New Providence teachers contract includes $3K payment, modest changes

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The nearly 2,000 teachers in the Providence Teachers Union will get moderate pay raises and a one-time $3,000 extra payment in their new collective bargaining agreement, according to a copy obtained by Target 12.

The tentative contact, which has been the subject of much discussion, political debate and hundreds of hours of negotiations since last year, is expected to be ratified by the union members on Friday night.

The three-year contract requires teachers to attend parent-teacher conferences, use their planning periods in specific ways and participate in at least four school functions per year outside the school day, something many teachers already did but was not required before.

The agreement would provide 1.5% retroactive pay raises for last school year, 2% raises for this upcoming school year, 2% raises in 2022 and 0.5% raises in 2023 on the day the contract expires. (The previous contract expired in August 2020.)

The length of the school year for teachers would increase from 180 days to 181 days, with one orientation day and four mandatory professional development days.

The deal also aims to address excessive teacher absenteeism, adding provisions to crack down on abuse of the union’s paid sick time that teachers can use for personal or family illness. The new tentative contract says teachers who improperly use sick time can be investigated and disciplined, starting with a meeting with the principal, and teachers may be required to provide a doctor’s note.

Among the substantive changes are new requirements for how teachers use their daily planning periods when they aren’t assigned a class to teach, requiring them to be used for “activities designed to improve the culture and climate in the school, academic enhancement, professional enrichment or improvement, or other activities related to the responsibility of the teacher to improve outcomes for students,” according to the deal.

Principals could also have some influence over teachers’ planning periods by assigning professional development or meetings up to four times a month. They could also require newer teachers or those who are identified for performance improvement to submit lesson plans on a regular basis.

The deal includes a new provision stemming from the pandemic. The contract says Providence teachers will not be required to teach students in-person and virtually at the same time — a major complaint during hybrid learning this past year — unless the student is suffering from a medical condition or in quarantine.

The agreement contains minor changes to hiring — including the timeline for interviewing external candidates –but not an overhaul. It does not appear to make drastic changes to seniority rules, which have been criticized for protecting subpar teachers. The deal would require there to be a minimum of 150 long-term subs in the district, which could help address teacher vacancies.

The collective bargaining agreement represents the first contract negotiated by state officials during the state takeover of Providence schools, and has fueled tensions between Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Gov. Dan McKee.

McKee announced last week that an agreement had been reached, but both he and the union agreed not to disclose any details until it’s finalized.

The union’s membership plans to vote on the deal on Friday night at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston. The contents of the agreement were first reported by The Boston Globe.

Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who also declined to disclose the details of the contract earlier Wednesday, called it a “good agreement.” She had previously said reforming the contract was one of her top priorities when she took control of the school district under former Gov. Gina Raimondo.

“I’m always going to want more,” Infante-Green said Wednesday when asked if she was satisfied by the deal. “I think we have some significant changes that were not present in Providence before. I look forward to talking about it when we can.”

McKee had removed Infante-Green from the negotiations earlier this year, after which the talks became less tense and a deal was reached fairly quickly.

In a news conference inside the State House intentionally held near McKee’s office Wednesday, Elorza slammed the governor for not disclosing details of the contract prior to it being finalized, and called on Infante-Green not to sign it until the public has a chance to weigh in.

“This is not a decision that can be made in secret and without any engagement in the community,” Elorza said. “We need to know what’s in this contract so we can offer our input.”

He later confronted McKee at an event to celebrate the return of WaterFire, and had to be held back by a member of McKee’s State Police detail.

Elorza no longer has authority over the school district or the teachers contract. Prior to the state takeover of the school district, such a contract would have been vetted by the City Council and discussed in public meetings, with testimony taken from the public before passage.

On Thursday, after reading the contract obtained by reporters, Elorza said it did not amount to the “transformational” change that both state and city officials sought when the state took control of the schools under Raimondo.

McKee, who was not at the State House during Elorza’s news conference, told reporters at an unrelated event in Newport that he wanted to “take the high road” in the dispute with the mayor. The two are likely to face each other in next year’s Democratic primary for governor.

“I’ll be as polite as I can be in this conversation,” he said. “In the end, the idea is to help the students in Providence, and right now the state is in control of those schools. As governor of the state of Rhode Island I need to do what I think is best in moving forward with this thing.”

He dismissed the idea that taking the union to court to get a more favorable contract would have succeeded, and pointed out that Elorza negotiated two contracts with the union and failed to get transformational change.

“I’m like the mayor of Providence right now, on education,” he said.

Getting emotional at times, Elorza said the three-year contract deal could have implications for decades, and called it the “most important decision that the governor and the commissioner of education will ever make in their lives.”

Infante-Green said it was too late to make changes to the process, with the contract set to be ratified on Friday.

“It’s basically a done deal,” she said. “Things are moving very fast at this point.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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