The Woonsocket Budget Commission hasn't decided whether to call back 98 laid off teachers invited to apply for open positions at the school department today.
The teachers have been asked to attend a job fair at today at 4 p.m., said Roxanne Cary, executive vice president of the Woonsocket Teachers Union. Cary said there are 52 positions that are open for the 98 teachers. Kathleen Lombardo, human resources director for Woonsocket Schools, said the number had been reduced from 104 due to attrition.
Budget Commission Chairman Bill Sequino asked Woonsocket Teachers Union President Jeff Partington if they could postpone the job fair for two weeks until the Commission had more information on next year's budget, particularly the status of the currently stalled legislation . But Partington said the job fair would give the school department valuable information about which positions would need to be filled. He explained that the open positions might be filled by teachers who have not been laid off, so the nature of open positions may change. The job fair would also provide reasonable assurance of a position for many laid off teachers, saving the city unemployment claim costs. The job fair, required by contract to happen in the first week of June, is already overdue. Partington offered to make the job fair results contingent on the Budget Commission's approval.
Sequino asked for that in writing, which Partington wrote up on the spot using his laptop and signed for the Commission. Cary said if it takes two weeks to decide whether to call the teachers back, they would need access to the city's schools during the entire summer to prepare for the fall properly on such short notice.
Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan said she would make sure any recalled teachers got that access.
Sequino said the disposition of the supplemental tax authorization bill would play a big role in deciding whether they staffed any of the 98 positions. Cary said failing to staff at least 52 of the positions would result in either classes with no teachers, or possibly boosting class sizes to more than double current number of students.
Cary said class sizes now stand at 25 students at the elementary schools, 28 at Woonsocket Middle School and 30 at Woonsocket High School. Already, she said, Woonsocket schools class sizes are in line with the largest in the state.
The compromise between the union and Budget Commission was negotiated after long minutes debating the need for and funds available to pay the positions with Woonsocket Schools Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan.
Commission member Peder Schaefer asked if the school budget would be enough to pay for the other 42 positions.
"Sir, we need those people," Donoyan said.
"You've got to answer my question," Schaefer said. He asked again if the school department could afford the other 42 positions.
"No sir, we cannot," Donoyan said.
Later in the meeting, Lombardo told Schaefer the school department couldn't run on the 400 teachers currently employed by the district.
"I understand that, but there may be no district if we don't get this straightened out," Schaefer said. Donoyan said she wanted to make sure every student had a teacher in front of them.
"Even if you can't pay them?" Schaefer asked.
The Comission tabled the decision on whether to call back the teachers.
Sequino ended the meeting strongly urging Donoyan and the Woonsocket School Committee to hire someone to sort out the department's finances. He noted that Donoyan had not had the answers the Budget Commission needs to straighten out the city's finances during meetings.
"First and foremost, we need someone to put the budget back together," Sequino said.