School Department Lays Off 106 Staff – Covid Related Factors
Officials faced June 1st deadline
The school committee met on May 26, 2020 to vote on Superintendent of School’s Kathryn Crowley’s recommendation to lay off 106 various staff due to potential lack of funding. The district, like most in the nation, is facing the prospects of cuts in funding due to the pandemic and reduced state and federal revenue. The vote to uphold the layoffs was approved by a 4-1 margin with Ward Two member Tony Ferreira voting against. Voting approval was Chairman Charles Tsonos, Joel Monteiro, at-large; Karen Tavares, Ward Three and Jessica Beauchaine, Ward Four. The committee is required by contract and law to notify employees of non-renewal by June 1st for the upcoming school year.
“The state of Rhode Island has a significant budget shortfall, between $800 - $900 million,” Crowley told the committee during the online meeting. “They are telling us we could see a 10% cut for all school districts. For East Providence, the cut could be as much as $3.5 million. That’s the worst-case scenario at this time,” said Crowley. “Thinks could be better if the federal stimulus package comes in, but that is still being argued in Washington. I’ve been in touch with State Representative Gregg Amore and his advice is to go with a worst-case scenario at this time,” Crowley added.
School departments were hoping to get the June 1st non-renewal deadline moved back to July 1st but could not get the American Federation of Teachers union to agree. The National Education Association (which includes East Providence) did agree but both unions were needed. The prior deadline of March 1st was moved to June 1st several years ago. “Because of the notification deadline, we have no choice but to make a layoff decision before June 1st. It is something I do with a heavy heart, but it is necessary. We don’t know what the future will bring,” said Crowley.
The school department is dealing with several unknowns caused by the pandemic. Questions such as will school reopen in September, will students and staff need to distance 6 feet apart, will other health regulations cause unplanned for expenses? “We will put a task force together to help with all of these questions and concerns. The layoffs have nothing to do with the quality of teachers or any staff displaced. It is strictly an adherence to the June 1st law and contractual considerations with certifications, some staff having multiple certs,” said Crowley.
Staff layoffs include instructional coaches at Martin & Riverside middle schools (2); one induction coach; a third grade “bubble” class at MJ Francis elementary which includes 10 out-of-district students; two technology coaches at the middle schools (one each); all math interventionalists are having job specifications redone and others. “With displacement comes teacher layoffs as we consider seniority and other factors,” said Crowley.
The breakdown of layoffs by groups is: 34 certified teachers, 36 paraprofessionals, 31 classroom aides and 5 secretaries for a total of 106 positions. The layoffs touched all unions and groups. Four custodians who were elevated to maintenance positions are returned to custodial jobs. Open custodial/maintenance positions will not be filled. “All of this is due to the Covid 19 and unknown factors about opening school in September,” added Crowley.
One surprise was that the pre-kindergarten program was not touched, contrary to expectations from staff there. “I would like to get the $1.6 million we are scheduled to get from the Mayor and city council a little early. If the state cuts pre-K funding, then we can use that money to sustain our program,” Crowley told the committee. “If the state cuts pre-K, then we can keep it with that $1.6 million,” Tony Ferreira asked the Superintendent. “Yes,” replied Crowley. “If the state does fund it, can we slide that $1.6M into our (expected) $3.5M hole,” asked Ferreira.
“We could, it would be transferred into our budget, we would utilize as needed, it would help,” answered Crowley. Crowley said she had asked the Mayor and city finance director for the $1.6M but it is not confirmed yet if schools will get it. At-Large member Joel Monteiro asked for clarification on the use of the $1.6M. “Isn’t that $1.6M from the City already in our budget? It just isn’t in our physical possession yet. Getting it doesn’t change our budget as we see it. It isn’t added revenue, right?”
The ensuing discussion was not crystal clear as school finance director Craig Enos and Crowley discussed the availability of the account. “It’s reported in the due to, due from audit account. You don’t see it every month,” said Enos. “Correct, we assume we have the money, the $1.6 is just cash,” Enos added. “I do not have $1.6M in the budget for this,” said Crowley. Monteiro maintained that this money does not represent a windfall or new money to the schools.