PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s annual State of the City address was largely overshadowed by nearly 1,000 teachers who rallied in City Hall Tuesday night to show their anger over a lack of progress on their union contract negotiations.

The Providence Teachers Union has been without a contract since Aug. 31, but union President Maribeth Calabro claims the Elorza administration has reneged on several offers in recent weeks. Calabro brought at least 500 union members to the address Tuesday.

“Providence teacher morale is the lowest it’s been in years, but we have remained focused on providing the best education possible for students,” Calabro said in a statement. “We’re working in some of the most deplorable classroom conditions throughout the state. Despite working in these extremely difficult and sometimes unsafe conditions, we are still some of the lowest paid teachers in the state due to several pay freezes in previous contracts.”

Elorza, a Democrat seeking re-election this year, was forced to pause at several points during the beginning of the speech as teachers shouted him down with chants of “shame on you” and “we deserve a contract.” Council President David Salvatore attempted to ask the crowd the quiet down, but the protesters continued to yell.

The mayor used his speech to highlight investments the city has made in education during his first three years in office. He said the city is investing in its school infrastructure, created a “culturally-responsive curriculum” and working with community partners to improve student outcomes.

“We heard that our students and teachers want facilities that better support 21st century learning,” Elorza said during the speech. ‘We heard that our students craved curriculum that was culturally responsive, that they wanted to look at our staff and see themselves in 10 to 15 years. We heard that students wanted equity in education and increased access to multilingual learning. We heard that our community partners wanted to be involved, they wanted to help us.”

Elorza’s speech did not specifically address the teacher contract negotiations.

The mayor used the beginning of his speech to again denounce a “disturbing and hate-filled flyer” that emerged on social media over the weekend attacking the president of the local branch of the NAACP and other individuals, including a juvenile.

“Over the past three years, we have been continually reminded of the power of the people and of what we can accomplish when we are united,” Elorza said. “Here in Providence, we will continue to add our voice to the chorus and lend our hand to the cause whenever someone tries to divide us.”

The State of the City is separate from the mayor’s budget address, which will be delivered in April.

Calabro said Tuesday’s protest was an informational picket, which meant she was not forcing other Providence elected officials to decide whether to cross a picket line. But several high-profile lawmakers, including Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin decided to skip the address, according to Stephen Iannazz, Ruggerio’s chief of staff. Only two members of the Providence delegation – Reps. Scott Slater and Grace Diaz – attended the speech.

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