President of District 27 faults city for axing employee

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A former Community School Board 27 administrative employee just seven months shy of 20 years of service is unable to get full retirement benefits because the city will not approve the board’s decision to transfer her to another internal position, the board president said.

The city Department of Education has refused to process the board’s Dec. 19 decision to appoint Josette Lowenhaupt, who has worked for the district since Dec. 20, 1994, as the body’s secretary, a position that has been vacant since May, said Steven Greenberg, District 27 president. She was terminated from her previous job as executive assistant because city budget cuts forced district superintendents to cut costs and the position was seen as expendable, he said.

“The board is insulted and we feel very bad for Josette,” Greenberg said of Lowenhaupt, who served on a local community board before taking a position with the district. “Josette was qualified to do the job.”

Lowenhaupt did not return messages left for her at the district headquarters in Ozone Park. Community School District 27 covers the communities of Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Howard Beach and the Rockaway peninsula.

Greenberg said in a letter to local officials that the city did not process the board’s resolution calling for Lowenhaupt to be appointed as secretary to the board because city officials said as long as District 27 Superintendent Matthew Bromme supplied a replacement for Lowenhaupt, which he had, he was not in violation of state education code.

He said her combined time of city employment with the community board and school district would have totaled 20 years, entitling her to a full benefits package.

Greenberg said Lowenhaupt was willing to accept a $20,000 reduction in salary and fewer responsibilities in moving from the executive assistant to secretary position because she wanted to have the full benefits package upon retirement.

Chad Vignola, general counsel for the city 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.”

Greenberg said state education law allows community school boards to have a private employee, independent of the superinten­dent’s office. He said, however, that because community school boards will only be in existence for fewer than six more months and have been stripped of their legal counsel, the board has no recourse to counter the department’s decision.

In June, the state Legislature approved massive changes in the way city schools are governed, giving the mayor sole control of the system and eliminating the seven-member Board of Education. The state also chose to eliminate the city’s 32 community school boards by June after agreeing to create a task force to look into alternative ways for community involvement in schools.

“We don’t have much of a choice,” he said. “Even if we were to take legal action, the school boards would be gone before any action would take effect.”

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

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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