Dayton school board postpones further layoffs

Dayton’s school board postponed further layoffs Thursday night in a wild meeting that featured a chanting, standing-room crowd, and the mid-meeting departure of the board president.

After a 98-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues, the board returned without board president Adil Baguirov and voted to delay scheduled layoffs and position abolishments until a Dec. 6 meeting.

Board member John McManus was voted president pro tem of the board and McManus made the motion to postpone the layoffs, to loud cheers from the crowd.

“We owe it to you to get this absolutely right. It shouldn’t be rushed,” McManus said.

Reached by text message about an hour later, Baguirov said he supports the board’s decision and had to leave for a personal reason.

The school board already voted to lay off 19 central office personnel last week. It was scheduled to vote on numerous other layoffs Thursday to classroom aides, building trades employees, clerical workers and a few teachers. Included would have been numerous employees switching to other positions to avoid layoff.

The vote to postpone the layoffs was unanimous, 5-0, with Baguirov and Hazel Rountree not present.

Board member Ron Lee said Dayton Public Schools still needs to right-size the district staff.

“The board wants to do that correctly,” Lee said. “It is something that has to be done for the betterment of the district, but we have to make sure we’re doing it correctly.”

The displacement letters that the district sent out in recent weeks said the cuts slated for Thursday’s vote would have been effective in a matter of days. Those moves are now on hold. Teachers union president David Romick said he was not sure what Thursday night’s vote would mean for teachers who had already switched classrooms as part of the downsizing.

Dozens of parents, DPS employees, union representatives and students addressed the board after the announcement, ranging from thankful, to confused, to angry at what they called a lack of planning.

Jim Tackett, who represents paraprofessionals, clerical employees and others with the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, took the board to task. He said the weeks of displacement letters, staff switches and confusion about which positions are available to switch into continues to be disruptive.

“There was no planning. This was slapped together so terribly,” Tackett said. “There are four board members up for election in 2017, and if you guys want to make a difference, you vote these people off if they vote for these cuts Dec. 6.”

Zakiya Jabar, who leads the Racial Justice Now parent group, was one of several speakers who asked why the cuts were planned in the middle of a school year, creating a significant impact on students.

Many speakers complained to the board about a lack of clear communication in explaining the reasons for the cuts, how the process would happen and the financial picture behind them.

“It gave the appearance that no one was in control,” community leader Darryl Fairchild said. “We need more confidence in you, and we want that, but right now we don’t have it. … Before you make a decision, there needs to be a clear plan.”

Several Dunbar students passionately asked the board to bring back the school’s early college coordinator, Dwon Bush, who was laid off last week. She oversaw the process of students taking college classes at Sinclair, and her departure left them asking what would happen next.

Jamont Mathews talked about how Bush encouraged him when he was struggling, helping him succeed to the point where he’s been accepted to Tuskegee University.

“You don’t know what I’ve been through,” Mathews said, breaking down in tears. “Don’t take this away from me.”

After more than two hours of public comment from about 50 people, the school board approved a large set of personnel actions, but skipped the 41 teachers, aides, mental health technicians, plus clerical, building trades and operations employees who were going to be laid off, demoted or knocked down to substitutes. Those positions were spared, at least until Dec. 6.

Human resources director Judith Spurlock said the status of the 19 central office employees who were laid off last week will not change. Teachers who accepted transfers in recent weeks to avoid layoff will remain in their new roles. Other staffers were expecting to switch next week, and it’s not clear whether some of them will still do so.

Several board members thanked the hundreds of residents and employees who came out, and the dozens who shared their concerns.

Dayton school board meetings often do not fill the first half of the board room, but close to 300 people came to this meeting, filling every seat in both rooms, with dozens of others standing along the walls.

When the school board’s private executive session approached 90 minutes, the impatient crowd started chanting, “Come on out, come on out!”

During the public comment period, McManus had to ask the boisterous crowd to quiet down so board members could hear.

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