Steve Smith retiring as Prov Teachers Union president

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Steve Smith, president of the Providence Teachers Union, will retire at the end of the month after more than ten years at the helm.

His last day is Feb. 28.

In a letter to teachers sent Friday, Smith, 57, said he was proud of the progress his union has made to create a “strong labor-management partnership” with the city while touting collective bargaining victories such as the union’s “first-ever no-layoff clause” that he negotiated with Mayor Angel Taveras in 2011.

“As you are well aware, that fight has not been easy, but we have moved from a top-down, one-size fits all approach and now are embarking on decisions being made at the school site by you, the professionals who are closest to the children,” Smith wrote in the letter.

The Providence Teachers Union is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, which in Rhode Island is known for having strong – and large – local unions with a weaker state-based central government. The National Education Association Rhode Island, the state’s other major teachers union, is known for having a strong state organization that assists its smaller local unions.

Smith’s retirement comes as his union prepares to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the city. The current contract expires Aug. 31, less than two weeks before Taveras will take on Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Smith and Taveras have enjoyed a mostly cordial relationship after getting off to a rocky start in 2011 when the new mayor issued pink slips to every teacher in the district, a move he said was necessary to help solve the city’s financial crisis. After the city rehired every teacher, Smith negotiated a favorable contract that included the no-layoff clause.

Smith has also maintained strong relationships with Providence Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi as well as her predecessor, Tom Brady. Smith and Lusi currently co-chair United Providence, an education management organization created to reform three struggling city schools. The organization was hailed as innovative by U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan, but has also faced challenges in its first two years.

Nicholas Hemond, vice president of the Providence School Board, called Smith’s retirement a “major loss for our district,” but praised Smith for showing “great courage throughout his tenure.”

“He has never been afraid to think outside the box when it comes to tackling the major issues facing the district,” Hemond told WPRI.com. “He has been a progressive and open-minded partner in working to make our district a better place for students, families and teachers.”

Smith served ten terms in the state legislature representing Providence before retiring in 2008. He was replaced by current state Rep. John Carnevale. Smith has led the union since 2003, when he took over after then-President Phil DeCecco retired. In 2012, Smith defeated Anna Kuperman to win another term as president.

Maribeth Calabro, who has served as the union’s vice president at-large since 2003, will replace Smith when he retires. She will remain president until the union holds an election later this year. In a posting on Facebook, Melissa Cimini said she plans to challenge Calabro for union president.

The original report incorrectly identified Anna Kuperman as a candidate of union president. She is running for a different positive on the union’s executive board. Melissa Cimini is running for union president.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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