PITTSFIELD — Cafeteria workers will not be laid off after all, school district and union officials said on Monday.
“I am thrilled to confirm that we were able to pull back layoff notices to our cafeteria workers,” said Superintendent Jason “Jake” McCandless in an email Monday.
It was a welcome reversal for employees who pushed back loudly against the cuts, which had been scheduled to begin late last week but were pushed back amid negotiations. About 90 workers and supporters held a rally in Park Square last Tuesday to protest the cuts, which the district said were necessary in light of the lack of in-person school.
Union officials told The Eagle on Thursday that approximately 50 members had received a notice, but as talks between the district and the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees cafeteria unit continued last week, it became clear that fewer layoffs would be required.
Stefanie Koenig, co-chairwoman of the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees cafeteria unit, confirmed the district pulled back all layoff notices that were sent to members of her department. In an email, she said was expecting to learn more details later Monday about next steps, like possible interim assignments for some in her ranks “until we are all called back to our original schools.”
Pittsfield students began school Sept. 15 with remote learning and an uncertain timetable for transitioning to a hybrid model that would include a part-time return to classrooms. That transition has come into sharper focus in recent days, and McCandless said the workers will be needed sooner than expected.
“We have gotten to the point where we will be welcoming students back in some numbers, thanks [to] our hitting the benchmarks we needed to hit to phase into Hybrid Learning,” he wrote, referring to the relatively low levels of community spread of COVID-19. “Moving into hybrid learning for some students, and then swiftly into the model [with] most students means we do not have to take these painful measures for any of our staff right now.”
McCandless said fewer school breakfasts and lunches were being served with so many students at home, causing a related decline in federal reimbursements that fuel nutritional services. The district's favored hybrid learning model eliminates the consumption of meals at school buildings, so cafeteria staff will be preparing grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches for students instead.
McCandless did not immediately respond to a emailed question about whether he expected reimbursements would be enough to cover cafeteria staffing costs without layoffs, or if funds from another source will needed to close any gap.
The gradual transition of students back to school buildings for hybrid learning, scheduled to begin with certain high-needs student groups this week, avoids the need for staff cuts, McCandless said. High-need and some vocational students were set to return to the classroom this week, and the rest of the student body — except those who enroll in the district's new virtual academy — are poised to return to classrooms part-time in three phases through Oct. 27, according to the district’s most recent schedule.
That schedule indicates, however, that it still subject to change.
Amanda Burke can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.