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280 Pittsburgh Teachers, Other Professionals Furloughed

As expected, the Pittsburgh Board of Education Wednesday evening approved the layoffs of 280 school district employees, most of them teachers.

The vote was 6-0 with three board members absent: Mark Brentley, Regina Holley and Sharene Shealey.

"It's horrible," said Board President Sherry Hazuda. "This is very sad. No one wants to be involved in furloughing any employees at all, and because it's such a sizable number, it makes it more challenging. The good news is that it's not as many as we originally anticipated."

Those losing their jobs include 190 teachers, 59 paraprofessionals, 12 adjunct instructors, 10 pre-K professionals, and nine technical workers.

Board member William Isler said it's a "devastating decision" to vote for the layoffs "because these are the people who interact daily with our children. These are the people that we remember as significant role models in our lives, people that really helped us to learn and to get where we are today."

But he added the board does not want to have to add costs or raise taxes or negatively impact the quality of education for Pittsburgh students.

Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent Linda Lane and the board have been working the last several months to trim a projected $68 million deficit through layoffs, closing some school buildings, reconfiguring other schools and increasing class sizes. Hazuda estimates with these latest furloughs, the deficit is about $10 million.

Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said in her 32 years involved with the district, she hasn't seen a vote that would affect this many, but said there is a bright side.

"They have already called back a number of people from the provisional furloughs," Esposito-Visgitis said.

About 300 Pittsburgh Public School District employees received provisional furloughs this year, but through grants and other efforts, about 100 of those have returned to their jobs.

Esposito-Visgitis said the reason for Wednesday's vote is economic, referencing Governor Tom Corbett's budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

"We certainly would blame the budget," Esposito-Visgitis said. "It's forced the district to increase class sizes, to reconfigure the special-ed program, and much of it, I would say, would be a cost-cutting measure more than a quality measure."