It doesn’t take much to turn green shoots brown. Just ask Andy Gifford of St. Paul. Gifford, hired by the St. Paul School Department with federal stimulus money last fall, has just been told his job — and the jobs of a dozen others similarly hired — disappear at the end of the school year.
Gifford is a child study clerk, a “glorified paper pusher,” he says. He helped coordinate individual education plans — IEPs — for special needs students in the city’s schools.
He and his colleagues were told a month ago that they might lose their jobs, which gave him a month to worry about the inevitable, and hope for the improbable. Maybe someone would retire and a job would be preserved. A week ago Friday, however, they were notified they’ll soon be unemployed. Last Monday, Gifford went back to work. “I had to leave after an hour,” he says. “I was sick to my stomach.”
It’s the third time he’s been laid off from work in the last four years. He’s been a mailroom clerk and a loan processor, and as the economy collapsed, so did Gifford’s jobs. “My dad was like that. He worked odd jobs all his life,” he says, while pointing out his mother has had the same waitress job for more than 30 years.
He’s in a union — AFSCME — but he doesn’t think there’ll be much help coming from it. “I’m so new they probably don’t even know I’m here, yet. I get regular ‘action alerts’ to call and protest things Tim Pawlenty is doing, but that’s about it,” he says. He’s heard nothing from his union since he was laid off.
Gifford says when he told his wife his job was being eliminated, her response was the same as the last time. “We’ll get through it.”
Gifford is part of the “iceberg” of schools. We media types regular describe school budgets in terms of the impact on teachers, but there are levels of employees whose work and lives go unseen and unreported. He says last week, the schools eliminated their in-house technical support specialists, too.
“The district is so afraid of the middle class,” he says, making it difficult for schools on the poorer side of town to function. With open enrollment, parents have a choice where to send their students and the district has to pay transportation costs. “The needs of kids in poverty aren’t being met,” he says.
As an employee of a school department, he was looking forward to having the summer off. Now, he’s not.