Each one of the 1,926 teachers working for the Providence School Department was sent a dismissal notice this week, in a move officials say was necessary to deal with a projected deficit of almost $40 million next year.
According to The Providence Journal, “[s]chool and city leaders said they were forced to issue the mass dismissal notices because of a state law that says teachers must be notified about possible layoffs or terminations by March 1.” In a statement, Mayor Angel Taveras said that because the deadline for informing teachers about employment changes came before the budget for next year could be determined, the move was necessary.
“Providence faces significant challenges in getting its financial house in order,” Taveras said in the statement. “Spending reductions are inevitable. It is also inevitable that some portion of cuts will come from the school budget. This is why we faced the difficult decision of sending letters to all teachers: we do not yet know what actions will be required and believe it was only fair to let all teachers know about the severity of the situation.”
Taveras told the Journal that there would be fewer schools open, and fewer teachers teaching, in Providence next year — he just couldn’t yet say how many.
“To be clear about what this means,” Superintendent Tom Brady wrote in an email to teachers, “this action gives the School Board the right to dismiss teachers as necessary, but not all teachers will actually be dismissed at the end of the school year.”
Brady told the Journal that Taveras had asked him to find a solution that gave the city “maximum flexibility” to deal with the deficit.
“This is beyond insane,” Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith 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.”
Read the Mayor’s full statement:
This week the Providence School Department sent letters to all public school teachers informing them that they may be dismissed at the end of the current school year. The dismissal notices were delivered in accordance with a State law requiring that teachers be notified about potential changes to their employment status by March 1.
As a Providence public school graduate, I understand how great teachers can change lives. I have the honor of serving as Mayor in large part because of the gifted teachers who invested their time and energy in enriching my life, and I will never forget that. Providence schools are home to many teachers who, day after day, do all they can to educate and improve the lives of our City’s students. I am sensitive to the uncertainty and anxiety that teachers felt today when they received this letter.
State law requires that teachers be notified by March 1 about any potential changes to their employment status. This law puts us in the very difficult position of having to issue notices before the budgeting process is complete. Decisions around school funding must be made in a careful and well-planned manner that best serves students, schools, our teachers, and the community. Unfortunately, the March 1 deadline does not coincide with the careful budgeting process we must undertake to make sure school funding decisions are made in the best interest of all.
Providence faces significant challenges in getting its financial house in order. Spending reductions are inevitable. It is also inevitable that some portion of cuts will come from the school budget. This is why we faced the difficult decision of sending letters to all teachers: we do not yet know what actions will be required and believe it was only fair to let all teachers know about the severity of the situation.
The School Department has annually supported legislation that would extend the March 1 deadline to July 1. My team will support similar legislation this year in hopes of avoiding situations like this in the future.
There is nothing more important to me than making Providence schools the best in the country. I am hopeful that we can work together to address the fiscal challenges we face in a way that supports our students, our schools and the countless teachers who dedicate themselves to educating our young citizens.
We will communicate more information about the budget and possible cuts to school funding as soon as is possible.
Sincerely, Mayor Angel Taveras
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com