"Everyone here is just completely reeling," says Ame Szasz, a third grade teacher at Longfellow. "If any of the kids need anything, they go to Sandra. It's devastating to our community to lose her."
Rios is on the block to be a casualty to the Service Employees International Union practice of "bumping." According to union work rules, laid-off employees have the opportunity to displace, or "bump," other union members with less seniority from their jobs. As a result of imminent layoffs of clerical workers in the city's Department of Public Health, school secretaries (who share the same job classification as the Public Health workers) are finding themselves bumped by the Public Health employees.
School officials say this presents a number of problems. The main issue is that the job description of a school secretary -- who sits at the crossroads of the school community, dealing with students, teachers, parents, and administrators -- differs fundamentally from that of a clerk who dwells in some lonely file-room elsewhere in the city bureaucracy. "They're two different types of skills," says Longfellow Principal Phyllis Matsuno.
Another question is whether Rios' replacement will be bilingual -- an essential attribute, Matsuno says, in a school where one-third of the students, and many parents, are more comfortable speaking Spanish. Matsuno says she hasn't yet been told if the worker who will bump Rios speaks Spanish or not.
Rios has been told that this is her last week at Longfellow. "It's sad for both sides," she says. "The people who are coming here, I'm sure they don't want to be here, either." She adds, "It's not a regular office job. ... You need to be able to deal with that kid who wets his pants, or needs to be pulled out of the classroom because he's having a tantrum, and have patience with the kid who comes in every day for that Band-Aid."