RI union tells mayor: Don't fire all the teachers

AP News
Posted: Feb 28, 2011 1:28 AM
RI union tells mayor: Don't fire all the teachers

A union representing teachers in the state's financially troubled capital city says it has met with the mayor to discuss the decision to send them all termination notices.

The Providence school board voted Thursday night to send the notices to the nearly 2,000 teachers after city officials said the move would give them "maximum flexibility" to make budget cuts. The terminations would be effective at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

The Providence Teachers Union said its president, Steve Smith, met with the city's new mayor, Angel Taveras, on Sunday to explain the potential ramifications to the city based on what it called "the unlawful firing" of all 1,926 teachers.

Taveras, elected in November as the city's first Hispanic mayor, suggested firing a smaller percentage of teachers, the union said. But Smith remained steadfast in the position that such action isn't the solution to the city's financial problems, it said.

Smith, who wants the termination letters rescinded, said firing any teacher without cause is unacceptable and would be more costly to the city, the union said in an e-mailed statement. He said layoff letters, if necessary, should be sent based on the anticipated number of positions at risk because of expected budget cuts, the union said.

"We remain committed, ready to sit down with the mayor and prepared to be a part of the solution of solving the city's financial woes," Smith said.

Taveras, who said he wanted to work with the teachers and their union, insisted most of the teachers will have their dismissal letters rescinded in the coming weeks. He said the notices were sent because of a state law requiring school departments to notify teachers by March 1 if they'll be laid off the following school year.

The notices don't mean the teachers definitely will lose their jobs, but the vote means some of them could. The 4-3 vote gives the city the opportunity to terminate as many teachers as it deems necessary for budgetary reasons, but the city hasn't indicated how many that could be.

Taveras said the decision to issue the notices was difficult but the city's financial crisis is staggering.

The financial problems in Providence, the state's biggest city, have caused enough alarm at the state level that Gov. Lincoln Chafee instructed two of his top fiscal officers to meet with city officials. A recent audit showed Providence, which has about 175,000 residents, had nearly depleted its rainy-day fund and overspent its budget last year by more than $57 million.

Taveras last month created a Municipal Finances Review Panel to review the city budget across all departments. The panel will offer recommendations to the mayor in the next two weeks.

Taveras said Sunday in a message to residents posted on the city's website that issuing the dismissal notices to all the teachers was "a decision of last resort." He said he had to avoid a situation in which next year the city has more teachers on its payroll than it can afford to pay.

"My administration has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Providence to address the fiscal crisis we face AND a moral responsibility to our children to make sure we manage cuts to school funding in a way that best serves our students and the community," the message said.

Taveras said the notices sent were of dismissal, not layoff. He said layoffs often come with provisions that could affect the city's ability to control costs as much as it wants to. He said dismissals are different because they enable the school district to end its financial obligations to people.