PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state has reached a deal on a collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union after a year and a half of negotiations, Gov. Dan McKee said Tuesday.
McKee told reporters a deal was reached Monday night. He declined to divulge any details until the agreement is ratified by the more than 1,900 members of the union.
“All parties have agreed not to discuss the details of the contract until it has been ratified,” he said. “I want to thank everyone who participated in that effort, and I look forward to working with the teachers along with the administrators, parents, students and community leaders to move Providence in that spot where it becomes the school of choice for families that live in the city of Providence.”
This is the first collective bargaining agreement since the state took control of the Providence schools in 2019, in part with a goal to overhaul the contract to allow for more flexibility to make change in the district.
But the previous contract expired in August 2020 with no new deal in place. Negotiations became contentious at times, and at one point a mediator was brought in to facilitate talks between the two sides.
Mayor Jorge Elorza, who previously had his own contentious negotiations with the union when the city controlled the schools, had been calling in recent weeks for the state to take unilateral action to change the contract.
Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green stopped personally attending the meetings this past spring, and McKee sent one of his top staffers Tony Afonso to represent the administration in the negotiations instead.
Tensions apparently cooled after that, as both sides in recent weeks had indicated an agreement was near.
Union President Maribeth Calabro said the agreement was reached around 10 p.m. Monday. McKee said he got the call from Afonso Monday night, and he also spoke Tuesday with to Randi Weingarten, the national leader of the American Federation of Teachers.
McKee, who ascended to governor this year after former Gov. Gina Raimondo left to join the Biden administration in Washington, plans to run in the Democratic primary for governor next year. Elorza is widely expected to run against him, and has accused the governor of “doing the bidding” of the teachers union. (McKee dismissed that, saying he was focused on what’s best for students.)
“I’m very pleased that we were able to get this to the finish line with the insertion of the governor and the governor’s liaison and have a positive, productive set of negotiations that resulted in a tentative agreement,” Calabro told 12 News.
Calabro said the tentative deal will first be brought to the union’s executive board next Monday. If the board moves passage, the agreement will be presented to the rest of the union members and a vote will be held.
The five-year Turnaround Action Plan written by the R.I. Department of Education set a goal of getting a new contract within the first year, a deadline that was missed. The plan says the district will “negotiate a more flexible personnel decision process, additional substantive professional development opportunities, and will work to remove other barriers created by the contract.”
Calabro said she disagrees that there were barriers in the first place, but said she’s hopeful that changes to the hiring timeline and process will “create a more diverse workforce earlier than other districts in the state.” She declined to go into details about any specific changes made to hiring or seniority in the agreement.
The contract is also expected to contain pay raises for the teachers.
Elorza appeared dubious of the agreement in a statement Tuesday night.
“It is widely recognized that the transformation of our schools cannot take place without a top-to-bottom reform of the teacher’s union contract,” Elorza said. “I eagerly await to see the details but anything short of a transformational contract will be selling our kids short and it is something we will not accept.”
A joint statement released by McKee, Calabro, Infante-Green and interim Superintendent Javier Montañez called the agreement a “continuation of a student-centered focus that values students, families and educators.”
“We are all anxious for the new school year to start,” the four leaders said in the joint statement. “We faced unprecedented challenges this year, but are proud of how our educators and school staff adapted to do everything possible to overcome obstacles under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We look forward to working with community members, school administrators, and all stakeholders to reinvest and reimagine our public schools to give our students the freedom to thrive.”