WARWICK, RI — The Warwick School Committee agreement with the Warwick Teachers Union including back pay checks to be sent Dec. 21, was approved by each Nov. 15, and Nov. 21, respectively, but the Schools didn’t ask to put it on the Warwick City Council’s docket until their first meeting in December.
The timing of the request was too late to secure a spot on the Council’s docket to approve the funds before the Dec. 21 deadline, said Warwick City Council President Joseph Solomon. In fact, he said, it was likely unrealistic to attempt to get the matter on the docket at the time of the School Committee’s signing of the agreement.
In June, the Council voted 9-0 to place $3 million into a drawdown account, “in anticipation of the settlement for the contract for the school department.” The School Committee needs that funding to pay for the back pay, said Superintendent Phil Thornton in a letter to teachers apologizing for missing the contractual Dec. 21 deadline.
Solomon said that the parties signing an agreement that required being on the docket before Dec. 21 should have known the deadline was unlikely to be met.
“They’re either mistaken or disingenuous with those they agreed or contracted with,” Solomon said.
WTU President Darlene Netcoh did not give the the school department the benefit of the doubt.
“Obviously, the Superintendent and Chairwoman do not want labor peace, because if they did, they would not be playing games and violating a contract that they signed,” Netcoh said in a statement last week after canceling a picket of the Warwick School administration building last Thursday due to inclement weather.
Thornton responded to a request for comment on Netcoh’s assessment with a copy of his letter to teachers last week.
Netcoh was also critical of the School Committee’s decision to wait for the $3 million to be approved before honoring the Dec. 21 deadline in the contract.
“At Tuesday’s meeting the WSC had the opportunity to vote to use funds that they already possess to fulfill their contractual obligations, but they did not,” said Netcoh last week.
Solomon said the School Department asked for two items to be placed on the City Council’s agenda: An $85 million bond for school improvements, and ratifying the contract.
“The request was for them to have the first meeting of January, (Jan. 3)” Solomon said.
Solomon said the Council would be unlikely to have the time in a single evening to address both matters as well as everything else the council has scheduled during each of its meetings. So, he said, he scheduled the contract discussion first , and the bond discussion for Jan. 22.
Solomon noted the City Council has not yet been provided legislative language concerning the contract.
“I would hope that whoever was involved in that contract did so knowing their ability to to fulfill the terms of the contract,” Solomon said.
Regardless, “We’re going to go forward on a positive note,” Solomon said.