City of Providence Enacts Sweeping Cuts and Layoffs to Reduce $110 Million Budget Deficit

Beth I. Gandelman
, Union Web Services Correspondent

As a drastic measure to close a $110 million structural deficit, the city of Providence, R.I. has enacted sweeping across-the-board cuts in union and non-union positions. The hardest hit union was the Providence Teachers Union (AFT Local 958) with a controversial measure receiving national publicity when Mayor Angel Taveras issued an order to “pink slip” all 1,926 teachers in the school department. Since then about 75% of the teachers have been rehired.

While most school systems enact layoffs by seniority, the Mayor’s order meant all teachers lost their jobs and needed to reapply for their positions after a 4-3 vote of approval by the Providence School Board (appointed by the Mayor, not elected) on February 24 at the Mayor’s suggestion. This was brought about by the closing of six Providence schools in an effort to close a $40 million school budget deficit. Alleging unfair labor practices, a hearing is scheduled for June 9 since all teachers were fired without cause, leaving them feeling “disrespected,” according to one of the 700 teachers who attended the hearing. “I’m feeling disrespected, devalued and marginalized,” said teacher Ed Gorden. “Termination is a career-ender. You are putting a scarlet letter on every one of us.”

President Steven Smith of the Providence Teachers’ Union said, “This is a back-door Wisconsin. We don’t know why we’re being fired. The mayor says he needs flexibility. Can you buy that? I don’t know of any other district that has done this.”

Interestingly enough, the capital city, now branding itself as “The Creative Capital,” receives nearly 50% of its funding from the State budget, unlike any other R.I. city. Recently, the Mayor appointed a Municipal Finances Review Panel, headed by former Auditor General Ernie Almonte, to work on eliminating the budget deficit for the sustainability of the city. Almonte said at the Mayor’s March Fiscal Crisis Speech and press conference, “We must significantly reduce the Providence public schools budget. These cuts include closing several schools and a number of teacher dismissals.”

The Review Panel is calling for 10-15% budget cuts from every city department. There were 13 non-union workers layed off from the city’s administration department. This will affect the police and fire departments as well, with 60-80 positions cut. The Mayor said, “My administration has spoken with leaders of our city’s unions: teachers, police, fire and laborers, and made it clear that we will all have to share in the sacrifices recommended to rebuild the city’s financial foundation. We will sit at the tables with the unions to explain our fiscal emergency and negotiate immediate cost savings. We must work together.”

Mayor Taveras said recently in a statement published on the city’s website, “After laying off 10%of the city’s non-union staff, closing six schools, terminating teachers, and asking the taxpayers to accept a significant increase in property taxes, we must now make the difficult decision to reduce our police force…We simply must realize these cost savings to save our City from fiscal collapse.”

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