School Department takes heat, for good reasons
Although the Warwick School Committee has seen its fair share of unhappy jeering, booing and overall derision at the hands of Warwick Teachers’ Union members and the general public during the prolonged contract upheaval, the pacifying promise of the new collective bargaining agreements last month made for a much more pleasant meeting in November.
There was no shouting, no yelling, no juvenility from grown adults who hopefully aren’t teaching conflict resolution in their classes.
That didn’t last long, as the union was back in full force Tuesday night shooting a heavy dose of venom at the committee throughout a four-hour horror show of a meeting.
However this time – although this publication has been heavily critical of certain ways the union has gone about their frustrations regarding the contract dispute, mainly in regards to the boorish behavior of some of its members at school committee meetings – it’s at least understandable in this instance why they would be so upset.
Plain and simple, the teachers got the short end of the stick thanks to what was either abysmal naivety or downright false promises on the part of the school committee and superintendent Philip Thornton – and they’re paying for it by not getting pay increases that were, quite literally, promised to them in a signed agreement.
School Committee chairwoman Beth Furtado signed a document, along with Union President Darlene Netcoh, on Nov. 20 that the teachers would receive both their retroactive pay raise check, and their new paycheck with their newly-raised salary reflected, on Dec. 21 – right before Christmas. The union ratified the contract the next day.
A teacher wishing to remain anonymous even said that they had heard from the administration that the timing of the checks would work out perfectly – it would be like a Christmas bonus, they had heard.
Now it has come to light that the school department cannot honor this agreement, because they don’t know how much money they’re getting from the city council in order to pay for the raises – which amounts to an approximately $4.8 million cost that is, currently, not budgeted for.
You can give a smidgen of credit to superintendent Thornton for sending out a notice to the teachers and essentially falling on the sword – but it remains a pretty awful turn of events, especially given how he seemed to try and lay the blame on the city council, rather than own up to the notion that the school department perhaps spoke too soon. In fact, had they perhaps been a little more cautious, there wouldn’t have been a sword to fall on at all.
Anybody who has spent even a little time involved with local government knows how long things can take to get done, and how quickly things can be rescheduled and pushed off. Thornton had to have known, back on Nov. 20 when Furtado signed this document, that this date of Dec. 21 was, at the very least, extremely ambitious.
The school department had not even gotten on the council docket yet at this time to discuss receiving the funds that the city is set to pay them – and, further, there is some serious disagreement going on in the background about just how much the schools are actually going to receive. Even if they get the $3.3 million that is commonly believed to be owed to them, they still need to carve out the $1.5 million shortfall.
Why on Earth, given all these uncertainties, the superintendent and the chairwoman would paint themselves into this corner – after years of this hellacious contract dispute and irreparable harm done to the relationship between the teachers and the administration – is beyond us. As if things weren’t bad enough, they scheduled Tuesday night’s meeting on the first night of Hanukah, angering even more people for completely separate, legitimate reasons.
In this instance, while we still don’t approve of yelling “shut up” to another human being in a demonic tone of voice during a public meeting with high school students present, in the middle of a junior high school auditorium, we can definitely empathize with the frustrations of those who may have been counting on that salary bump during the holidays.