The mass firing of 2,000 teachers in Providence is getting a lot of press attention and clearly upset the teachers who received the notices. But the school board in the Rhode Island capitol is contending that it is only following the law requiring notification of possible job layoffs for the next school year by March 1.
Because the city does not yet know the scope of layoffs, it covered its bases by sending notices to all teachers seeking what it describes as “maximum flexibility” in coping with its budget melt down.
But the notices have created maximum anxiety. Many of the teachers will have their jobs in 2011-2012, but the tactic is garnering criticism. And I can understand as I would also be panicked if I received an official notice that I was losing my job, even if I was assured it was procedural maneuver.
Like every city, Providence is in budget free fall. It’s almost gone through its reserves and is facing massive cuts.
Still, teachers ask why they have to be the sacrificial lambs. In budget crunches, schools are a natural place to look for for cuts as they cost a lot. I still can’t get over that Georgia chose to remedy its gas shortage a few years ago by shuttering schools for two days. We were the only state to do so, and I think it communicated a lot about the value placed on education here.
(I am off to UGA where the Black Law Student Association at UGA Law is creating a reenactment of the trial in which UGA became desegregated. I am on a panel afterward, but am eager to see the reenactment. I have been reading all week about Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault who, in 1961, became the first African-American students at UGA. I have heard Hunter-Gault speak in the past and am in awe of the courage she and Holmes showed as young students facing angry mobs and an anti-integration governor and Legislature. Hurray for activist judges who forced Georgia and UGA to do what it should have done decades earlier. )
Here is the statement by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, on the Providence mess:
Providence city officials’ sudden announcement firing every single Providence teacher—close to 2,000 people—without apparent regard to its effect or even consideration of the teachers’ performance, is shocking. What makes this even more stunning is that the district and the Providence Teachers Union have been working collaboratively on a groundbreaking, nationally recognized school transformation model. A mass firing, announced in the middle of a school year, does not help solve a budget problem—the purported reason—but, rather, disrupts the education of all students and the entire community. The mayor claims he needs flexibility. We looked up “flexibility” in the dictionary, and it does not mean destabilizing education for all students in Providence or taking away workers’ voice or rights.
Mass firings, whether in one school or an entire district, are not fiscally or educationally sound. The mayor and school superintendent owe it to the community and to the students and teachers in Providence to resolve whatever problem they’re dealing with, not by fiat, but by working in a collaborative way. For the past two years, that’s what they have been doing when it comes to work on improving low-performing schools, developing an innovative hiring process and revamping the teacher evaluation system.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog.