There is bound to be renewed attendance at the May 15 meeting of the Warwick School Committee as the school department recently sent out 71 layoff notices to Warwick teachers in advance of learning how much money they will receive in their FY19 budget from the Warwick City Council.
Of the notices, 37 were received by elementary teachers, 12 were sent to special educators, three went to reading specialists and four to librarians. The remainder were sent throughout the secondary level and also included art, music, physical education and English language learners (ELLs).
The inordinate amount of notices sent to elementary educators makes more sense in the context that three elementary schools in Warwick – John Wickes, Randall Holden and John Brown Francis – will be closed, or re-purposed into a Pre-K facility in regards to John Brown Francis.
It is for this same reason that the school department is allowed to send more than the contractually agreed upon number of layoff notices, 40, prior to the deadline for sending out such notices, which is June 1. The contract, which also states that no more than 20 teachers can be laid off in any one year, also makes an exception for when schools are closed and not replaced elsewhere in the city.
As stated in Appendix D of the new collective bargaining agreement, “...wherein the Committee affirmatively votes to close a school or schools, without replacing the school space in another building or buildings within the same year, the above layoff limitations shall be waived for that school year in which the school closure is to take effect.”
At the same time, depending on how much money is provided to the school department when the Warwick City Council allocates funding later this month (or in early June at the latest), the school department will be able to adjust how many of these notices are actually followed through into layoffs. It is hypothetically possible, though admittedly improbable, that no layoffs would be necessary.
The school department has asked for a little over $8 million in additional funding from the city to help balance a budget marred primarily by increasing salaries and steps to teachers and a lowering of state funding due to declining enrollment numbers in Warwick. There is so far no date for the department to appear before the council. The School Committee is looking for a $171.4 million budget.
The preliminary nature of these notices has not halted the ire of the Warwick Teachers’ Union, which issued a release strongly decrying the layoff notices as “exorbitant,” and claims that the department has shown no fiscal restraint by adding administrative positions at both middle schools while “using teachers and students as pawns in a game with the Warwick City Council.”
“The Warwick Teachers’ Union is concerned about the detrimental effect that these layoffs will have on the education of the children of Warwick and urges the [Warwick School Committee], for the sake of the students, to vote their consciences and not approve these layoffs,” Union president Darlene Netcoh writes in the release. “The WSC needs to instruct the superintendent to rescind the superfluous layoff notices, to make peace with the City Council, and to not attempt to balance his budget on the backs of Warwick’s teachers and students.”
Superintendent Philip Thornton said Wednesday afternoon that, since the school committee has still yet to meet and discuss the layoffs, he couldn’t comment on the matter on the record.