Contract: Furloughed York City school employees get first refusal for jobs

William Penn Senior High School, or York High, in York City, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York City's school board on Wednesday approved a new union contract providing accommodations for furloughed employees, such as priority hiring for open positions and substitute teaching jobs.

The one-year collective bargaining agreement was agreed to in July by the York City Education Association and district officials and came before the school board Wednesday for final approval.

An addendum to the contract includes a memorandum of understanding that provides relief for dozens of York City School District employees who were laid off or furloughed since the district's budget cuts back in June.

"With everything taken into consideration, I think that it was a fair deal," said YCEA President Jeff Werner, when reached Wednesday. 

Teachers from the art, music, Spanish and physical education departments that were cut in June — and from several programs that were eliminated entirely — are subject to an MOU that will lessen the impact of those changes.

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For example, the district must transfer employees with dual or multiple certifications into open positions for which they are certified so furloughed employees can fill the vacancies created by the shift, according to the agreement.

Temporary professional employees will be given some of the same job protections as regular professional employees under the deal.

Furloughed employees will also have the first opportunity to fill vacant positions or new positions for which they are certified, and they will have first priority to be hired as subs.

If they are recalled  to their jobs within a year, it will not count against their seniority, and the district also cannot contest any employee compensation claims.

"The district had issues with their budgets even before the pandemic," Werner said, referring to the more than $6 million in spending the district had covered with its fund balance in 2019-20 to sustain its financial recovery plan.

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That amount had to be sustained the following year as well, but in order to make progress toward exiting its state-issued recovery status,  the district would have to use no fund balance.

York City is one of four districts in the state that was put into financial recovery in 2012.

In June, the district eliminated more than 50 positions — including more than 30 teachers — which drew strong pushback from the association, a union representing more than 450 professional staff in the district.

At the end of August, the district made another round of cuts, temporarily furloughing nearly 100 support staff.

Superintendent Andrea Berry, when reached Wednesday, did not have any comment on the agreement other than to note that officials were happy to have a one-year agreement that was reached mutually with the association.

Board members made no comment during their meeting Wednesday night.

Werner said the terms of the agreement were fair for a majority of association members, and a shorter contract will give both parties a chance to reexamine next year when there are fewer unknowns.

Ideally, a contract would cover three or four years, he said, given that the negotiation process takes up a lot of time and energy.

But in this case, having a better picture of federal funding for COVID-19 relief than there is now when it's time to reevaluate will be beneficial, he said.