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Most notices will likely be rescinded, but the teachers union still cries foul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

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.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »