Fair helps displaced employees work against clock to find jobs

City school layoff notices will force many to find employment after Jan. 1

December 09, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

After taking away jobs in a layoff forced by a ballooning deficit, Baltimore City school officials began yesterday trying to help the more than 700 displaced workers find employment - somewhere else.

About 300 of the recently laid-off workers attended a job fair yesterday at the system's Professional Development Center, resumes and recommendations in hand. Some were laid off Friday, and others are facing a fast-approaching deadline. According to the layoff notices, which went out Thanksgiving week, the majority will see their jobs end Jan. 1 as the school system struggles with a $52 million cumulative deficit.

"Time is flying," said Raymond Casey, who worked in the school system's information technology department for close to seven years. "And I'm raising my son by myself, so I have to find something really quick."

Casey, 26, said he felt like one of the lucky ones. His computer skills easily transfer to other professions, and he's young enough to start over.

But many laid-off workers noticed a disturbing reality when they surveyed the 50 booths at the job fair - not many positions are available for longtime educators who have dedicated much of their lives to the Baltimore public schools.

"There's very little here on my level," said Clementine Carr, the system's director of high school curriculum and instruction, who has worked in school district jobs for 35 years. At 57, Carr earns more than $70,000 in her current administrative position. More importantly, she said, she felt that she was making a real contribution to schools and children.

Now, Carr found herself filling out an application to be a travel consultant for AAA, something she called "embarrassing."

"I loved what I was doing. It was very challenging," Carr said. "I'm old enough to retire, but I'm too young to sit at home and wait to die. So here I am."

Many in similar circumstances hovered around the education-related booths - some area school districts, tutoring services and colleges were on hand - hoping to make use of skills honed over the years.

Recruiters from government agencies, health care companies, contractors and other businesses said they felt sympathy for job searchers but had few openings. Personnel staff from local school systems felt a special kinship.

"It bothers me because all of our brothers and sisters here in the city, who have the amount of years I have - 30, 31 - are walking around here devastated," said Larry Penn, an Anne Arundel County schools human resources specialist.

"It's a real jolt," said Penn's co-recruiter Art Smelkinson. "People are still walking around with this deer-in-headlights look."

Rodney Whiting, a recruiter for Empower Baltimore Management Corp., said the dazed look is understandable, considering what the laid-off workers are up against.

"This is December, the slowest month of the year for employment," Whiting said. "If you get a job, you got lucky." Whiting said many available jobs might require veteran school system employees to take a pay cut - in some cases, up to tens of thousands of dollars.

"Some of them," Whiting said, "they're going to have to come to the realization that they're going to have to take a drop in pay."

John Linsenmeyer said he would gladly take a pay cut if he could get back his job teaching fourth-graders at Medfield Heights Elementary School.

Linsenmeyer's provisional teaching certificate lapsed, and although he was taking courses at the College of Notre Dame and had enrolled in a system-run certification program, he was let go last month. Now, with a wife who is seven months' pregnant, Linsenmeyer is working when he can as a substitute teacher and supplementing those wages with a night job.

At yesterday's job fair, Linsenmeyer said he hoped some other school system would take a chance on him - a teacher who helped his pupils earn reading scores that were among the top 10 in the district last year.

"They [city school officials] didn't look at job performance when they did this. They didn't look at test scores when they did this," he said. "Sometimes, maybe God is telling you it's time to move on."

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