Mass Teacher Firing Complicates Rehiring

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) – The Providence School Board, mayor and school superintendent asked a Superior Court judge to approve their plan to rehire most of the 1,934 teachers they fired in February – without respecting seniority, as required by the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement and the Teacher Tenure Act.

Shortly after Mayor Angel Taveras took office, amid what he described as a budget catastrophe, 1,934 public school teachers in Providence were fired.
The mayor and school board said they sent the dismissal notices on Feb. 25 to meet the March 1 deadline imposed by the state’s Teacher Tenure Act, which sets legal conditions for the dismissal of teachers based upon economic exigency. Taveras and co-plaintiff Thomas Brady, the school superintendent, say that though they fired the teachers they intended to hire most of them back after studying the city’s financial situation.
The Providence Teachers’ Union (PTU) filed a labor grievance, calling the notices illegal and demanding that the city rehire teachers, according to seniority.
According to the new complaint, the union claimed that “the dismissed teachers have to be recalled strictly according to seniority, with senior PTU teachers either not working full-time or effectively ‘bumping’ junior teachers from their jobs, a position which is at odds not only with the PSB [Providence School Board] plan, but also with the Basic Education Program Regulations promulgated by the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education … as well as with explicit orders and directives from RIDE [the Rhode Island Department of Education] concerning the proper role of seniority with respect to the hiring, transferring and/or assigning of teachers.”
Taveras says a financial review panel found that the city had a $14 million operating deficit in its General Fund at the end of the 2010 fiscal year, which “was largely attributable to school operations, which necessitated a transfer of general fund resources to eliminate an operating deficit in the school unrestricted fund.”
The panel found that the 2011 structural deficit would be even greater, nearly $70 million, because of the city’s past “reliance on significant one-time fixes to balance budgets.”
The plaintiffs – Taveras, School Board President Kathleen Crain and Superintendent Brady – say they approved closing three elementary schools and converting one middle school after the superintendent reported a deficit of $29 million in a total budget of $308 million, more 78 percent of which goes to salaries and benefits.
The board approved the closures on May 2 this year (Monday) as part of the plan for the 2011-12 school year.
“On May 2, 2011, the PSB approved a plan to recall the great bulk of the dismissed teachers (the PSB ‘Plan’) pursuant to which: (1) approximately 1,445 teachers (some 75% of those dismissed) would have their dismissal notices rescinded; (2) another, much smaller, group of teachers would be matched to available (vacant) positions; and (3) a third, even smaller, group would remain dismissed.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
The plan grouped teachers into three categories.
Every category 1 teacher, and category 2 teachers whose positions were not eliminated, would receive notices rescinding their dismissals.
Category 3 teachers would receive notices stating their dismissals would remain effective, but they could compete for positions that may become available.
The complaint seeks answers to three questions.
The first is: “Under the Teacher Tenure Act, does the economic exigency facing the city constitute ‘good and just cause’ for the dismissal of teachers left without teaching positions due to: (a) RIDE-approved plans to transform four (4) schools identified by RIDE as persistently lowest-achieving and in need of intervention; (b) the decision to close three (3) elementary schools and move two (2) elementary schools into a converted middle school as necessary cost-saving measures; and/or (c) previously-approved programmatic changes, consolidations and/or temporary placements made under PPSD CBH Policy, which was mandated and approved by RIDE to promote and enhance educational policy and opportunities?”
The second question is: “Does the PSB Plan approved May 2, 2011 comply with (a) the collective bargaining agreement between the PSB and PTU (the ‘CBA’), which makes no mention of teacher dismissals due to economic exigency and which has been modified by the BEP so that seniority can no longer be the sole factor to be considered when hiring, transferring or assigning teachers; (b) the BEP; and (c) any other applicable law?”
And the third question is: “Does the due process to be afforded dismissed teachers under the PSB Plan approved on May 2, 2011 comply with the dictates of the Teacher Tenure Act, as well as of the federal and state constitutions?”
The plaintiffs add: “the PSB Plan will realize the substantial savings estimated as a result of the school closings and other necessary belt-tightening measures. As has been noted, the city simply cannot afford to spend millions keeping teachers on the PPSD payroll unnecessarily.”
The plaintiffs seek expedited declaratory judgment so they can plan for the coming fiscal year.
They are represented by Deputy City Solicitor Anthony Cottone.

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