Providence teachers unlikely to have new contract before school begins

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Members of the Providence City Council aren’t planning on taking up the city’s proposed teachers’ union contract before they break for the month of August, making it unlikely the teachers will have a new deal before the start of the school year.

The council referred the proposed pact to the Finance Committee last week, more than two months after Mayor Jorge Elorza and union president Maribeth Reynolds-Calabro held a ceremonial signing of the deal in City Hall.

“There is still a lot to look at,” Council President Luis Aponte told WPRI.com. “There are still some questions we want answered.”

Aponte declined to say specifically what concerns the council has over the proposed deal, but he indicated he believes the contract should be fully vetted in committee.

The teachers have been working without a contract since last August, but the 1,900-member union voted in May to support a new agreement that includes a 1% increase at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, a 1.75% increase at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year and a 1.5% on the final day of the 2016-17 school year.

The proposed contract states that teachers would be eligible for larger raises if the city’s other municipal unions negotiate larger pay increases over the next three years, a provision known as a “parity clause.” If raises are awarded to other unions as a result of a contested arbitration hearing, teachers would not be eligible for a similar pay increase, according to the contract.

Reynolds-Calabro took to Twitter Monday to say that “one conspiracy theory” is that city leaders are waiting to reach a new agreement with the firefighters’ union to avoid having to pay an equal raise to the teachers. Elorza has set an Aug. 1 deadline to reach a deal with the firefighters on his plan to move from four platoons to three, a policy that would require firefighters to go from working an average of 42 hours per week to an average of 56 hours per week.

Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Elorza administration said the city does not believe a pay increase for firefighters would require a larger pay increase for teachers. On Twitter, Reynolds-Calabro said the parity clause “was written in so we are on a level playing field.”

Reynolds-Calabro told WPRI.com last week no one from the Elorza administration or the City Council had contacted her about why the proposed contract still hasn’t been approved. She said her union is “starting to lose patience.”

“My hope is that the city is not stalling as they try to navigate other contractual issues with other unions,” she said.

For the council’s part, it has had other pressing matters to address.

The agreement on the contract was announced in May, just as the Finance Committee was finishing up vetting the mayor’s $696.1-million proposed budget. The budget was signed into law on June 10 and took effect July 1.

The City Council also rushed to approve a tax-stabilization ordinance for developers on the vacant I-195 land after state lawmakers introduced legislation that would have cut the city out of awarding tax breaks on the former highway space altogether. That ordinance received first approval from the council last week and will likely be voted on for a second time by the end of the month.

Unlike the General Assembly, the part-time City Council holds meetings for 11 months out of the year. It traditionally takes the month of August off before picking up business again in September.

The teachers worked the entire 2014-15 school year without a new contract after the union overwhelmingly rejected an offer from former Mayor Angel Taveras. The teachers’ primary concern with that proposal was a provision that would have paid teachers more for taking on additional responsibilities, but lacked clarity over how the policy would work.

The first day of school is Sept. 2.

Continue the discussion on Facebook.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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