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Providence Protesters Outraged By Massive Teacher Layoffs

March 3, 2011

Close up of pink layoff noticeThousands took to the streets and gathered in front of City Hall in Providence R.I. on Wednesday to protest Mayor Angel Taveras' dismissal of the city's public school teachers.

According to The Brown Daily Herald, Taveras issued termination notices to the entire Providence teaching force--1,926 teachers--in an attempt to alleviate the city's massive deficit. Additionally, Taveras said he planned to close four to six schools.

"We simply cannot have a situation next year where we have more teachers on the payroll than we can afford to pay or have expenses that exceed our resources," wrote Taveras in a letter to Providence residents.

As The Brown Daily Herald stated, Rhode Island currently faces a $290 million shortfall for the next fiscal year. That number is expected to grow to $375 million by 2016. Providence, alone, has a $110 million deficit, which NPR noted is roughly 20 percent of the city budget. Almost $40 million of that deficit is a result of the Providence Public School District, noted The Brown Daily Herald.

Taveras explained that not all teachers would be dismissed; however, because of a state law that requires districts to alert teachers of changes to their job statuses by March 1, he had no choice but to act quickly in order to "retain the maximum flexibility we could to manage significant cuts to the school budget." NPR added that the mayor is also considering laying off other city workers, but because of the March 1 deadline, teachers were the first to get hit.

Providence is Rhode Island's largest school district, serving some 23,000 students; many of whom are Hispanic and African American and come from low-income families.

Union leaders and community members are outraged by the decision.

"A mass firing, announced in the middle of a school year, does not help solve a budget problem--the purported reason--but, rather, disrupts the education of all students and the entire community," wrote American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in a statement quoted by AOL News.

Emmanuel Rivas, whose nephew attends a Providence public school, echoed Weingarten's sentiment.

"Firing the teachers is not going to help, and it's not going to get any better," said Rivas to NPR. "I got five nephews that are currently staying with me...so what's going to happen to them?"

Some, however, believe this could be the start of something good. Parent Christie Chase sees the dismissals as an opportunity to end the practice of giving preference to teachers with seniority.

"This is an unfortunate way to get there, but something drastic does need to be done, and I think this will force the issue of how you evaluate and hire teachers," she reasoned. Indeed, The Brown Daily Herald noted that seniority rules play a big factor in layoff decisions.

Mayor Taveras defended his decision, saying that the layoffs are a result of budgetary problems and does not reflect teacher quality, reported CNN.

According to The Brown Daily Herald, teachers and parents will find out which schools will be closed and where those students will be sent by March 7. The board will also vote on rescinding teacher dismissal notices on March 14.


Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff

Sources:

"Providence Mayor Defends Firings As Teachers Protest," NPR.org, March 3, 2011, Elisabeth Harrison

"Providence, RI, School Board Votes to Lay Off All Teachers," AOLNews.com, February 25, 2011, Dana Chivvis

"Providence, R.I., teachers union protests firing," CNN.com, March 2, 2011

"State's $300 million deficit takes toll on education," browndailyherald.com, March 3, 2011, Katherine Long

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