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.
If the principal is the head of a school, the secretary is the heart of the school office. Secretaries welcome visitors, answer phones, translate for parents, hand out band-aids and ice packs, comfort sick children waiting for their parents to pick them up, sort mail, handle essential paperwork for the principal and other school staff, and generally keep the school running from day to day. At my daughter’s elementary school, “Ms. Grace” greets children and parents with a warm smile and a “Hello darling!”; when the playground felt too chaotic she would let my oldest “visit” and bang on her typewriter.
But some of our school secretaries are in danger of being bumped out of their jobs by more senior City workers who have been laid off by their departments as part of the City budget crisis. For almost a century, certain public jobs in San Francisco have been governed by the Civil Service System, a system of complex rules and job classifications intended to make the hiring, seniority and layoffs of government positions work in an orderly way. There are arguments in favor of the Civil Service rules, including the fact that having these objective rules allowed women and people of color to advance into positions offering them secure futures and a living wage.
However, even though the school district is a state agency, we are considered to be a city department by the City’s Human Resources department, and some (but by no means all) of our jobs are considered interchangeable with other City positions (the history and reasons behind this are too complex to go into here, even if I were able to fully explain them). When layoffs happen, either in the school district or in the City, laid off workers may use their seniority to “bump” less senior employees from their positions. This year, the City laid off a number of clerical workers, but the school district did not. Now, more senior “Clerk/Typists” who lost their City jobs are bumping into our school secretary positions (the duties and requirements of both positions are considered to be equivalent by the Civil Service Commission). Some of those secretaries may be able to “bump” less senior City or school district workers and stay employed, but the end result will still be devastating, because schools will lose their beloved secretaries and at least some less senior school district employees will lose their jobs — even though we did not lay them off.