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Riffs cause rift between RI union and district officials

1194985021415637292axe_peterm__svg_medI just love a good fuss. There’s something truly entertaining about adults frothing at the mouth and blowing an issue all out of proportion.

That seems to be the case in Providence, R.I., where the teachers union is all up in arms over the school system’s decision to send out dismissal notices to all 1,926 teachers in the city.

School officials say the notices make sense. As Superintendent Tom Brady told the Providence Journal, state law requires the district to notify teachers by March 1 if there’s the possibility that their employment status could change.

And, confronted with a potential $40 million budget deficit next year, “a dismissal letter to all teachers was necessary to give the mayor, the school board, and the district maximum flexibility to consider every cost savings option, including reductions in staff.”

That makes sense to me. It would be a tad difficult to balance the budget if you tell only 100 teachers that they might lose their jobs—and then you need to lay off 150.

It also makes sense because, if there’s any flexibility in state law and the teachers’ contract, the sweeping dismissal notice allows school officials to avoid the first-hired, first-fired phenomenon that so often surrounds teacher layoffs.

Why lose a promising young talent or hard-to-find science teacher when there are less effective teachers who can go on the chopping block?

I like the idea that teacher layoffs might actually be determined by the educational needs of students.

Somehow the Providence Teachers Union doesn’t appear to agree with me. Indeed, union President Steve Smith is showing a marked tendency to succumb to hyperbole.

“This is beyond insane,” he told the Journal. “Let’s create the most chaos and the highest level of anxiety in a district where teachers are already under unbelievable stress. Now I know how the United States State Department felt on Dec. 7, 1941.”

That was the day the Japanese government bombed Pearl Harbor. Last I heard, teachers were talking about a protest in front of City Hall.

Oh, please. It’s obvious, given Rhode Island’s dire financial straits, that layoffs are a strong possibility. But it’s also obvious that most teachers aren’t going to lose their jobs. Someone has to teach the kids.

So I have to wonder if the union’s outrage really has anything to do with teacher anxiety or a perceived affront that everyone’s head is on the chopping block.

Sounds to me as if the union is simply upset that the status quo is being challenged—that older teachers might find their job security resting in the hands of principals who put students, not adults, at the center of their priorities.

Too bad. The world is changing. And unions are being swept up in that change.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|March 3rd, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |


  1. John Young says:


    You make quite an assumption about principals having the interests of students and not adults first. Do principals make 100% unfailing pro-student decisions? Are teachers 100% against students as you seem intimate?

    Bad article summarizing a complex issue. Only a fool would jump on board policies and decisions that seek to add instability to schools. SO it’s in the best interest of children to tell them that no teacher is safe? Think that may create anxiety and instability in a classroom? Of course it does. Of course this decision is like carpet bombing a nation when a surgical strike is all that is warranted….lots of collateral damage.

    I get your magazine as part of my membership through my state SBA, perhaps I should not join next year. What drivel.

    John Young
    President – Christina Schools Board of Education
    New Castle County, Delaware

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