PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza fired back at the city’s protesting teachers Tuesday, declaring he is seeking a “transformational contract” with their union.
Speaking to reporters after his State of the City address was interrupted by chanting educators, the first-term Democrat declined to identify any specific proposals for the contract, but said he’s open to continuing negotiations with the Providence Teachers Union.
“The truth is that our schools, in so many ways, are low-performing and we can’t tolerate the status quo,” Elorza said. “We need to do something big, something with a vision.”
The teachers have been working without a new contract since Aug. 31, but animosity between the union leadership and the Elorza administration has bubbled up in recent weeks as negotiations came to a standstill.
Close to 1,000 teachers and their supporters jammed into City Hall Tuesday to protest the mayor’s annual speech to the City Council. The mayor was forced to stop speaking on two separate occasions as the protesters shouted over him.
Maribeth Calabro, the union president, said the dispute is largely based on proposed pay raises. She claims the administrated reneged on previous offers and is now offering no raise during the first two years of a new contract and a 0.5% increase in the final year of the deal.
Calabro said she wasn’t expecting supporters to chant over the mayor during his speech, but suggested the mayor heard the teachers loud and clear.
“I hope that our students are proud of us,” she said. “I think that whenever you stand up for something that you believe in, as long as you’re truthful and honest in your belief system, then I think that should garner nothing but support and pride.”
Until now Elorza has not clashed with the city’s teachers, even reaching a three-year contract with the teachers during his first year in office that included raises totaling 4.25%. The teachers’ last raise came on the final day of the 2017 school year. But the union did have a poor relationship with former Mayor Angel Taveras, voting down a reform-minded contract late in his final year in office.