July 14, 2009

Giving Cards to the Other Side

Justin Katz

The Tiverton School Committee is discussing whether to grant a leave of absence to an elementary school art teacher, and it's a strange circumstance. Apparently, the custom is to discuss such matters vaguely, so Superintendent Bill Rearick is offering details only inasmuch as is necessary to rebut reluctance from the school committee, but some details have come out:

  • The teacher received a layoff notice, as required by law.
  • She found another job.
  • Additional funds enabled the district to cancel the layoff notice.
  • The teacher is seeking a leave of absence so that she'll have until early next year to decide whether to stay at her new job or to return.

The downside, as I'm hearing it, is that the district can expect a larger pool of applicants — perhaps with an upward shift of quality — if the position is explicitly on the permanent track.


Interestingly, union president Amy Mullen, who was granted a maternity leave of absence just before, responded to a question from committee member Danielle Coulter about the affect of the duration of the opening on the applicant pool by saying, "If I'm an art teacher looking for employment, I'll take whatever I can get in this economic environment." This statement of bald fact is interesting because I've been arguing that the school committee should keep precisely this in mind when handling negotiations with the union.

Also interesting was committee member Carol Herrmann's progression during the discussion. Known as one of the union-friendly members of the committee, Herrmann was clearly arguing in favor of granting the leave. What's peculiar is that she appeared to have thought through the arguments, beforehand, but she started from a stance nearing ambivalence. Like Rearick, she played her cards only as necessary, finally arguing that the district put the teacher in a "stressful position." I wonder how many folks in the private sector make the decision, every year, to simply turn down jobs that they've taken in expectation of a layoff that didn't materialize.

The leave of absence request failed, with Herrmann and Sally Black as the two votes to grant.

7:45 p.m.

There was no handout covering the budget discussion, and I've been typing, so I might have missed important details. It appears, however, that the district administrators (Supt. Rearick and Director of Administration and Finance Doug Fiore) intend to blow off the voters' requirement that the district stick to the dollar amount that was approved at the financial town meeting and treat that amount as creating a budget gap to be filled with stimulus money.

7:53 p.m.

Bill & Doug noted that, if the stimulus money isn't repeated next year, the district will be facing a $800,000 deficit — or $100,000+ more than the district is supposed to be trimming as a result of the FTM.

They're talking about closing a school. Oddly, nobody has suggested a few percent across-the-board cut in combined salaries and benefits; they go right for cutting positions, even though there is no contract yet for next year.

Why are they afraid to put forward such an obvious and reasonable solution?

8:05 p.m.

Again, I don't have the paperwork, but it sounds as if extracurricular activities and athletic programs are on Rearick's hit list. Can't help but wonder whether this is all part of the strategy to motivate parents to turn out at next year's FTM and vote for more money.

8:19 p.m.

Yup. Committee President Jan Bergandy just noted that the district "avoided a catastrophe" thanks to the stimulus money and suggested that the district "provide additional information for parents" as to the consequences of cuts.

8:25 p.m.

A high school nurse just received a reduction in hours.

From home:

Here's audio of NEA-Tiverton President and NEARI Treasurer Amy Mullen arguing — in response to a question from School Committee Member Danielle Coulter — that it's an employer's market when it comes to teachers: stream, download.

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Look north on Wednesday night. The Woonsocket School Committee must approve a budget to conform with their appropriation, $6 million less than they proposed!

As the movie title says, "There will be blood."

Posted by: John at July 14, 2009 10:16 PM

Whoa. A $6 million difference of opinion. Firework season is going to run late in Woonsocket.

Posted by: Monique at July 14, 2009 11:19 PM

"Oddly, nobody has suggested a few percent across-the-board cut in combined salaries and benefits; they go right for cutting positions"

Across the board - West Warwick, North Smithfield, North Providence, Tiverton, etc - that's been my reaction.

Further, isn't the cutting of positions sort of contrary to the fraternal philosophy of the labor union?

Posted by: Monique at July 14, 2009 11:26 PM
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