WARWICK, RI — A dispute between the Warwick Teachers Union and Warwick Public Schools over back pay promised Dec. 21 under a newly signed contract remained unresolved Tuesday night.
Teachers picketed outside Warwick Veterans High School and will also picket outside the School Administration Building, 69 Draper Ave., the former Gorton Jr. High School, on Thursday from 2:45 p.m. till 4:15 p.m. to protest the delay of the payments, now expected to be delivered after the new year, according to an email Superintendent Phil Thornton sent to teachers.
Inside the school, teachers held signs demanding the School Department honor the signed contract’s deadline for the back pay.
The retroactive pay, part of the new contract agreement covering raises teachers did not receive while working without a contract for two years, ranges between about $400 for the first-step teachers to $779 for top-step teachers, according to Warwick teachers union president Darlene Netcoh.
But in an email to Warwick Teachers last week, Warwick Schools Superintendent Phil Thornton said the School Department is not likely to meet that part of the agreement.
“Since the WTU officially ratified the agreement, we have worked tirelessly to get on the December City Council Agendas without any success. Accordingly, it does not appear that we will be able to meet the December 21st payroll goal,” Thornton wrote last week.
Anthony Ferrucci, executive director of finance and operations for the district, said he would be asking the city for $4.5 million to fund the new teachers contract.
Committee member Karen Bachus asked why the funds for the contract could not be transferred from another part of the school department budget.
Bachus said there was no mention of the teachers contract at last week’s city council meeting.
“I am very very disturbed by this,” Bachus said, adding the School Committee should “…show (the teachers) the respect they deserve. I take contracts very seriously and I signed that (contract) believing we had all our ducks in a row.”
Bachus took the additional step of abstaining from votes taken by the school committee until the issue was resolved.
“This is not a joke, it’s not a game, it’s a contract,” said one male teacher during the public comments portion of the meeting.
In other news, the School Committee passed a resolution to request $85 million in funding from the city for the renovation of the city’s schools. Ferrucci said there was over 1.3 million sq. ft. of instructional space throughout the district.
“If we were to replace all that with new buildings, we are staring at close to $500 million worth of construction,” said Ferrucci, who also serves as chairman of the Warwick Public Schools Building Committee.
Committee member David Testa supported the proposal, noting the condition of the schools was “a picture of neglect.”
“I would say it’s a bit of a stain on the community for us letting it get to this point, but we have to fix it,” Testa said.
The School Committee voted last October to adopt a $118 million capital projects plan which was to be funded by a proposed new bond. This adopted plan included adding $33 million to a previously approved capital projects plan, for additional elementary instructional space to address the Rhode Island Department of Education’s desired aspirational capacity program.
On Dec. 5, the building committee adopted a new recommendation to be presented to the school committee. The recommendation was to discontinue the pursuit of $33 million for additional elementary educational space.
“It appears to be financially unsupportable,” Ferrucci and committee vice-chairperson Beth Furtado explained in a press release.
The Committee also defeated a motion by vice-chair Eugene Nadeau to delay the closing of Randall Holden, John Wickes, and John Brown Francis Elementary School by one year. The schools are scheduled to be closed in September 2018.
“What we do now has to be done right,” Nadeau said in supporting the delay, adding he was tired of the “animosity” displayed toward the school committee by members of the community.
The Drum Rock Early Childhood Center, where preschoolers are currently attending school, will be turned into extra space for the career and technical school.
Reasons the consolidation committee gave at past meetings to close the schools include Wickes’ proximity to the airport, Holden’s small size and lack of parking and the fact that preschoolers have outgrown the space at Drum Rock.
Consolidation is spurred by declining enrollment in the public schools. The number of students enrolled at the public schools plunged from 12,138 in the 1998-1999 school year to 9,140 in the 2015-2016, according to Rhode Island Department of Education numbers.
From the 2000-2001 school year to 2015-2016 alone, enrollment shrank by 25 percent.