More bad news out of Providence, Rhode Island. As if it wasn’t bad enough to hear the ghastly news that all of Providence’s nearly 2,000 teachers were told that they might be terminated next year, a closer look at the manner in which this terrible situation was handled reveals some potentially grim ulterior motives; the terminating of seniority as well.
Mayor Angel Taveras has stated from the start that his recommendation to terminate all teachers’ contracts was strictly to balance the city and the School Department budgets. He explained that terminating everyone’s contract would save money since “teachers who are dismissed and not rehired will not end up in a substitute teaching pool.”
But according to David V. Abbott, the state’s deputy education commissioner, there is a significant difference between layoffs and dismissals. Under state statute, when a teacher is laid off, they are put on a recall list; they haven’t been dismissed and if a job for which they are qualified becomes available, they are rehired based on seniority. But these teachers were not laid off; they were terminated, which means that every one of them may have to reapply for their job just like any new teacher coming into the school system. Seniority may not factor in at all.
Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees Tim Duffy explained that what is further muddying the waters is the fact that this whole situation is “unchartered territory”, leaving questions such as would dismissed teacher get a hearing before losing their jobs, would the district have to state the reasons why each teacher is being terminated, and could teachers appeal their termination?
As if the situation isn’t messy enough, Providence recently altered their policy regarding how vacancies would be filled; starting last fall, filling vacancies is no longer based solely on seniority. According to the new policy, teachers must be interviewed by the principal and a team of colleagues, and they must turn in a model lesson plan as well as a writing sample. This new policy was implemented to guarantee that the most qualified teachers would fill available positions.
On Thursday, teachers met with the superintendent to discuss their future. After the meeting, Alison Deitch, a teacher for the school system, told the Providence Journal, “When they do rescind [the dismissal notices], from what I understand, there is no seniority. If you’ve been a teacher for 30 years, good luck.”
In spite of heated accusations of seniority-busting, Mayor Taveras maintains that their decision was not motivated by a desire to eliminate seniority-based hiring, and claims that they will let teachers know as soon as possible who will be able to keep their teaching jobs.
Providence Teacher Union President Steve Smith claimed that the mayor was “waging a war on workers, not a war to fix a budget or our schools.”
In an attempt to restore seniority rights to its constituents, the Providence Teachers Union has sued the district, but no settlement has been reached yet, leaving the teachers in this district with no guarantees regarding what is to come. And, just when you think that the situation could not get any bleaker for these folks, their union contract expires at the end of this year.