Defining the term “furlough”

The public hearings on the 2010-2011 school budgets begin tonight in Lowell. No one thinks that there is any way the schools will be able to get through the next fiscal year without massive cuts of programs, services and teachers. The last several years the budgets have been decreased and belt-tightening measures have been put in place. Optional services and programs have already been cut or consolidated so that, for this next massive round of cutting – or more accurately, unfunding – the cuts are to the bone. Teachers and paraprofessional staff  have been hearing about the possibility of job loss for the last month and now those murmurs are reality.

One idea being floated is the idea of teachers taking “furlough” days – unpaid leave. As you can imagine, the unthinking masses who hate spending a dime on educating “those people” are frothing at the thought of those “lazy teachers” who work only part of a full day (see my previous posting) earning less money.

Hold on here folks. If you assign a particular day to me as a “furlough” does that mean you expect me to still show up for work because that seems to be the popular belief?

When a public works employee takes a furlough day, he or she stays home and the work just does not get done. If I stay home from work, the plans for the day and the preparation to implement those plans, still get done – on my own time – and the City hires a sub at the tune of $75-$90 per day. The school day just doesn’t disappear because I’m present or not.  How is that a budget saver?

Here’s what I would be willing to do: I would be willing to work partial days at strategic times throughout the school year. For example, the first 3 days of school and/or the Friday before a vacation week. In return, the students would be dismissed at lunch time similar to what happens on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving break. The day would count as a school day so that would not impact the state’s requirement for 180 school days, the afternoon would be left to my discretion, and the City would not have to pay anyone for the balance of the day.

And in return? If I’m willing to reduce my pay and potentially impact my retirement, I’d like to see some of those 90 teaching positions restored. Our students get little enough without massively cutting technology teachers, music teachers, tutors, or paraprofessionals who are essential in helping teachers reach every student.

And if you have a better idea? Attend the budget meetings. Call your School Committee. Call the City Council. Our children’s futures depend on you.

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