Mayor Tries to Reassure Providence Teachers as Furor Grows Over Firing Noticesvoted to send termination notices to all of the city’s 1,926 teachers, Mayor Angel Taveras sought to calm the uproar by saying that an “overwhelming majority” would not, in fact, lose their jobs.
Mr. Taveras, a Democrat who took office last month, described the extraordinary step as a pre-emptive move to guarantee flexibility in addressing the budget deficit.
Rhode Island law requires teachers to be notified of possible layoffs or terminations by March 1, which is why the school board did not wait for next year’s budget picture to become clearer.
The city will have to close some of its 40 schools by September, Mr. Taveras said, and only those teachers would lose their jobs.
“Given that we don’t know the schools yet that we’re going to target,” he said in an interview, “the most appropriate thing is to require notices to all the teachers.”
Teachers have accused Mr. Taveras of trying to bypass seniority rules by sending termination notices instead of layoff warnings. With layoffs, teachers are typically asked back based on seniority. Terminations give the district more control over which teachers will be rehired.
Mr. Taveras and his spokeswoman, Melissa Withers, denied that accusation. They said layoffs were more costly because they required measures like keeping the affected teachers in a long-term substitute pool.
“When you lay someone off you still have some financial responsibility for them,” Ms. Withers said. “Contractually, there are all kinds of things that define a layoff that could limit our ability to manage the budget.”
The notices going out to teachers warn not that they will be fired, Ms. Withers said, but that they might be.
Steven Smith, the president of the Providence Teachers Union, did not return calls on Friday. But Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, described the school board’s move as an unprecedented power play.
“What’s going on here,” she said, “is somebody has an idea about wanting to arbitrarily and capriciously choose who they want teaching in schools next year.”
Ms. Weingarten said the termination notices were also a way of to pressure the city’s teachers’ union as it prepares for contract negotiations. Its current contract ends in June.
Last year, every teacher at the high school in Central Falls, R.I., just north of Providence, was fired based on poor student performance. But most were rehired within months under a deal between the teachers’ union and the schools superintendent.
Mr. Taveras said Providence would announce which schools were closing within “weeks, not months,” and that the age of the buildings would be a factor in determining that list. The Providence school system is facing a $40 million deficit in its $315 million budget, but he said the situation was not as dire as in Detroit, which plans to close up to 70 of its roughly 140 school buildings and put as many as 60 students in each classroom.
“I don’t plan on being Detroit,” Mr. Taveras said. “It won’t happen here. We care too much about education, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure our kids are in class sizes that are appropriate and led by great teachers.”