The Warwick Teachers Union leveraged the welfare of the city’s students against the school department to win a new contract last autumn. It worked.
On Monday night, the Warwick City Council refused to give in to the same tactic.
The situation in Warwick highlights the nature of city and school department relations across Rhode Island. It also serves as an example of how our youngsters are used as pawns and leveraged to extract more money out of taxpayers.
At the beginning of the school year last autumn the city of Warwick was locked in a contract battle with its school teachers.
Children As Leverage
The teachers union staged “sick outs” at different Warwick schools on a rotating basis. In a coordinated effort, teachers at one particular school would all call in sick on a given day–causing the school to be closed. That upended the schedules of parents across the city.
Teachers union-bought signs saying “I support Warwick Teachers” started popping up across the city. Students and parents started vocally supporting the teachers union–despite the strong-arm tactics.
So the school committee caved. They agreed to a contract that contained retroactive pay–and would cost the City of Warwick $4.3 million in the first year alone–this year–due to retroactive pay increases.
Mayor Scott Avedisian pushed both sides to reach an agreement and end the turmoil. He received credit for helping broker a new deal. Nobody, including, Avedisian, said how it would be paid for.
We Caved – Now YOU Pay
That caused a problem. When the Warwick School Committee came before the Warwick City Council last Spring, they told the council that they would need $2.4 million to cover a new contract’s cost. The council set aside $3 million. ($600,000 was for new computers.)
But the school committee agreed to a more lucrative contract than they originally envisioned. The added costs to the new deal would be roughly $13 million over 3 years.
That left the city of Warwick with a bill for about $4.5 million in this current year. They expected to fork over $3 million.
The school committee’s response to the city? ‘You deal with it.’
That set up a classic “who’s paying for it” dispute–the city or the school department. Put another way, which facet of city government would need to cut its budget?
Threatening Student Programs
So the school department leadership took a page out of the teachers union’s playbook. It put the students (children) in the middle.
The Warwick School Department sent an email to city council members earlier this week stating that if it was forced to cut its budget, children would suffer. Their cuts included money for uniforms for athletic programs.They also included tutoring for sick children, money for therapists to help children that are vision impaired, and money for the children who are placed out-of-district when the school department wasn’t meeting their educational needs.
In this instance, the city council refused to be pushed around. They voted 8-0 to send the school department the $3 million they always planned on giving them–not the $4.5 million the school department asked for. (One city council member was out of town.)
“We relied on the figures that were presented to us at budget time,” said Warwick City Council President Joseph Solomon.
Council Holds Firm
“How do people come together and negotiate a contract, on behalf of people that work hard, put their best foot forward, without knowing how much they have to spend? It’s like going to the market with $50 in your pocket, and going to the register with $100 worth of purchases.”
Solomon pointed out that the school department shouldn’t be pitting taxpayers against students.
“It’s the taxpayers and the students that are affected by not taking into account all these factors and acting in a reasonable manner.”
The council refused to cave to the threat.
“If, in a budget your size, you cannot find a million dollars, open up the books to us and we’ll take a look, and we will see if we can find $1 million, whether it be in the health care reserve account or in another place,” said Solomon.
“But I don’t think it should be taken out on the students.”
The school department will decide, in the upcoming days, how to balance its budget.