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Providence Teachers Union Chief Reacts to Staffing Order

I recently wrote a story on the staffing situation in Providence, R.I. The state commissioner, Peter McWalters, has directed district officials to override the collective bargaining agreement and to staff open positions through a criterion-based hiring process, rather than teachers' seniority perferences (see here for the story and here for some background).

The head of the Providence Teachers Union, Steven Smith, wasn't able to comment at press time, but I got a chance to speak with him earlier this week. Not surprisingly, he's unimpressed by the directive. For instance, it ignores the turnover within the rank of school principals and administrators, he asserted.

"[T]hey have had complete control of staffing at the administrative level, principals and vice principals," he told me. "I can't even fathom how many building changes have occurred in the past seven to eight years. ... You have this merry-go-round of principals and now you want them to pick their staff?"

Smith said his union isn't conceptually opposed to schools having more autonomy over hiring, but teachers should be included in the staff-selection process and he hopes that will be included as the district provides more details on the criterion-based staffing. "That's something we'd be much more agreeable to," he said.

He said the directive also ignored other issues in the district such as school safety and an escalating number of incidents of unruly behavior in the schools.

Smith also sounded piqued that the order also contains a "staffing stability" requirement for schools to keep a teacher facing a layoff within that school to serve as the designated substitute teacher. The proposal was initially the union's idea, he contended.

"I should really sue McWalters and the district for plagiarism," he said.

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