By EMMA BARTLETT
The city’s monthly finance meeting was rescheduled from Monday to July 18 after the number of public attendees was expected to exceed seating in Council Chambers. Interest …
By EMMA BARTLETT
The city’s monthly finance meeting was rescheduled from Monday to July 18 after the number of public attendees was expected to exceed seating in Council Chambers. Interest in the meeting stems from a Thursday press release where Mayor Ken Hopkins called upon the City Council to put the brakes on ratifying two school contracts. The meeting will now be held in Cranston East’s auditorium at 6 p.m.
The two ordinances scheduled for hearing were the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance Local 1704, ATF and the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance, Local 1704, AFT Paraprofessionals Unit.
“The contracts are just out of line with today’s economic climate and we cannot just keep piling raises on top of raises,” said Hopkins, asking City Council to send the contracts back to the School Committee for further discussions and reductions.
Hopkins said one of several major concerns is that teachers are locking into a three-year contract at annual increases for senior teachers (most teachers are on top salary step) of 3 percent, 1 percent and 1.5 percent or a total of 5.5 percent. The cumulative three year impact based on the school budget would be over $16 million, according to the administration.
“What is even more concerning is a $2,000 ratification bonus for all teachers and for senior teachers longevity increases of $750 each,” Hopkins said. “I question whether the school department was paying attention when all of Rhode Island was outraged at the State’s $3,000 vaccination bonuses. Why are we further rewarding employees to ratify a contract that already is one of the top in the state?”
“I am a former teacher and I know the good work that they do each day in our classrooms, however, escalating contracts with guaranteed annual raises are not called for during the post pandemic economic challenges of today,” Hopkins said.
School Committee Chair Dan Wall said he couldn’t disagree more strongly with Hopkins. Wall said the press release alludes to saving money to make up for the structural deficit. He said he understands wanting to reduce the structural deficit but sending contracts back will do nothing to combat that issue.
“We are operating within the budget they gave us,” said Wall. “It will not change the structural deficit by one penny.”
He said the action seems more like political optics.
As of now, Wall said the School Committee does not have a plan if the contracts were to be sent back; because it is an odd situation, they have not gotten that far down the line.
Speaking with teachers, Wall said they are concerned, surprised and disappointed by the action that Hopkins is calling for. While the meeting has been moved to July 18, Wall knew of many teachers who planned to attend the meeting to have their voices heard.
As of now, the School Committee has a meeting at the same time as the rescheduled meeting. Wall has yet to talk with the superintendent but would like to make the committee’s meeting earlier in the day so committee members can attend the city’s finance meeting.
Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse added that the resulting agreements are fair to both the bargaining units and the taxpayers of the City of Cranston.
“Both included modest wage increases for those employees as well as contractual language updates that will enable us to maintain a high level of academic excellence in our schools,” said Nota-Masse. “Each of these agreements has been responsibly accounted for in our operating budgets over the next three years.”
She said she is disappointed Hopkins called for the contracts to be rejected by the City Council.
“We deeply admire the hard work and dedication displayed by our employees each and every day in the service of our students and their families. These agreements reflect the spirit of mutual respect and collaboration amongst the parties and I hope that these same sensibilities will eventually prevail and lead to their ratification by the Cranston City Council,” Nota-Masse said.
Since the Thursday announcement, Councilman Robert Ferri, who chairs the finance committee, said he’s received over a hundred emails from teachers and their relatives about the two contracts and has spoken to over 25 individuals by phone. Ferri said they expressed how they went to the table with what they felt should have been approved right from the beginning.
He thought overall that what the schools were asking for was not unreasonable based on what he saw in other districts’ contracts, such as Warwick and Barrington.
He added that the district needs to retain good, quality teachers and competition is tough right now.
“How are we going to attract new quality teachers if we aren't competitive?” said Ferri.
He said a 5.5 percent over three years is not a lot to ask for. A sticking point, he added, is that the district’s teachers do not have social security which they gave up years ago for better pay and a better pension.
“Now they don’t have better pay and better pensions – just average pay and an average pension,” Ferri said.
Ferri said he was happy that the meeting was postponed; it was expected that hundreds of individuals would be showing up for the meeting.