work with school officials to find other roles in the city for senior clerical workers nearing retirement. Marjorie Decker and Tim Toomey are leading that effort from the council side.

“I’ve been working very hard behind the scenes with the mayor, superintendent, councillor Decker, councillor Toomey, the city manager and others to try and come up with a resolution that allows the superintendent’s plan to move forward but does so in a way that has the least amount of negative impact on the employees,” McGovern said.

In other action, the committee agreed unanimously not to take part in the Statewide School Choice Program, citing how it would complicate the district’s own controlled-choice program for how officials and parents select schools for students. The council takes this vote each year.

The committee also heard from some of the students preparing for next month’s 10-day trip to Cambridge’s sister city in El Salvador, San Jose Las Flores. The City Links/CRLS Youth to Youth Delegation plans to help build a computer lab and work elsewhere in the village but has only about half the $10,000 needed.

A fundraiser is planned for 6:30 to 8 p.m. June 4 at the Senior Center in Central Square at 806 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge. For information, call (617) 899-4990.