Challenges Must Be Issued in Woonsocket
Amidst all the talk about what can and might be cut in Woonsocket, this paragraph stands out:
The 40 no-pay days were intended to save about $5 million. Council President Leo T. Fontaine questioned why the committee considered that approach, saying it was a violation of federal labor law. Schools Supt. Robert J Gerardi Jr. said the plan was dead anyway, after an official notice from the Woonsocket Teachers Guild that it would not agree to it, leaving the committee trying to find other big-ticket items to eliminate.
Oh well. The union issued an “official notice”; gotta look in other places than the — by far — single greatest expense that the school district has in order to shave 10% of its budget. If that’s the case, then elected officials in the town must, of course, take into account changes in the work environment in light of the cuts that have to be made.
For example, Superintendent Robert Gerardi suggested canceling all busing for all students except those classified as special education. Clearly, accommodations for parents would have to be made, to assist them in transporting their children. One helpful tweak might be to give them an extra two hours to get their kids to school in the morning, moving the lost hours to approximately twenty weekdays in the summer. On page 19, the teachers’ contract (PDF via Transparency Train) states only that “the maximum hours of the school day and the number of school days shall coincide with the minimum established by the RI Board of Education.”
Unless I’ve missed it, nowhere in the contract or in the law is a “school day” defined as occurring in tandem with a “calendar day.” So, each school day would be scheduled to correspond with two calendar days, with an overnight recess. According to regulations (PDF), Commissioner Deborah Gist would have to sign off on any non-standard schedule, but she does have the authority to approve plans that maintain the number of classroom minutes over the course of the year.
I’m sure there are a number of similar… adjustments… allowable within the contract and the law that might persuade the union to be a little more altruistic. Call the strategy “employ to contract” or “employ to rule.” A secondary benefit is that flooding the commissioner’s and regents’ offices with requests for waivers would shine a great bright spotlight on the degree to which the state is conspiring with unions to increase property taxes.
Moreover, it ought to go without saying that the school committee has an unequivocal mandate to change the terms of the contract that it offers the union next time around so as to reinstate all of the sports, extracurriculars, busing, and whatever else it shaves to meet its budget, in addition to a healthy cushion. That future contract ought to be compiled and published for the public’s approval within a week. Six, ten, twenty million dollars would be easy to shake out of the deals that teachers currently get when their financial comfort is measured against the decimated education experience of young Rhode Islanders who can never have their childhoods repaired.