Warwick, RI — Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh announced via press release this morning that the union has voted no confidence in Supt. Philip Thornton and School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado.
“The unanimous vote signifies that the Warwick teachers, the professionals who are in the classrooms and are witnessing the negative educational effects of the negligence of these two individuals, have waited long enough for Furtado and Thornton to do their jobs,” Netcoh said in the statement.
Netcoh also stated that the union would formally announce its vote at tonight’s scheduled school committee meeting, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Toll Gate High School.
Tuesday’s statement did not specify when the vote had been held; the announcement follows a suspected sick-out on Friday, Oct. 6 by teachers at Pilgrim High School.
In the statement, Netcoh blamed Furtado for “allow[ing] Thornton to do whatever he wants,” including pushing ahead on high school consolidation, eliminating elementary guidance counselors, and violating language in the expired contract “that would have ensured the appropriate placement of special education students and special education teachers in classes.”
Brief history of school labor dispute
Netcoh’s statement includes several themes that the union has repeated since the most recent contract dispute began in 2015 with the expiration of the last contract and in the midst of former Supt. Richard D’Agostino’s decision to retire from the school department after 33 years.
Thornton, the former superintendent in Cumberland, took the Warwick position in early 2016 and took what union leaders saw as an aggressive stance, accusing Thornton of spending money on lawyers and a PR firm instead of negotiating a new contract.
An initial attempt at mediation ended in May, 2016 with the school committee walking out of a meeting after they say union officials called for a 10-percent salary increase. Mediator Vincent Ragosta confirmed “those were the words that were spoken,” and said that without the union putting the proposal in writing, confusion resulted.
In the meantime, the National Labor Relations Board decided in the union’s favor on a grievance filed over the number of layoffs announced by the school committee. A later Superior Court judgment reversed the NLRB’s ruling, essentially killing the union’s chances to reverse the layoffs in court.
At the State House, state Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21) submitted a bill in the General Assembly (H-5583 Sub A) that would have kept the terms of school and municipal contracts in place after they expire; more than a dozen mayors and town administrators called on Gov. Gina Raimondo to veto the measure, which she later did.
That set up a potential override vote by the Assembly, but with House Speaker Nicholas Mattielo’s decision not to schedule a vote at a special session on Sept. 19, the so-called “evergreen contract” bill formally died.
Prior to the failure of Vella-Wilkinson’s bill, the school committee approved a contract on July 11 produced from a mediation process that included Mayor Scott Avedisian, which the union later rejected.
The union’s full statement from Oct. 10, 2017 is embedded below.
Press Release from WTU October 10 2017.docx
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