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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Teachers don't get it, this is about destroying the field

Fron the Providence Journal

by Linda Borg

PROVIDENCE — After two hours of contentious discussion, the School Board voted 4 to 3 Thursday night to send out termination notices to each of the city’s 1,926 public school teachers.

More than 700 teachers jammed a high school gymnasium to tell school officials 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?”

Every teacher received a certified letter from the School Department on Thursday informing them that they might be terminated at the end of the school year. It also said the School Board would vote on the proposed dismissals at Thursday night’s meeting, which was moved to the Providence Career and Technical Academy to accommodate the huge turnout.

Many of the teachers were caught off guard by Mayor Angel Taveras’ decision to terminate teachers instead of laying them off. Last night, speakers questioned the mayor’s rationale: a $40-million school budget deficit and a March 1 deadline by which the School Department must notify teachers if their jobs are in jeopardy.

“This is a quasi-legal power grab,” said Richard Larkin, a teacher at Classical High School. “You want to pick and choose teachers. Well, we will not be bullied.”

More than 700 teachers turned out for the School Board’s meeting Thursday night at the Providence Career & Technical Academy, at which the board voted to terminate them at the end of the school year. The Providence Journal / Ruben W. Perez
Speaker after speaker demanded to know why they were being fired. Didn’t the teachers union sign on to the federal Race to the Top initiative? Hasn’t the union collaborated with Supt. Tom Brady on new curricula? Isn’t the union working with the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers on a new teacher evaluation?

“I’m feeling disrespected, devalued and marginalized,” said Ed Gorden. “Termination is a career-ender. You are putting a scarlet letter on every one of us.”

Teachers begged the School Board to issue layoffs rather than fire them outright because, under the layoff provisions, teachers are recalled based on seniority. There is no guarantee that seniority would be used to bring back any of the fired teachers. School leaders have been vague about exactly how seniority will play out in the case of terminations.

Before the vote, several School Board members explained their reasons for supporting or rejecting the motion to dismiss:

Philip Gould said he believes that Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith is committed to serious and meaningful school reform, adding that if “we do this, it will be detrimental to the children of this district.”

Nina Pande said the board is faced with an extremely difficult decision and that the board was given only three days to close a $40-million deficit.

Melissa Malone, Kathleen Crain, Pande and Julian Dash voted for the motion to dismiss; Robert Wise, Brian Lalli and Gould voted against it.

Earlier Thursday, Smith called the terminations “an attack on labor and an attack on collective bargaining.”

“This is a back-door Wisconsin,” Smith said, referring to the weeklong protests in Madison by labor unions. “We don’t know why we’re being fired. The mayor says he needs flexibility. Can you buy that? I don’t know of any other district that has done this.”

Thursday night, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the possible dismissals “shocking,” and said the move will “disrupt the education of all students and the entire community.”

Superintendent Brady has said that the majority of teachers will be rehired but could not give any details until the mayor’s special panel completes its report on the city’s financial status.

Teachers who attended a meeting with Brady on Thursday afternoon left as dismayed and confused as they were when they entered the building. Many said they still didn’t understand why they were being dismissed.

“Everyone is anxious,” said Eileen Finklestein, an elementary school teacher. “We hope the School Board will make a rational decision.”

-- with reports from Richard C. Dujardin, Journal staff writer

Yes: Melissa Malone, Kathleen Crain, Niña Pande, Julian Dash

No: Robert Wise, Brian Lalli, Philip Gould

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