PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Public School District is closing Evolutions High School and laying off or displacing more than 50 district staffers in an effort to shrink the central office, reorganize how the district is run and save money amid impending budget woes.
The central office reorganization is part of state-appointed superintendent Harrison Peters’ entry plan to shift resources from the administrative office into the schools, as the district works to improve under a state intervention that was sparked by the Johns Hopkins report last summer.
He also announced a new network model to run the district’s schools, appointing Susan Chin as the “network superintendent” for the 22 elementary schools and hiring Dr. Olayinka Alege as the network superintendent to oversee the 19 middle and high schools. The secondary schools network will also have a new “transformation officer,” Dr. Kevin Gallick.
Each of the networks will include a team of new positions including multilingual learner instruction managers and instruction coaches, and the employees whose jobs are being eliminated are being encouraged to apply for those new jobs, which have not yet been posted. In all, the district will lose a net of 30 jobs.
The layoffs announced Friday do not include any teachers. The 45 jobs eliminated in central office include payroll clerks, human resources associates, supervisors of science and math, math instructional school supports, a psychologist, and others. The union members had already been noticed earlier this year that their jobs might be eliminated.
In addition to the central office layoffs, the cuts also include the eight middle school culture coordinators, positions created in 2017 to help better engage middle school students.
“It was a difficult choice to make,” spokesperson Laura Hart said. “In order to finance what we needed to finance in the classroom, we had to make some cuts.”
Evolutions High School is a small “innovative” program that opened within Mount Pleasant High School in 2015 — along with 360 High School inside Hope High — thanks to a $3 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation.
The 270 students at Evolutions will be folded into Mount Pleasant High, though Hart said there could be an opportunity for students to transfer to other high schools in the city. No teachers will be laid off in the consolidation of the two schools, but vacant teacher positions and administrator positions (including the Evolutions principal) will not be filled and some clerical workers will be displaced to other jobs, saving an estimated $750,000, according to Chief Operating Officer Zachary Scott.
Peters said the district would redesign Mount Pleasant High School, and will engage the community with focus groups before coming out with a plan.
“We don’t want them to go back to the same business as usual,” Peters said. “We do want to re-envision all of our high schools and we want to start with Mount Pleasant as our lab of innovation.”
Peters said the experiment “hasn’t worked” as well at Evolutions as it did at 360 High School.
The entire reorganization — including the high school closure, layoffs and elimination of vacant positions — is expected to save $3.8 million in the upcoming budget year. It represents more than half the cuts needed to level-fund the district’s budget, under an assumption the state may not increase funding to schools as previously expected because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The rest of the cuts could potentially come from salary freezes and furloughs, which could affect teachers. Scott said the district is also offering a retirement incentive to members of the Local 1339 clerical union in an effort to avoid additional layoffs. And he added that more cuts could be possible if state aid to the district is actually reduced, rather than just level-funded.
Peters said his goal is to “protect the classroom” in the budget cuts and avoid teacher layoffs at all cost.
“There are no guarantees,” Peters said. “Teachers layoffs are not something that I want to do.”
The district reorganization is described as a “deliverable” of the state takeover Turnaround Plan, a document which has not yet been released. R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said last week the plan would be released “very soon.”
Meanwhile, the state and district are still grappling with what school will look like in the fall, exploring hybrid models that could include some in-person and remote learning. Peters noted that stimulus money for the district from the CARES Act would likely be used to purchase PPE and other necessities to make school safe in the fall.