GPPSS employees placed on furlough

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 25, 2020

GROSSE POINTES — A number of Grosse Pointe Public School System employees will be placed on furlough effective Aug. 31.

At a virtual GPPSS Board of Education meeting, Aug. 24, the school board voted 4-3 to approve a resolution to furlough several staff members from the Grosse Pointe Association of Educational Office Personnel and from the Grosse Pointe Educational Paraprofessional Association.

Margaret Weertz, Christopher Lee, Joseph Herd and Kathleen Abke voted in favor of the measure. Judy Gafa, Christopher Profeta and Cindy Pangborn voted against the motion.

A furlough is essentially a temporary layoff from work. The employees were placed on furlough because students are not returning to face-to-face learning this fall, but rather virtually and remotely because of COVID-19. According to Jon Dean, district deputy superintendent for human resources and educational services, there are about 800 district employees overall.

“We have work that, because we’re starting in a virtual world, does not need to be completed,” Dean said. “Some of that work right now, because we’re virtual, does not need to happen, as it doesn’t exist.”

The intent is to bring back all of the furloughed staff to regular employment as soon as schools return to regular face-to-face operations.

“We are recommending the furlough of these individuals because we know that we need them back,” Dean said. “When we return to face-to-face learning, we need and want to welcome these people back to us.”

Several board members agreed it was a difficult topic on which to vote.

“This is not one of the decisions we like to make as a board,” Weertz said. “We did not cause the situation to happen. I would not want to deny eight-10 weeks of unemployment to these folks who may be very much looking forward to that stipend.”

“The administration worked hard to make this as painless as possible and worked with the unions to come to an agreement,” Abke said.

“The board has had no discussion on this. This should have been presented to us weeks, if not months ago,” Pangborn said. “It was poorly thought out. The letter of agreement is so wrong. It doesn’t even have continuity. We’re calling it a furlough; that’s a layoff.”

“It is difficult, and I am torn,” Profeta said. “If we’re looking at this as primarily driven by workload, I guess my preference would be for us to … find work for people.”

The furlough list includes 17 special education paraprofessionals across the district, four elementary school computer lab employees, two Title I employees, a middle school student center staff member, a high school career resource teacher, a high school music accompanist, six middle school hall monitors, nine library staff members, three high school assistant principal secretaries, a human resources secretary and 10 general office clerks across the district.

At the meeting, district Director of Student Services Stefanie Hayes said there are over 100 paraprofessionals who work in special education.

The furloughed employees will be eligible for unemployment benefits; some will have eligibility back to June 15. Some of them who worked during the summer, however, would not have that eligibility.

GPPSS will continue their health insurance coverage, with the district paying the typical 80% share. District employees can defer their 20% installment payments until they return to work. Payment must be made in full by June 30, 2021.

School officials wanted to note that not all of the clerical staff and paraprofessionals will be furloughed. The majority of the district’s clerical and paraprofessional employees will continue to work their regular hours and perform their regular duties.

At the meeting, the school board also voted 7-0 to approve the human resources report that included the hiring of 12 new employees, including teachers of various grades, a school psychologist, a high school counselor and a business office accountant. The report also included the retirement of a high school world languages teacher.