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Lawrence school district lays off, furloughs 108 employees

Lawrence school district's Broadway campus at Lawrence Middle

Lawrence school district's Broadway campus at Lawrence Middle School. Union representatives at the state level warned that potential cuts could "devastate" schools, unless federal authorities provide additional relief money. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Lawrence school officials, citing “the adverse economic impact” of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Tuesday that the district has furloughed or laid off 108 employees.

Superintendent Ann Pedersen, in a letter to employees affected, thanked them for “continued professionalism and patience during these difficult circumstances.” Pederson added that those workers had been paid through April 15 and that medical and dental insurance would be covered through the end of this month.

Meanwhile, teacher union representatives at the state level warned of potential cuts that could “devastate” schools and colleges, unless federal authorities provide additional relief money now being negotiated in Washington. Lawrence’s layoffs represent the largest loss of regular school jobs in the Long Island region, since districts began shuttering their doors as a health precaution March 10.

Pedersen informed Newsday via email that layoffs and furloughs affected 81 part-time hourly workers and 27 full-time employees. The schools chief added that 10 part-timers and 17 full-timers had carried health insurance, and were eligible for COBRA extensions that are paid by workers themselves.

Ben Carenza, an official of Local 237 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents the impacted workers, was quoted in a recent edition of the Long Island Herald newspaper as calling the job losses “heartless” acts affecting some staffers with 30-plus years’ experience in the district. Pedersen did not respond to Carenza’s remarks in her message exchanges with Newsday.

In an April 8 letter to affected workers, Pedersen wrote in part:

“Based on the adverse economic impact and curtailment of activities resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, I regret to inform you that during a special meeting held on April 6, 2020, the Board of Education authorized and directed the layoff of all positions within your department, effective April 15, 2020.”

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As of the moment, Lawrence and most other districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties are due small increases in state financial aid during the 2020-21 school year, under a budget approved by Albany lawmakers earlier this month. However, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is authorized to cut aid if federal and state revenues fall short of expectations, and the first effects of any such reductions could be felt around mid-May.

Andy Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers union, issued a statement Tuesday contending, “Cuts will devastate schools and colleges that already had growing lists of needs before the floor dropped out from the economy.”

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