For years, top Manhattan public schools have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from parents to independently hire assistants to help teachers with reading, writing, tying shoelaces or supervising recess. But after a complaint by the city’s powerful teachers union, the Bloomberg administration has ordered an end to the makeshift practice.
Principals have been told that any such aides hired for the coming school year must be employees of the Department of Education, their positions included in official school budgets.
But such employees can command nearly double the pay of the independently hired assistants, and several schools on the Upper East Side either have told current employees they will probably not have jobs in the fall or have put off hiring new employees. That has incensed many parents, who see the aides less as a perk than as a necessity to cope with growing class sizes in well-regarded schools like the Lower Lab School for gifted children, where the average class size is now 28, and Public School 290, where broom closets are used as offices and the cafeteria doubles as a gym.
“The reason the teaching assistants are here is because they’ve been stuffing so many kids in these classes,” said Patrick J. Sullivan, co-president of the Parent-Teacher Association at the Lower Lab School (P.S. 77), where parents spend $250,000 a year on the teaching assistants. “Nobody wants to break any rules, but 28 is just too many kids for one teacher.”