Last February, with the School Department's budget $2.7 million in the red, and an as-yet unrealized future deficit looming, the Woonsocket School Committee voted to lay off 700 employees.
At the time, City Council Vice Chairman Dan Gendron noted the School Committee had little choice, since the deadline to send pink slips was March 1, before much of the scope of the department's fiscal troubles were known.
The deadline was blamed for a similar spree of school department layoffs in Providence in 2011, and it's a situation all school districts may face during financial uncertainty.
Sen. Louis P. DiPalma's (D - District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) new legislation would ease the annual ordeal by moving the layoff notification date for teachers from March 1 to June 1.
The bill (2013-S 0049) is aimed at averting situations where school districts send layoff notices to every teacher in February to provide maximum flexibility in the face of budget uncertainties ahead, according to a release from the Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau.
Woonsocket Sen. Roger A. Picard (D-Dist. 20) has co-sponsored the bill.
“Because of the way the state and local budget systems work, schools have very little information about their budgets for the following year by March 1, when they are required to notify any teachers who might be laid off. The result is that they regularly have to issue pink slips to dozens or, in some cases, even hundreds of teachers to make sure they’re covered for the worst-case budget possibilities. It’s an unnecessary, frightening and disruptive experience for teachers, students and parents, and it hangs over their heads from March 1 until the budget is settled months later,” said DiPalma, a Democrat who represents District 12 in Middletown, Little Compton, Newport and Tiverton. “The slips are essentially meaningless, so why are we forcing schools and teachers to go through the trouble, expense and worry?”
Later in the spring, closer to the start of the next fiscal year on July 1, schools have a better idea of how much funding they can expect from the state and their municipalities, said DiPalma. As the new statewide school aid funding formula phases in over the next decade, the level of predictability will increase, too.
Since often budgetary decisions at the state level aren’t made until the final days of the fiscal year – and occasionally even later – moving the deadline to June 1 still isn’t going to mean school officials will know the exact level of support they will be getting from the state and their municipalities when they issue the notices. But they’ll have more information than they would have in March, and teachers need to know before the end of the school year whether they can expect to be returning to their classrooms the next fall or should be applying for other jobs, DiPalma said.
The legislation is co-sponsored by Picard, Sen. Ryan Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), Sen. Christopher Scott Ottiano (R-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton) and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham).
Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) is sponsoring the bill (2013-H 5066) in the House, where the cosponsor are Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown), Rep. Linda Finn (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth) and Rep. Joseph A. Trillo (R-Dist. 24, Warwick).