Dan McGowan

In visit to Providence, national teachers' union leader criticizes Mayor Elorza

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With Providence teachers now in their tenth month without a new union contract, the president of American Federation of Teachers took Mayor Jorge Elorza to task Thursday for the lack of progress his administration has made on negotiations.

Randi Weingarten, the fiery national union leader who is in Providence for a Democratic National Committee meeting Friday, also chastised the Democratic mayor for not joining the union and other officials on a tour of two city schools Thursday afternoon.

“Providence, Rhode Island is not Oklahoma City or Phoenix, Arizona,” Weingarten told reporters gathered outside Mount Pleasant High School. “And the fact that a mayor of this city is not sitting down trying to solve these problems and acting more like what we see in states that haven’t really cared about their kids is shocking to me.”

The city’s 2,000 teachers have gone the entire school year without a new contract and Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro has accused Elorza of reneging on an agreement that would have guaranteed her members modest raises earlier this year. Elorza has said he wants a “transformational contract,” although he hasn’t offered details about the changes he is seeking.

Weingarten praised state Treasurer Seth Magaziner, City Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan and Superintendent Christopher Maher for attending her visit to Pleasant View Elementary School, where she toured classrooms, met with children engaged in personalized learning, and jumped around with students in a bouncy house during the school’s field day.

She said Elorza should have joined the group.

“Just like several City Council people were with us, just like Seth Magaziner was with us, just like the superintendent was with us, he should have walked around with us and looked at the great work that’s happening in Providence schools,” Weingarten said. “Our kids in this city deserve a chance. Their teachers, despite all the odds, are trying to do that.”

Earlier in the day, Elorza said he was not planning to attend the tours, in part because Thursday was the first day of PVDFest, the city’s annual arts and cultural festival. He said he was pleased to have Weingarten visit the schools, but said he hoped the union wouldn’t “politicize” the tours.

After hearing Weingarten’s comments, a spokesperson for Elorza said the mayor was not invited to attend the tours.

Tension between the mayor and the teachers has escalated in recent months, with the union rallying at his State of the City address and forming a picket line at his campaign re-election kickoff last weekend. The two sides held a lunch a meeting several weeks ago, but Calabro said the administration has not followed up with her.



“You want mayoral control instead of an elected school board, then you better roll up your sleeves and work with the teachers in your district, the superintendent in your district and actually help lift up schools,” Weingarten said.

Weingarten was also quick to endorse the state’s proposal to borrow $250 million to repair crumbling school buildings. Before entering Mount Pleasant, she noted that the school has installed netting to stop bricks from falling and injuring people.

While inside the high school, she was treated to a jazz concert taking place in the auditorium and then toured classrooms to learn about the school’s career and technical programming. When she entered a room filled with 3D printers, she joked, “these can be dangerous.”

Weingarten declined to comment on a proposal to effectively eliminate the use of superdelegates in the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process. She sits on the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which will discuss the proposal Friday morning at the Omni Providence.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan


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