February 2, 2013
Ed Commissioner: Let's Put the Children First
On January 22, by a vote of two to two with four others abstaining (that's right, four abstentions due to possible conflicts of interest), the Chariho School Committee failed to implement a policy of non-seniority based layoffs for the Chariho school system.
Late yesterday afternoon, possibly in response to this uncourageous vote by the Chariho School Committee or perhaps to the looming March 1 deadline for districts to send teacher layoff notices, RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist released a letter in which she
threatens to impose sanctions “up to and including loss of certification,” taking districts to court, or withholding state education aid unless they comply with her interpretation of a key education regulation called the Basic Education Program. These sanctions go beyond Gist’s previous statements about teacher assignments , when she said seniority cannot be the “sole” factor in assigning teachers but she did not say directly that job fairs and bumping are, in effect, illegal and punishable.
Teacher unions immediately squawked. Not sure why; this is all supposed to be for the chiii-hhhhhhiiiiillllllll-dren. (Thanks to Phil Hirons for supplying the correct contextual pronunciation of the word.) Anyway, that's what we are told at contract negotiation time when raises are on the line. Ah, but now it appears that a different priority has emerged.
The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers promptly lashed back, saying Gist is bullying school committees and administrators and attempting to gut collective-bargaining rights. RIFT President Frank Flynn said that contrary to Gist’s statements, education policy does not trump state labor law. ...
Flynn said the union is “considering its options” in response to the letter, which he called “outrageous” in both tone and content.
So it is "outrageous" to place educating children ahead of seniority (not qualification) based hiring and labor-friendly laws? Huh. I'm not sure how many people would agree with that. In any case, at least we are quite clear now that this is not all about the children.
[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]