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Layoffs hit Wyandanch school district

Wyandanch board meets at the Wyandanch school administration

Wyandanch board meets at the Wyandanch school administration building amid controversy over contingency budget; state-appointed monitor. President James Crawford speaks during the board meeting. Credit: Anthony J. Causi/Anthony J. Causi

The cash-strapped Wyandanch school district confirmed late Friday that scores of teachers, administrators, security guards, bus drivers and other workers are being laid off as the system prepares to deal with a tax freeze and nearly $9 million in potential budget cuts.

Tearful school staffers and others told Newsday earlier in the day that they were notified of the job reductions during a morning meeting at LaFrancis Hardiman Elementary School. A school spokesman, Nathan Jackson, confirmed the layoffs later. 

On Monday, a divided Wyandanch school board put the district on a bare-bones $69 million contingency budget for the 2019-20 academic year, which starts Monday. School calendars statewide begin July 1.

At recent board meetings, district administrators have issued contradictory statements on cost-cutting plans, and this week was no exception. This past Monday, Superintendent Mary Jones said cuts would include layoffs of 15 teachers. At an earlier meeting, she had said some full-time teacher assistants would be demoted to aides or placed on part-time schedules.

On Friday, however, Jackson said the cuts would include 30 teachers, four administrators, 14 bus drivers and 12 bus monitors. He added that "restructuring" also would affect 46 teacher assistants and aides, but added it was not yet clear what exactly would happen to those positions.

"It breaks everyone's heart, and we're going to do everything we can do to bring people back as fast as possible," Jackson said in a phone interview. 

One worker who faced imminent layoff Friday was Robert Bryant, a security staffer and union representative, who has worked in Wyandanch for 13 years. Bryant told Newsday that he decided to retire in order to retain his medical insurance coverage.

"It's not a good feeling, especially when you're at the age point I am," said Bryant, who turns 60 in February. "You have bills to pay. I have heart issues. I can't collect unemployment, because if I do, I lose out on my benefits. It's in God's hands. Nothing else I could possibly do." 

Bryant, who works a second job at night, said it appeared that about 22 security and transportation employees would lose employment. 

"It's terrible, man," said Tom Walsh, union vice president of the Wyandanch Teacher Assistants Association. "The economy's moving forward, the stock market's up, and we're moving backward. You put everything in, and then they ruin it in one year." 

Walsh said details of job reductions affecting his co-workers still are being worked out.  

Wyandanch's slide to austerity came after local voters decisively rejected two cap-busting budgets in May and June — the first with a projected tax hike of more than 40 percent, the second with an increase of 20 percent. The state's tax-cap law, which took effect in 2012-13, clamps strict fiscal controls on districts that fail to override caps with voter supermajorities of at least 60 percent. 

The 2,800-student district is the first in the western part of Long Island to feel the full impact of cap-law penalties. The system is the poorest in Suffolk County in terms of taxable income and real estate property.

Many residents, upset by frequent reports of fiscal mismanagement, have voiced hope that the state will step in and help straighten out the mess. Before the legislative session adjourned, lawmakers voted June 21 for a measure that would provide a state-appointed monitor in the district. Whether that legislation will be signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and funded by legislators remains a question mark.

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