Update on school secretaries – still endangered

City Hall watchers know that the Board of Supervisors has been trying to reverse the layoffs of scores of workers in the City’s Department of Public Health; layoffs that directly affect school district workers because of “bumping” policies that allow workers in certain Civil Service job classifications to bump into jobs either in the school district or in the City.

Unfortunately, the legislation that would have restored the Public Health jobs failed to get the required eight votes yesterday (voting against were Supervisors Alioto-Pier, Chu, Elsbernd, and Maxwell). The Chronicle reports, however, that the legislation could go back to committee for changes, allowing the authors to try again for an eight-vote majority at some later date. Time’s a wasting, however — the first layoffs go into effect as early as next week.

As I said, I’m sorry the jobs were not saved, because that would have given our workers some peace of mind. But I also think this would have been at best a temporary solution — there’s no guarantee our secretaries and other workers wouldn’t get bumped out of their jobs again later. The real solution — the one no one at the City seems to want to talk about — is that we need to get real about Civil Service job classifications for school district jobs. In no reality-based universe is the job description for a school secretary the same as a clerk in the Department of Public Health — however wonderful and hard-working. Being a school secretary requires specialized knowledge of how the school district works, including budgeting and staffing mechanisms; and in many case bilingual skills so that this essential “face” of our school office can easily communicate with parents. You don’t even have to take my word for it: ask the principals, teachers, students and parents who have been coming to City Hall in droves and writing impassioned letters to their elected officials in order to make the same point.


3 responses to “Update on school secretaries – still endangered

  1. Rachel, exactly what individuals would need to sign that agreement?

    We are a labor family, but my view is that this situation is ANTI-labor. When the seniority system is based on such a huge pool, the jobs of too many individuals are not secure. That doesn’t benefit the worker.

    The labor movement has based much of its achievement on strong social disapproval — I had my now-15-year-old on my back as a baby on the picket line in the 1994 newspaper strike, and I joked that her first word would be SCAAAB! A current Chronicle reporter got her job by crossing that picket line, and for some years post-strike, the elevator would empty out when she got in.

    Well, I hate to say it, but it may take that. It is not moral to take someone’s job like that, especially in a way that disrupts the lives of children.

  2. Thanks for writing to the Mayor, although from today’s article in the Chronicle it seems that he is pretty set on the current course. I still keep wondering why no one wants to acknowledge that we could save the school secretaries with the stroke of a pen – if the Civil Service Commission and the City’s HR Department would agree that the position of school secretary is a unique function in the school district, with no easily identifiable counterpart across the street in the City. As you probably know, the school district went to court to argue this fact, but we lost (there are a few legal options left, and we are pursuing them, but nothing that will happen in time to save Ms. Lau’s job). Now, its up to parents and community members to turn up the political pressure.

  3. Here’s what I wrote to the mayor:

    Dear Mayor Newsom,

    It is with a heavy heart I write to you imploring you to spare Midie Lau, Monroe Elementary School secretary, from being replaced on December 1.

    I am sure you are familiar with the DPW layoffs and SEIU “bumping” that has led to Midie and many of her colleagues facing unemployment.

    What you may not know is that Midie is the warm face who welcomes students and parents into our polyglot gem of a school. She is the only staff member outside the classroom who can speak to our monolingual Cantonese parents in their own language. They number 30% of our community. Her kindness and generosity are equally apparent to our Spanish and English speakers.

    Our principal Jennifer Steiner is beloved and widely praised for her energy, for the long hours she puts in at our school and for the remarkable academic improvements that have taken place among our socioeconomically disadvantaged and non-English-speaking student body. But wonderful as Jennifer is, I know she could not have made these achievements without Midie’s steadfast help and support.

    My daughter is a student in first grade at Monroe, and her younger sister hopes to start kindergarten there in September. Like every other parent there I want our neighbourhood gem of a school to continue to be an oasis of peace and learning in the Excelsior.

    Midie’s loss will deal a grave blow to those hopes.

    I beg you to do whatever is in your power to keep Midie at Monroe where she belongs.

    Rachel Chalmers