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Yonkers Schools Can't Afford Teachers' Sick Days

This story has been updated with comments from Patricia Puleo, President of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers.

YONKERS, N.Y. – Sick days for Yonkers teachers will be at a premium this year, Superintendent of Schools Bernard Pierorazio announced Tuesday.

A combination of rising student enrollment and teacher attrition in the district has forced Yonkers Public School administrators to hire 27 new teachers this year. But with funds at a premium district-wide, officials will likely take a “major chunk of money” from the substitute teacher budget to help cover the cost of the additional staff.

“We really have no other options,” Pierorazio said Tuesday during an Audit, Budget & Finance Committee Meeting. “This will cause us, obviously, to call upon our staff members to be more diligent in terms of their absenteeism.”

Patricia Puleo, President of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, said she had no object to Pierorazio's request. The attendance rate for Yonkers teachers over the years has been around 95 percent, she said. She has spoken with the superintendent about the expectations and teachers understand the fact there is a limited budget for substitutes.

"It's the teacher's job to be in the classroom," she said. "There is nothing wrong with reminding people it is their duty to come to work."

At the start of the school year, class sizes in the district were the largest in recent memory as more than 26,000 students had enrolled in the Yonkers public schools, Pierorazio has said.

That is 1,000 more students than last year and the registrations are still trickling in, administrators said.  Much of that influx has been from the bottom-up, the superintendent said Tuesday, pointing to increased enrollment in kindergarten through the third grade.

And more students mean more teachers.

“Additional bodies come at a cost and in our situation we have no choice,” Pierorazio said. “We have students and we have to put instructors in front of those students.”

In all, 27 teachers have been hired since last year. Each was taken from the district’s preferred eligibility list, meaning they were once employed in Yonkers but had been laid off or terminated.

While roughly a dozen of the teachers were hired to fill positions opened through attrition, 14 or 15 new jobs were created this year specifically because of the increase in students, the superintendent said.

On Tuesday, Pierorazio said the salaries of those 14 to 15 additional staff members will likely require the district to transfer an estimated $1.4 million from the substitute teacher budget to the general budget.  The move is expected to be approved by the Board of Education after the final numbers have been finalized later this year.

In the meantime, the superintendent said a letter will be sent to the staff, informing them of the need to be in class on a regular basis because of the shrinking substitute funds.

“There’s a cost for everything,” he said. “Bringing back teachers because of increased enrollment will cause us to look for money in another area and that’s the area we area we are looking at this point.”

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