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Teachers union, city schools officials head to arbitration over layoffs

The Baltimore Teachers Union and school district lawyers are scheduled to meet next month to discuss grievances filed by union leaders over the district's handling of layoffs of teachers and classroom aides earlier this summer.

An arbitration hearing is scheduled for Sept. 6, one day after the start of the new school year.

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The union wants the layoffs rescinded and affected employees reinstated with full back pay and benefits until the school district complies with the terms of the teachers' contract. The union also wants laid off teachers to be placed in vacant positions within the school system.

Union leaders say the district violated their contract agreement when it laid off about 60 union members in early June. In total, about 115 people lost their jobs as part of a $1.31 billion budget plan. The list included the first classroom teachers to be laid off in a decade. Dozens of librarians, counselors and assistant principals were also among those laid off.

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The union says district administrators must provide a seniority list at least 15 days before finalizing layoffs to give union leaders time to try and save jobs.

Union president Marietta English said she received a seniority list for teachers four days prior to the layoffs notices. The list for aides came just one night before layoff notices, she said.

The district's actions upended "the careers of our teachers and paraprofessionals who have a proven record of being committed and dedicated to the students they teach, the families they serve, and the schools in which they work," English said.

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Jeremy Grant-Skinner, the chief human capital officer for city schools, said he's confident the layoffs were implemented "equitably and in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement." The district originally warned last January that up to 1,000 people could be laid off to help fill a $130 million shortfall the system was facing, but state and city lawmakers pledged millions to help close the deficit.

"The district made concerted efforts to ensure that employees could be placed into funded positions, when possible, and that the final number of layoffs was as minimal as possible, given the fiscal landscape," Grant-Skinner said.

Grant-Skinner said the district will continue to monitor whether impacted staff can be brought back for available positions in the future. Some laid off staff have been rehired, said union spokesman Andrew Feldman, but the union is encouraging others to wait out the arbitration process.

There are about 200 classroom teacher positions still vacant, Grant-Skinner said. The majority are in high-need areas, such as special education, or in areas where the district typically hires many teachers, such as elementary education.

The district hired 389 new teachers as of last Friday, according to Grant-Skinner. The majority are traditional candidates, while 92 came from Teach For America and 72 were part of the Baltimore City Teaching Residency. Urban Teachers provided 35 new teachers, along with about 70 people who will serve as supplemental teachers in training.

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