Philadelphia lays off teacher aides

The Philadelphia School District sent out layoff notices this week to 53 teacher assistants and other aides, raising the ire of their union.

Thirteen of the positions are for non-teaching assistants who help to maintain order in the hallways, among other tasks,  and the 40 others are teacher assistants with varying jobs.

"These were due to budget decisions at the school level," district spokeswoman Barbara Farley said today.

In Philadelphia, principals are allotted budgets and are granted some leeway in how to spend the money.

Farley said that the layoffs were not part of the district's efforts to erase a remaining $20 million deficit in its $2.18 billion budget.

The district's enrollment is expected to dip by about 8,000 students this school year, but Farley could not say how many of the layoffs are due to a reduced enrollment and how many are because the schools "felt they wanted to use their money differently." Some schools may have found other ways to deal with the tasks performed by the assistants, she said.

District officials, who expect to open schools with about 166,000 students on Sept. 10, also had no information yesterday on how many schools were affected or how much money the layoffs would save.

This week's layoffs raise the total number of laid-off assistants and aides this summer to 129, district officials said.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the layoffs would mean fewer adults in the schools and more chance of disruption.

"With the loss of the NTAs, we're ripe for some very, very serious problems in the area of school safety," Jordan said. "These are the people who help to inform school personnel that there's going to be a fight after school or there's going to be a problem in the lunchroom."

The teachers union also expressed concerns this week about teacher vacancies.

"The way you open your building, that sets a tone," Jordan said. "With the lack of the appropriate number of teachers and the elimination of support staff, we've got some real concerns."

As of today, the district had 121 vacancies, down from 134 last year, said Shawn Crowder, senior vice president of human resources.

Special education, math and science are among the areas short of teachers, she said.

The district expects to start school with about 60 vacancies, she said. Last year, school opened with 43 vacancies.

The human resources office will be working through the week, including tomorrow, to get as many new teachers as possible ready to go into the classroom, she said.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or