Teachers and other union supporters will gather today on the steps of City Hall in Providence, R.I., to protest the termination of every schoolteacher in the district. Tensions continue to escalate between the city educators and Mayor Angel Taveras, who insists the firings are necessary to help solve a massive budget crisis.
In a 4-to-3 vote, the Providence School Board passed a resolution last week to officially terminate the employment of all 1,926 Providence teachers effective the last day of the school year. Despite the vote, administrators say it's likely many of the teachers will receive a letter that 'rescinds' their dismissal, effectively restoring their jobs.
Providence Superintendent Tom Brady insists the dismissals are needed to offer maximum flexibility as administrators struggle to aggressively trim costs. The district is facing a $40 million shortfall for the 2011-2012 school year, and Brady insists the fiscal process is not far enough along to determine what cuts will be necessary. He says the district must adhere to a March 1 legal deadline to let teachers know about potential changes to employment.
Teachers Union officials say a campaign is now underway to ensure the city's teachers are treated fairly.
"The response locally and nationally has been tremendous," said Steve Smith, president of the Providence Teachers Union. "Beyond the numerous phone calls expressing outrage at the Mayor’s action and support for our efforts, we have also received confirmation that many plan to join us on Wednesday."
The head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, is expected to lead the crowd this afternoon, joining leaders from the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals at 4:30 p.m. Rally organizers predict private-sector union workers will attend and raise their voices along with a multitude of teachers.
The Teachers Union has also filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Labor Relations Board accusing the Providence School Board of engaging in unfair labor practices. The complaint alleges the board refused to bargain in good faith before unilaterally terminating all teachers without adequate notice to the union.
Smith says they "will continue to explore every legal option available."
Many of the teachers now facing a possible job hunt say they feel disrespected and "blindsided" by the sweeping terminations. Smith expressed frustration with the shift in labor relations.
"We were sorry to see our progress on numerous fronts come to a screeching halt; we are also sorry to see the consequence of wasted time and money for the city and for us. It was totally unnecessary," laments Smith. "We have a long history of accomplishments that reflect our ability and success in working effectively and collaboratively with the city and administration."
Union officials are appealing to city leaders to consider layoffs instead of terminations, but the mayor's office is standing firm, arguing layoffs would not necessarily result in a reduction of costs.
According to the mayor's website all laid-off teachers with 'recall rights' negotiated by the union can be placed in a special pool and continue to receive pay "whether or not they are working."
Teachers in the pool are often used as long-term substitutes. Anticipating several school closures, city leaders fear the number of teachers in the pool will dramatically increase and drain an already depleted budget.
Dismissals allow the district to "end its financial obligation to an individual completely if that person's classroom teaching position is no longer needed." City officials believe they will prevent "a potential financial liability of over $20 million" by issuing dismissals instead of instituting mass layoffs.
Molly Line joined Fox News Channel as a Boston-based correspondent in January 2006.