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Teacher furloughs 'mourned' at vigil

| Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 10:14 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Ryan Davis, 9, of Squirrel Hill, a student at Pittsburgh Montessori, demonstrates outside of the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education offices in support of the 285 city school teachers whose last day was Wednesday. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

On the last day of classes for Pittsburgh Public Schools, teachers, parents and students gathered in Oakland on Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil to "mourn" the planned furlough of more than 200 teachers.

"Our kids need their teachers in the classroom, not on the unemployment line," said Jessie Ramey, 43, of Point Breeze, whose two children, Caldwell, 11, and, Ian, 8, attend Colfax Elementary School in Squirrel Hill.

District officials last month sent furlough notices to 285 teachers to help address a budget deficit that is expected to grow from $21.7 million this year to $30.5 million by 2015 because of declining enrollment, the uncertainty of federal and state funding, rising costs and the impact of charter schools.

Organizers of the vigil outside district offices on South Bellefield Avenue said about 160 people were on hand to carry candles and placards bearing the number "285" and other sentiments of support for teachers.

Colfax teacher Kaela Filipek, 27, who is among those being furloughed, said she is "very sad and angered" about losing her job and the affect the loss of so many teachers will have on education.

"'I've wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade, and now I'll be out looking for another job," said Filipek of Greenfield, who attended Colfax as a child. "And the fact that there could be 30 children in a classroom next year means the children will not have the same opportunities."

Isabel Segel, 12, of Squirrel Hill, a seventh-grader studying music at the school for Creative and Performing Arts, Downtown, said good teachers will lose their jobs.

"So many of the new teachers are really great, but they're getting laid off, so they won't have a chance to grow as teachers," she said.

Arina Prakapenka, 12, of Greenfield, who studies visual arts at CAPA, said knowing some of her teachers will not be returning in the fall turned the last day of school from a happy moment into a sad occasion.

Segel and Prakapenka also said they are unhappy that seniority is the only factor being used to determine furloughs.

The layoffs "should be based on teacher effectiveness," Segel said.

By law, seniority is the only factor the district can use to determine furloughs unless the union agrees to other factors, which it has declined to support.

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