Providence school dept wants City Council to approve raises, new hires

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With negotiations over how the Providence School Department should spend nearly $4 million in unexpected state aid stalled, the City Council Finance Committee abruptly cancelled a meeting Tuesday where it was expected to consider a revised proposal.

The school department has asked the council to approve $3.98 million in additional spending for several new hires, raises for existing employees, security upgrades and other services, but the two sides still haven’t finalized an agreement.

Tuesday’s meeting was cancelled “at the request of the administration,” according to a notice posted by the city clerk’s office.

The additional revenue comes from the state’s education funding formula, which increased the contribution to Providence in the current fiscal year from $242.9 million to $246.9 million. The city’s budget was approved nearly two months before the state budget.

The largest hang-up appears to be over how much certain positions should be paid. Superintendent Chris Maher is planning to promote his current chief of transformation Heather Tow-Yick to chief of staff and hire deputy city solicitor Charles Ruggerio as his executive general counsel. (Ruggerio is the son of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.)

At a meeting last week, Finance Committee Chairman John Igliozzi questioned whether the school department jobs should pay more than similar jobs in Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office and the law department. The proposal would cap the school chief of staff’s salary at $167,000, which is about $43,000 higher than the mayor’s current chief of staff makes. The executive counsel position would pay a maximum of $151,917, roughly $16,000 more than city solicitor Jeff Dana, the highest-ranking member of the law department.

“We are setting a different standard for the school department and that sends the wrong message,” Chairman John Igliozzi said during the meeting.

Igliozzi continued: “It puts everyone in a very awkward position.”

The proposed new positions in the school department include several teachers, a co-principal at Mount Pleasant High School, a reading specialist, a program director for the city’s newcomer program and an executive director of student support. All told, the district expects to spend an additional $1.6 million for salaries and benefits of the new employees.

When questioned about some of the salaries in the school department, Maher said he doesn’t have the “privilege of starting from a zero-based game,” noting that many jobs and their council-set pay ranges have been in place since before he came to Providence.

“I also want to emphasize that we will try to be fiscally conservative,” he said. “I do understand that the salaries are high. The salaries have been high. We are working within those ranges.”

Other new expenses include an additional $850,000 for retiree benefits, $120,000 for student transportation, $432,000 for “multiple tiered system of support” for students and $460,000 for security equipment upgrades.

Igliozzi has asked for security cameras to be installed in every classroom in the city for security reasons, but the school department hasn’t yet agreed to the proposal. It’s unclear how much the cameras would cost, but the councilman has said he would like to start with a pilot program.

Igliozzi also noted the city is currently in negotiations with the Providence Teachers Union on a new contract, which will likely result in pay increases for teachers in the coming years. The union is currently working under a contract that expired in August.

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