Sick time, classroom sizes among the key issues in Warwick teacher contract dispute

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Teachers in Warwick have staged two “sick outs” this month over ongoing contract negotiations, closing Pilgrim High School and Warwick Veterans Junior High School.

The union also voted no confidence in Superintendent Philip Thornton and School Committee Chair Bethany Furtado Tuesday, and held a picket Thursday.

Thursday night, Eyewitness News dug deeper into the long-running dispute, which goes back to August of 2015, since which time teachers have been working without a new contract.

Tense negotiations have continued since then, through school consolidations and teacher layoffs, but the sticking points remain the same. The main grievances: salary increases, sick days and weighting classroom numbers.

Superintendant Thornton wants to change contract language that gives teachers 90 days for temporary disability, but the union says that other school districts in Rhode Island offer a similar number of sick days.

Another issue cited in an October 2016 document published to the union’s website is the weighting of regular education students to special education students per classroom. Teachers have long complained that students with individualized education programs need more attention and assistance than teachers can provide, given the class sizes they have and a lack of special education teachers.

Both sides agree, however, that the students are the ones with the most at stake during this stalemate. Teachers are currently “working to rule” under the terms of the previous contract.

Union President Darlene Netcoh said she was unaware of any other upcoming mass sick calls, but that both sides have made significant headway on sick time and weighting classroom sizes. The next mediation session is set for next week at Warwick City Hall.