School Committee Votes To Issue 700 Layoff Notices

Most notices will likely be rescinded, but the teachers union still cries foul

With a crowd of angry teachers looking on, the School Committee voted Wednesday night to send layoff notices to 700 school department employees.

Despite the vote, most of those unionized workers — and possibly all — will likely keep their jobs. School Committee members said they took the action because state law requires them to send layoff notices by March 1. With no firm information about finances, they have no way of knowing if they'll have to trim the staff before the next school year starts in September.

"We have an abundance of wonderful, valuable, dedicated teachers, and I hope that all will be recalled," Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan said before the vote. "This action is out of caution. I do not wish to break your contract."

Committee members John Donlon and Eleanor Nadeau voted against sending the notices. "If this was to lay off 200 or 300, I could support it," Donlon said. "But not all. After they receive these notices, are teachers really going to give 100 percent for the rest of the year?"

"There's a hidden agenda," Nadeau added. In a brief interview after the meeting, she offered no insight into what that might mean. "How would I know?" she said. "It's hidden."

The vote came as the school department struggles to put an end to annual budget shortfalls. It ended last year $2.7 million in the red, and another shortfall is expected this year. At this point, no one is predicting how large it will be.

As a result of the school department deficits, two bond rating agencies have reduced the city's credit rating. Many residents are fearful Woonsocket could end up the next Rhode Island city in state receivership, and that a hike in the property tax rate could be coming soon.

The pink slips are also going to teaching assistants, custodians and clerks, but teachers are leading the protests. More than 100 attended Wednesday's meeting. Many of them donned purple T-shirts as a show of solidarity, and carried signs that bore the logo of the American Federation of Teachers.

Some members of the Woonsocket Teachers Guild have said they fear the School Committee is actually using the mass layoff to get rid of senior teachers, who are paid significantly more than those just starting their careers. Under that scenario, the committee would require teachers to reapply for their jobs, and base rehiring on salary. 

Union president Jeff Partington echoed those sentiments during Wednesday's meeting. He told the School Committee to "respect seniority" when teachers are recalled, and he described the mass layoff as "ill-considered and poorly planned."

Avoiding the word "taxes," Partington insisted the city raise funds to pay school department salaries. "It's a revenue problem, not a cost problem," he said. "The well has run dry."

School Committee Chairwoman Anita McGuire Forcier agreed. "You're correct," she said. "The urban districts need additional funds. Unfortunately, as a school committee we cannot generate revenue."

The meeting drew a crowd of about 200 people, including several members of the City Council. "This isn't something I wanted to see happen," said Dan Gendron, the council's vice chairman, after the session ended. "But the School Committee was put in an awkward position by the March 1 deadline, which was pushed through years ago by the teachers' union."

Mike February 25, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Thanks Steve. good points. A quick look at national teacher to student ratios shows theft RI has the second highest teacher to student ratio in the country. One way this happens is temporary grants to schools. The school gets a grant, and people under the provisions of the grant. The grant runs out, and the school keeps the people on the payroll. Lastly, not all the teachers need be rehired. Student numbers are falling. The poor performing teachers (and you know who they are) should not be rehired.
Jerry February 25, 2012 at 02:18 PM
How about asking students, who really want to learn and get a good education or who just go to school to cause trouble? We would probably all be surprised at the answer. Maybe then we wouldn't need so many teachers. How about people starting to pay for students who aren't taxpayers? Maybe a fee per child? Why should taxpayers get stuck bailing everyone else out. I don't care if you don't agree, rules and laws need to change and something has got to give. They should cancel busing immediately and everyone should pitch in, especially those parents who live in our city who don't work, and we all know who they are. It's called keeping our community alive.
Dawn February 25, 2012 at 03:30 PM
As a parent of a special ed student in the middle school I believe in the teachers there a few that have been around to teach all my kids and I would hate to see them laid off. I believe in my son and his growth as a young man in this critical time. But I also believe in our Mayor who is just trying to find a way to save our city so we don't become like central falls the state wants a resolution to our deficit.
Carole February 25, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Now the superintendant sent us another letter that says she is not trying to break the union. Ellie Nadeau says the opposite and that there is a "hidden agenda" behind laying off the entire staff. Which is the liar? Does it matter?
Juliette February 25, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Well said Roxanne!
Juliette February 25, 2012 at 10:00 PM
I agree Steve, they do need a competent leadership to balance the budget. Any spending to the school department is brought before the school committee for approval.....so I ask you.....when there is a deficit, why go after the teachers? They are not the ones who spent all the money!!
Juliette February 25, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Yes Robert, I agree. Now Steve, you, being a Woonsocket Graduate, should have some personal ties to all of this. You went through the system and I am sure you had teachers who inspired you to do well. I do not believe that the city is in this mess because of the school department. Financially the city officials need to learn how to balance their budget...welcome to the real world! I too, am in the corporate world and know how 401K's and salaries all work. I have had many friends lose their jobs only to find out there is not much out there due to the economy. As far as taxes increasing, property values going down........and don't forget, cost of living has gone up, yes that is the real world and teachers live in it just like you and I. So your 401K is crap?? Who knows what the teachers will have when they retire????? I value the education I received.....do YOU??
Upset Citizen February 27, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Steve, clearly you have no understanding of public schools and their structure. Special education and support staff make up a large part of the staff that are required to operate a school that provides a free and appropriate public education. If you think removing these positions (at the suggestion of someone with no clue how education works) will save money, you are so wrong. The entire district will be ut of compliance, and subject to multiple lawsuits. start adding up those figures, and you'll find that your negligent ideas will cost the district far more than filling these positions.
Upset Citizen February 27, 2012 at 12:45 AM
another note to steve... why are you blaming the teachers, and supporting the school committee? They are the ones that are supposed to balance the budget. This is not the fault of the teachers who are working hard in this district. Why are you blaming them for other people's mismanagement? If you really are really an concerned tax payer (as am I) you should be screaming at SC members for the awful things they have done to this town. If you've still got some fire, turn towards city hall. This happened on Leo Fontaine's watch, he should have to explain himself.
Upset Citizen February 27, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Steve, why not try talking about brain surgery instead, you likely know just as much about that.
Upset Citizen February 27, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Is that your plan Jerry? How about if your house catches fire we send you a bill, and if you have a heart attack and call 911, the operator first looks at your property value, and determines whether or not you are worth an ambulance. Sure, we have plenty of people in this community that are on the take, but blaming school aged children is a cowards response. Stop hating.
Steve February 27, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Well, again I say to Upset Citizen, where are YOUR ideas on how to turn this now 5+ million dollar WED budget deficit around? Gee, no answers, just, it's the other guy's problem, it's the other guy's fault, not mine right? Well, here's the reality, when the state gets done dissecting the WED and Woonsocket school system, you'll wish that some of your so-called "Special Education and support staff majority teaching force" had come together and come up with ideas, rather than just pass the buck to other groups in the system! The day of reckoning is coming and it's coming quickly.
Lillian February 28, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Wow Steve you sure have a lot of time on your hands during the day, hopefully you are not writing all these posts on company time. You seem to be a know it all on everything. Are we a bit angry because you didn't get into city politics like you wanted?
Steve February 29, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Well Hello Lillian, how are you? Welcome to the Patch posting list. I don't know if I should be flattered or insulted by knowing that your first TWO posts on the patch are asking ME who I work for, if I’m an aspiring politician, if I’m a defeated politician or if I’m a “Know it all”? Out of all the various topics, posters, and the like that are posted on the Patch daily, you seem to post your first two posts, that have absolutely no substance, opinions, facts, ideas or anything similar to an actual thought that can be stated other than to demean or belittle me on the Patch site. You must find my posts interesting and comment able? Do I make you think for a change? I see you’re off to a flying start. Keep up the good work, and maybe some day, you’ll actually post something that will make people say Hmmmmm, maybe he or she has a point! But then again, maybe not.
Lillian February 29, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Hi Steve, I just thought your comments were the most ignorant ones on the Patch that is why I responsed to you. It seems like you think you know it all when it comes to city and school government but you also seem to have a chip on your shouldfer about something. If the city is so bad you could always move to Central Falls.
Lori February 29, 2012 at 12:38 PM
all staff except administration
Sue G February 29, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I do not know who Steve is, but I do believe he has some valid viewpoints worth checking out. I do not agree with his whole perspective, but I will not attack him personally and I do not understand the few of you that think calling Steve names is more productive than offering suggestions to h elp the situation in which we ALL now find ourselves.
Steve February 29, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Hello again Lillian, well I seem to be at a bit of a disadvantage here, seeing how you think my posts ALL of my posts are the most ignorant posts on the Patch. (I guess even my posts that are meant to inform folks of documented data, relative news articles, recent press releases, opinion supporting data and such is ignorant in your book too right, oh well, se la vie!) There's one consideration here though, how can you say my posts are the most ignorant posts, when you haven't posted anything on the Patch for me to even consider as a response to your opinion? Gee, and I would have thought that at least the "Best French Fries" piece would have brought out the Shakespeare in you. So, with that in mind, I'll hold onto my comments or opinions on your postings until such a time that you actually post an idea, comment or opinion on something other than your opinion of my posts. Ok?
sam brown February 29, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Teachers in Woonsocket please. The students run the class. Start cleaning out the dead beats and rehire some new teachers that want to teach. Teacher aids what a joke. What do they do pass out pencils and wipe the noses of the little monkeys.
Lillian March 01, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Have to say Steve, if the Patch had an award for the most posts you would get it hands down. Must be nice to be able to post and respond on every matter in the city and be so knowledgeable on everything. Glad you have the time and energy for that buddy.
Lillian March 01, 2012 at 11:44 AM
It is called a Fair Funding Formula that allows the city of Woonsocket to get what they deserve. AS citizens we need to fight for this. The one that came down last year is not fair to the major cities in Rhode Island. That is my solution Steve. Also, how about going back a few years to the superintendents that allowed all this to happen, things are being swept under the rug, the students and staff have to suffer because of Rhode Island's basic education plan, fair funding formula, and poor past management.
Jerry March 01, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Why can't we start at the top? Stacey Busby still on paid vacation?? I mean "paid administrative leave", really? Isn't it one in the same? Why isn't she fired SCHOOL COMMITTEE? Still, after all this discussion, no one gets it...nothing has changed, why can't busing be stopped! because of state law?? give me a break..The state doesn't even know what they are doing. There should be a freeze on everything, and a meeting of the "brains" should take place...but really, who is that?
Steve March 01, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Hi Lillian, finally, a post that is relevant to a topic. So, you’re saying the WED's budget deficits were caused by Dr. Gerardi's past performance (regardless of any financial oversight) and the current state funding formula. The solution is to go back to the state and ask them for more money because their funding formula is wrong, right? Ok, with that in mind, should the WED continue to operate as normal, running up 2+ million dollar deficits each year going forward, planning or hoping for more money from the state somewhere down the line, or do they make the necessary changes to their budget now, reducing the city's exposure to further decline of its financial status classification, limiting the need to increase tax rates, limiting the need for a supplemental tax bill and avoiding a further reduction to city services in an attempt to balance their budget in the wake of constant WED deficits? Also, from the looks of it, the WED seems to running another 2 million dollar plus deficit for the current year as well. How long do they run at these deficit levels before real corrective action is taken?
John Smith March 02, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Most cities and towns in Rhode Island allocate 80% of their budget to education and the remaining 20% to municipalities, woonsocket is the exact opposite. Why isn't Woonsocket supporting the education of their children??
The Chorus March 02, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Hmm...Mr Smith...how are you coming up with 80/20 numbers? I did a quick comparison on 2011/2012 municipal budgets for Smithfield, Cranston and Woonsocket. I randomly chose Smithfield and Cranston as one is a town and one is city...each spends about 53% of their overall budgets on education...I checked Woonsocket...spends about 58% of the overall budget on education. Just trying to understand how you get to those figures.
John Smith March 02, 2012 at 09:30 PM
This information was in the Woonsocket Call this week, I believe Wednesdays edition. It also stated Woonsocket has only increased its aid to education by 1.5% a year while other communites were at 4 to 5%
The Chorus March 02, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Thank you - much appreciated.
la_mouffette March 04, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Brenda, they may or may not be genuinely laid off. They are "technically" laid off. Something similar happened last year. The school is drastically over budget by millions of dollars for the third year in a row. Last year the state gave us a loan to cover the gap and warned us not to do ti again... but we have. We won't know by how much until the city council meeting on Monday. (there will be a special workshop first at 6 at town hall. IT WILL NOT BE ON TV. Everyone who possibly can should attend. It is HUGELY important.) The administration issued these lay-offs again this year to keep every avenue of action open as they try to figure out how to keep us afloat. If they don't notify everyone by March, the Teachers Union contract bars them from laying anyone off later. I don't like it anymore than you do, but we are all in a horrible situation. You don't want to lose your job. We don't want to lose our homes to tax debt, or our right to be governed by people we voted for as a city, which we will lose if we go into receivership. Both could happen in the next couple of years.
la_mouffette March 04, 2012 at 07:54 PM
in which case, Susan, the teachers who live out of town know how the tax and rate payers in the city feel =( we're in a big mess. Those of us who pay attention have been on pins and needles for a long time now. Some of us can barely make ends meet after we pay the water, sewer, trash collection....not to mention property taxes on what the city VALUES our homes at, rather than what the real market value is. Look at how many boarded up and foreclosed homes you see as you drive around this city. We are drowning. We need good teachers, they are so precious. And the teachers don't deserve this! But we are all in a rotten, rotten, complicated mess, and the school going wildly over budget for three years straight is part of it =( I don't know how we can survive without bravely facing some really tough measures. For you, it's wondering if you'll have a job come fall. For us, it's wondering if our children will have a decent school in the fall... provided we are still in our homes. That homestead exemption may have to go the way of the Dodo soon.
la_mouffette March 04, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Those are the people I feel the absolute worst for, Hope... the teachers who still live in the city and own property here. Absolutely horrible predicament to be in, especially since it's difficult to sell in Woonsocket right now.


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