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NEA Rhode Island: Lay-off notices? Just follow the rules



“…it is shameful to see some superintendents and school committees take advantage of budget uncertainty by playing fast and loose with layoff notices…”

Over the Memorial Day weekend UpriseRI heard from teachers who were receiving notice of layoffs and facing funding cuts. One message, from a teacher who prefers to remain anonymous, struck us in particular:

“I am a Rhode Island public school teacher. As you know, we have all been working hard with distance learning and have been praised by the governor on several occasions. However, now a huge portion of us are being laid off for next school year as our great reward for completing distance learning successfully. Districts have cut English, Math, Guidance, and the arts at this point. They are stating that there is too much uncertainty with how much state funding they will receive and what (if any) federal relief money they will get. Their only option was to cut positions drastically. I have contacted several news organizations asking if someone can ask the governor at a press conference to comment on the budget situation in regards to public schools and what she is going to do to protect the teachers she has praised throughout this crisis. We need some comment on when the budget will be shared with superintendents so they can recall teachers. We are all stressed and overworked as it is and this is just a complete disservice to the children of Rhode Island We must now ‘finish strong’ as the Governor has asked, knowing that we are out of a job and will truly never see our students again.”

I put some of this to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo during her Tuesday COVID-19 press update.

“I’m not aware of that,” said Governor Raimondo. “I talk to the mayors often and I don’t know of anyone planning that. So here’s what I would say. First of all [teachers] deserve our gratitude. It’s amazing what teachers have done. They’ve moved on a dime to embrace distance learning without ever having done it before. They’re working harder than they were before and they’re doing a great job. I want to be crystal clear about how grateful and impressed I am with educators.”

Having said all that, Governor Raimondo then went on to address the brutal realities of the State’s as yet undecided budget:

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“Here’s the brutal reality. If we don’t get further federal stimulus from Congress, I can’t even imagine how horrible it’s going to be to balance these budgets. And I have towed the line on furloughs as long as possible. As I’ve said, I’ve been crystal clear. I view these things to be last resorts. That’s especially true for teachers, but if we don’t get more money from Congress, everything’s on the table. My view would be that’s a last resort. But I want to be very clear with people. An $800 million deficit is like nothing the state’s ever seen before and the choices we’ll have to make will just be unprecedented.”

Today NEA Rhode Island responded to the rumors of layoffs, specifically, but not exclusively, calling out Tiverton Superintendent Peter Sanchioni, who has embroiled the town in a lawsuit over the firing of NEA Tiverton President Amy Mullin.

In their statement, the NEA Rhode Island said that some superintendents and school committees “playing fast and loose with layoff notices.” These layoff notices that some teachers are receiving are violations of process, law and collective bargaining agreements, maintains NEA Rhode Island. Here’s the full statement:

“All our teachers and education support professionals have made incredible sacrifices during this pandemic and stay-at-home order. Educators and support professionals turned classroom learning into distance learning in a matter of days and, by working directly with Governor Raimondo’s office, Rhode Island has led the way in development and implementation. People across the country are looking to Rhode Island to continue to set the example.

“That is why it is shameful to see some superintendents and school committees take advantage of budget uncertainty by playing fast and loose with layoff notices. We understand fully that non-renewal letters, or layoff notices, are required by law until an understanding of the budget is ascertained and workers are recalled as soon as the uncertainty is resolved. That is the process in Rhode Island. But layoffs need to follow the normal budgetary procedure, and management must adhere to underlying law and collective bargaining agreements as part of that process.

“Unfortunately, the Tiverton superintendent sent the wrong letter with the wrong terminology and that exacerbated an already volatile situation with the termination of the union local president. A situation which is currently in litigation. Other districts made presumptions without checking with the Governor’s office prompting the rumor mill to churn and stress levels to rise when educators and support professionals are already stretched thin.

“The facts are these: the last day for students and teachers is June 18 per the Governor. All other laws, contracts, and educational policies remain in place. Actions outside of what the law requires regarding non-renewals is, not only a violation of contracts, but a failure to meet the basic education needs of every student by eliminating positions such as art, music, library, counselors, and school nurse teachers which are essential, especially now.

“We simply request that management adhere to the procedures in place. If one isn’t familiar with the procedures, perhaps ask another who is in the know before sending letters of non-renewal to the hard-working Rhode Islanders educating our students and tending to their social and emotional needs during an unprecedented time in our history.”

Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.