Union president blasts Taveras over new teachers contract

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Days before the primary, the Providence Teachers Union is taking one last dig at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Angel Taveras.

In an e-mail sent Saturday to every Providence teacher, union president Maribeth Reynolds-Calabro accused the Taveras administration of leaking details of a tentative contract agreement between the city and the union to a WPRI.com reporter Friday afternoon. She called it “a self-serving political move.”

“As we are fast approaching the primary, it is clear that the city was not bargaining in good faith but rather ‘needed a last minute play’ to improve his abysmal poll ratings that stand to be the end of the mayor’s career,” Reynolds-Calabro wrote in the email.

A Taveras administration official confirmed Friday that the city and its teachers union had reached a tentative three-year deal that would remove the existing no-layoff clause from the contract, maintain criterion-based hiring and provide more autonomy for individual schools. A press release from the mayor’s office was issued several hours later. Reynolds-Calabro also confirmed to WPRI.com that she planned to inform her membership of the agreement late Friday.

In her email to union members, Reynolds-Calabro said the “media has misrepresented what has been agreed to,” namely a stipulation in the contract that the city said in a press release would create a “path toward compensation based on teacher performance.” WPRI.com did not include anything about performance pay in its original report because it was not provided details on the terms of the provision.

“There are so many falsehoods out there, and I feel I need to give some clarity to them,” Reynolds-Calabro wrote.

The entire contract has not yet been released to the public.

David Ortiz, a spokesman for Taveras, said the mayor “focused on reaching an agreement that puts children first and moves the Providence schools forward” throughout the year-long negotiation.

“He refused to accept contract demands that would have gone backward on progress we have made in our school district, even when it was clear the union’s endorsement was being used as a bargaining chip,” Ortiz said. “After the endorsement, the mayor and the city continued to act in good faith. Once an agreement was reached the administration did not in any way misrepresent its terms.”

The backdrop of the squabble between city teachers and Taveras is his candidacy for governor. Taveras is running in Tuesday’s Democratic primary against state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell. Pell has won the endorsement of both National Education Association Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, which includes the Providence Teachers Union.

The union’s last contract agreement was reached in the 2011, months after the Taveras administration issued pink slips to all of Providence’s nearly 2,000 teachers – a move city officials blamed on a controversial state law that required municipalities to alert educators of potential dismissals by March 1. The General Assembly changed that law this year.

The new contract, which must be approved by both the teachers and the City Council, would provide a 1.5% raise to teachers in the second year of the deal. The third year would include a 2.5% raise unless a new compensation system based on teacher performance is agreed to. As union president, Reynolds-Calabro would have “complete veto power over the system,” she said.

If approved, the contract would end Aug. 31, 2017.

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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