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Notes from City Hall budget hearing

(Updated below with hearing vote, clarifying details)
Today I attended the Budget Committee hearing at City Hall to speak in favor of a resolution that would restore eliminated jobs in the Department of Public Health, and therefore keep a number of essential school secretaries from being bumped.  What I learned from listening to the questions and commentary from Supervisors, budget and Mayor’s office staff was that there is an unexpected surplus in the Department of Public Health budget that could be used to restore positions. Ben Rosenfield, the City’s Controller, testified that there still may be shortfalls in other departments, and cautioned against using a larger-than-expected revenue figure in one department as a justification for restoring spending cuts in that department.

There was also a little drama when Supervisor Campos reported that he’d been prevented from subbing for Supervisor Mirkarimi as a member of the Budget Committee,  a substitution that requires the signature of the President of the Board of Supervisors. However, an observer later reported that it was all a misunderstanding that was sorted out later in the meeting, and that Supervisor Campos was ultimately allowed to vote in Supervisor Mirkarimi’s place.

The City’s head of Human Resources, Micki Callahan, testified that the City is not convinced that many employees will bump into positions at the school district, since those positions are paid at a lower level than their City jobs (I was somewhat confused by this, because the Chronicle reported this morning that the school district would have to pay larger City salaries of City employees who bumped into school district positions, but according to testimony from Ms. Callahan and Steve Kawa, the Mayor’s chief of staff, this is not the case. I’ll have to investigate further.)

The hearing lasted several hours, and I had to leave before I had an opportunity to testify. I’m guessing, though I am not positive, that the Budget committee voted to restore the positions, but I’m not sure what comes next. I’ll report as soon as I have definite information. In the meantime, here’s the statement I intended to deliver during public comment:

Good afternoon Supervisors.  If the principal is the head of a school, the secretary is the heart of the school office, supporting staff, parents and children. They welcome visitors, answer phones, translate for parents who don’t speak English, comfort sick children and administer Band-Aids or ice packs, sort the mail, handle essential paperwork for school staff and generally keep schools running from day to day.

I am grateful to Supervisor Daly for bringing for this resolution and seeking to restore City positions that would in turn restore employment to school district workers. This resolution will certainly bring relief to workers who have been in imminent danger of being bumped out of their jobs.

However, I would be remiss if  I did not point out that this is, at best, a temporary fix. There is no guarantee that essential school district employees won’t be bumped in the future, and I believe we must give some consideration to the idea that the work of the school district is fundamentally different from the work of the City. I will grant that some jobs are the same, whether they are performed on one side of Van Ness or another, but others are not.  Without taking anything away from the important work of a clerk who works in the Department of Public Health, school secretaries perform work that is fundamentally unique to a school environment.

I strongly urge that the two entities, the City and the School District, work together on creating school district-only job classifications for many of these positions. This work would save school district jobs, and put an end to the current spectacle that is pitting our two institutions against each other.

UPDATE: The Chronicle reports that the Budget committee voted 2-1 to pass the proposal that would restore 150 City jobs. The proposal now moves to the full Board. I also asked why the school district says that employees who bump into our positions will cost us more, when the City says they will not. According to school district officials, City employees will come with increased benefits costs, so accepting bumped City employees in place of school district employees will result in increased salary and benefits cost to the school district.

Save our secretaries! City layoffs endanger school workers

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.

secretary rally

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