In a move that shocked the nation, termination notices have been sent out to all 1,926 teachers in the Providence, R.I. school district, effective at the end of this school year. This announcement came on Feb. 22 from the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) Superintendent Tom Brady and Mayor Angel Taveras and was approved 4-3 by the PPDS School Board.
The mayor claims that while most teachers will get their jobs back in the fall, the county will also be closing an indeterminate number of public schools to make up for large scale budget gaps. Brady did state that there will not be closures on the scale that occurred in Detroit though, which has plans to close half of its schools and is projecting class sizes to rise to 60 students.
In response to the firings, more than 700 teachers crowded into a high school gymnasium to let the School Board know that their hearts were broken, their trust violated and their futures as teachers jeopardized.
“How do we feel? Disrespected,” said Julie Latessa, a special-needs teacher, before the vote. “We are broken. How do you repair the damage you have done today?”
The PPSD, backing the mayor, argues that the mass firing will give the district more flexibility to rehire teachers based on the needs of the students. Although the Providence Teachers’ Union (PTU) was not notified of the potential changes to their employment, the mayor was forced to act quickly and announce before the March 1 deadline — 90 days before the end of PTU teacher contracts. Many question whether the move was taken in an attempt to disallow the PTU to determine contract negotiations so that the schools will be able to individual negotiations rather than group ones.
This is not, however, the first time that Rhode Island’s schools have been in the papers over mass teacher firings. Almost exactly one year ago, Rhode Island School Superintendent Frances Gallo fired the entire staff of 74 teachers, 19 other employees and the principal and vice-principal from Central Falls High School, the lowest performing school in the state. The decision was reached through the culmination of events surrounding school district’s attempt to improve the standards of the high school in order to maintain the federally mandated financial aide.
President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan had announced that each state’s worst performing schools “either be closed, converted to charter or charter-like schools, reorganized around a longer school day, or have the entire teaching staff fired,” according to CBS News. Although the stipulation to fire staff members also allows for 50 percent of them to be rehired come fall, failed negotiations with the Rhode Island’s Teachers’ Union for longer school days forced the hand of Gallo and the school board towards this drastic move.
Under threat of losing their jobs, the Teachers’ Union refused to accept the reform plan to extend school days with only marginal pay increases. To put the situation into perspective, less than half of the students graduate from Central Falls High School, but teachers are paid between $72,000 and $78,000 each year in a town where the median income is about $22,000.
“This is hard work and these are tough decisions, but students only have one chance for an education,” Duncan said, applauding last year’s massive cut