When the students of Middle School 571 and Public School 9 on Underhill Avenue in Brooklyn arrived for classes Tuesday morning, they were greeted by a couple dozen adults who bid them a good morning, mixed in with chants of "Save school aides, now''
Because of budget cuts, the city announced last month that it planned to lay off nearly 780 employees of the New York City Education Department by October. The workers, which include parent and community coordinators, family workers and school aides, are mostly represented by District Council 37's Local 372, which organized Tuesday's rally in Brooklyn.
Local 372 has organized the demonstrations as it continues to negotiate with the Department of Education over the possible cutbacks.
“Good morning, babies,” Valeria Chapple, a school aide at M.S. 571 and P.S. 9 for 17 years, called to incoming students. “We get here early and do what we have to do. We work for the children and we work for the parents.”
Ms. Chapple said she arrives at her job around 6:30 a.m., four hours before her shift begins, because she wants to get ready for the students. Her own children attended P.S. 9 when they were younger, and now she has a nephew who is a student at the school, she said.
“We are the lowest paid and sometimes called maids,” said Ms. Chapple, 57, from Bedford-Stuyvesant. “And they are going to cut us? That’s not right.”
Santos Crespo, the president of Local 372, was the first to arrive at the protest at 8 a.m. and said the community would suffer if school aides were dismissed.
“Even before kids get into the classroom, our people are getting them ready,” Mr. Crespo said. “The loss of those folks from there is going to have a real serious impact on getting them learning ready.”
Councilwoman Letitia James also greeted students and parents, and stressed the importance of keeping the school aides employed.
“School aides are obviously key and critical to the whole education system,” Ms. James said. “I believe the mayor of the City of New York can find some savings so that they can keep their jobs.”
Despite the possibility that Ms. Chapple could be unemployed next month, she vowed to continue volunteering at M.S. 571 and P.S. 9.
“They look for us in the morning,” Ms. Chapple said. “If they didn’t give their parents a hug, I can give them a hug in the morning.”
In Manhattan, at another planned rally, Glen Blacks, the executive vice president of Local 372, and Marva Lewis-Bradford, the director of District Council 37 schools division, shared similar thoughts about the possible layoffs in their neighborhoods.
“It’s a double hit for this type of community,” Mr. Blacks said. “If you don’t have school aides to help and participate and provide guidance, then I think there’s a devastating effect to the community.”
Ms. Lewis-Bradford and Mr. Blacks stood across the street from Percy Sutton Education Complex at noon, but the rally that had been planned there was postponed after Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who was to meet with them, was asked to help with an accident nearby. A building scaffold collapsed onto a city bus at West 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem around 9:25 a.m. Tuesday.
“We are going to reschedule,” Mr. Blacks said, as a light rain began to fall. “But we are still going to speak to people in the community -- drumming up support and do the best we can.”