Providence, RI, mayor recommends closing 4 schools

AP News
Posted: Mar 14, 2011 11:12 PM
Providence, RI, mayor recommends closing 4 schools

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras proposed closing four schools and eliminating up to 70 teaching positions Monday, the latest cost-cutting move to shore up the troubled finances of the state's capital city.

If approved by the Providence School Board, the four schools would close at the end of the school year. The city estimates it could save $12 million by closing the schools and reducing the number of teaching positions by 40 to 70, Taveras said.

"This is another difficult day in the city of Providence," Taveras said at a news conference announcing his recommendation. "There's no way to meet our fiscal responsibilities without cuts."

The city will offer teachers eligible for retirement a stipend if they agree to retire, Taveras said. Depending on the number of teachers who step forward, the city could reduce or even eliminate the need for additional layoffs, the major said. The stipend amount hasn't been finalized, but Taveras said offers could go out to eligible teachers within a week.

The teachers union issued a statement saying the school closures will be a "tremendous disruption" and perhaps not the best solution to the city's financial woes.

"At best, school closings offer a short term savings, but in the long run, it may be the more costly action. All too often, there is a need to re-open a school down the line, and this can be a very costly process," said Steve Smith, Providence teachers union president.

Taveras touched off a firestorm last month when the city notified all of its nearly 2,000 teachers that their jobs could be eliminated at the end of the school year. But he said the city could begin rescinding most of those notices within a few 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 city faces a budget deficit of $180 million in this year and next.

The four schools recommended for closure are Flynn Elementary, Windmill Street Elementary, Messer Elementary and the Messer Annex Elementary.

The School Board plans to hold six community forums in the next two weeks to review the proposed closures.

"It becomes a very emotional issue," Schools Superintendent Thomas Brady said. "There will be ample opportunity for the community to react to these recommendations."

The schools selected for closure were picked for their age, condition, student performance and proximity to other schools. Flynn Elementary, for example, needs nearly $15 million in renovations and is within one mile of six other elementary schools, Brady said.

In addition, the mayor's plan calls for some students at other schools to be moved. For example, elementary students at a combined elementary-middle school would be moved to a school serving only their grade levels.