CIVIC CENTER — Non-union employees at the Department of Education are fighting for their first pay raise since 2008 after Mayor Bill de Blasio promised the department's unionized teachers a double-digit increase.
In May, de Blasio negotiated a hefty $5.5 billion deal giving raises to the city's teachers union after a six-year freeze.
But left out of that deal were the administrative assistants for the city's 36 Community Education Councils — organizations funded by the DOE to help parents give input into public school operations citywide.
Now, with a recent letter to DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the CECs and their administrative assistants are trying to remedy that.
"We've been without raises for a long, long time and everything's gone up in the meantime," said Linda Lumpkin, who for 10 years has been the administrative assistant for the District 2 CEC, which encompasses much of downtown Manhattan, Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen, Midtown and the Upper East Side.
"People are just trying to survive."
CEC admins are in the same payroll category of non-union managerial staff as administrative employees at the DOE headquarters in Tweed Courthouse, though the CEC workers get paid less.
They used to get the same cost-of-living adjustment that union employees did — about 2 percent a year. But the admins, along with other DOE employees, had their pay frozen during the recession in 2009 by then-schools chancellor Joel Klein.
The administrative assistants' salaries have remained capped since then at $46,691, approximately $12,000 less per year than that of a school secretary whose duties are similar, according to the letter the CECs sent to Fariña.
Some of the admins are making even less than that because they all start at different rates, CEC leaders said.
"I can't even pay my bills," said Mueller, a Crown Heights resident who hopes to go to graduate school someday. "How am I going to pay to apply to grad school? How am I going to pay to even take the GREs?"
At the District 2 CEC's October meeting, president Shino Tanikawa highlighted the role of admins, who work closely with parents and who provide "continuity."
"CEC members come and go," Tanikawa said, urging her fellow council members to vote to support the letter to Fariña. "Admins carry historical, institutional knowledge. We rely on that information all the time."
District 2's CEC voted unanimously in favor of signing the letter to support Lumpkin.
The letter asked that the admins get cost-of-living increases "similar to the percentage-increases being currently awarded to union-backed NYC employees."
It was presented to Fariña at an Oct. 19 meeting with the Education Council Consortium, a board composed of representatives from several CECs.
The DOE's chief financial officer, Raymond Orlando, was also at the meeting with Fariña, attendees said. ECC members said Fariña and Orlando were largely impassive and the ECC had little sense of how the proposal was received.
A DOE spokesman released a statement that did not directly address the administrative assistants' request.
“Community Education Councils play a critical role in engaging families and strengthening our schools system and the DOE is committed to ensuring they have the resources they need to do their important work,” wrote spokesman Harry Hartfield.
Some administrative assistants, including Mueller, said they are frustrated after feeling their requests have fallen on deaf ears.
"I think it's symbolic and representative of how the administration has not figured out how to empower communities," Mueller said. "The administration has no idea what community engagement actually means, what parent engagement actually means."
But others, like Lumpkin, are holding out hope that they might prevail, if they can get their letter in front of the mayor.
De Blasio's campaign platform, highlighting socioeconomic inequality in the city as a "tale of two cities," resonated with the administrative assistants, who say they've struggled with incomes that haven't kept up with inflation in a city of constantly rising costs.
"He seems to be a man for all the people," Lumpkin said. "So I think there’s more of a chance that we will get our raises."