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SD 27 employee determined to obtain full pension

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The former executive assistant at School District 27 who was laid off seven months shy of logging 20 years of service because of city budget cuts and offered partial retirement benefits said she will do whatever it takes to qualify for a full pension.

Josette Lowenhaupt, who will turn 62 later this year, said since the city would not approve the school board's decision to make her its secretary, she was faced with two choices: to take a 30 percent reduction in her pension or find another city job to fulfill the remaining seven months that would qualify her for full benefits.

"I'm hoping to make 20 years some way or another," said Lowenhaupt, who worked as youth coordinator for Community Board 10 before she took her executive assistant position with School District 27 in December 1994. "I would have to take a reduction of $5,000 per year in my pension, which would have left me with only $17,000 per year."

The city Department of Education has refused to process the board's Dec. 19 decision to appoint Lowenhaupt as the body's secretary, a position which has been vacant since May and would have meant a $10,000 pay reduction per year, said Board President Steven Greenberg.

Lowenhaupt was terminated from her position as executive assistant because city budget cuts forced district superintendents to cut costs and the position was seen as expendable, Greenberg said.

Lowenhaupt said she is now working for City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), a former president of School Board 27. She said she is not sure if the job will count toward fulfilling the seven months remaining to entitle her to full benefits.

Former colleagues of hers said Lowenhaupt was a good worker who deserved to keep her job at the school district.

"Josette is very efficient and very knowledgeable," Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Bratton said. "She is a superb worker and we were sorry when she had to leave the community board."

Lowenhaupt said she lost her executive assistant position when she was put on a layoff list by the superinten­dent's office. She said she cannot afford to take the 30 percent pension reduction because it would put her in a perilous position financially.

"It would have put me at or below the poverty line," she said. "I wasn't just marking time until I was 62, I would have worked until I was eligible for Social Security at 66 or maybe beyond."

Matthew Bromme, superintendent of School District 27, said districts were forced to lay off personnel because of city budget cuts. He said he could not comment on individual district employees.

"Have there been staff who have been laid off? - the answer is yes," Bromme said. He stressed that layoffs are focusing on district staff rather than teachers or others involved in classroom instruction.

Chad Vignola, general counsel for the Department of Education, wrote a letter responding to Greenberg saying the reason the city thinks it can eliminate the executive assistant position is because the boards will be abolished in June. Chancellor Joel I. Klein oversees the Department of Education and he answers to Mayor Michael Bloomberg .

"In response to your inquiry, please be advised that due to the city's extreme financial straits, the Department of Education was required recently by the mayor to find ways to cut $200 million from its budget immediately," Vignola wrote. "This budget cut is on top of last spring's $360 million budget cut. In both cases, the mayor has specifically directed that the budget reductions avoid reducing direct class room services to the maximum extent possible."

Lowenhaupt said she was not sure whether to blame the city or the district superintendent for making it impossible to take the position as the district's secretary. For now, however, she said she will stay at her job with Councilman Sanders.

"I can't place blame on anyone because I don't know all the facts," she said. "I don't know who influenced the central board."

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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