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PTU votes on contract deal

August 4, 2011

Providence teachers begin casting ballots this afternoon at the Venus de Milo. Among other concessions, the three-year deal calls for no raises until 2013 and higher health care co-pays. It would also increase the length of the school day by five minutes each year, with no additional pay for teachers.

In exchange, the city has offered to rescind all outstanding termination notices from the mass firings in February. City officials say they have achieved the 80 staff reductions they needed through voluntary retirements.

The deal would save $53 million, according to the city’s estimates — $41 million in spending reductions and $12 million in other concessions including the longer school day. That savings was already assumed in the current city budget, which closes a $110 million deficit. The only question mark still remaining for the Taveras administration is $7 million, which the mayor is hoping to get from non-profit hospitals and universities.

Parents and teachers may wonder whether the show-down over mass termination notices and several school closures was nothing more than a bargaining chip, as the administration sought contract concessions from teachers.

“I’d like to see what’s in there for kids,” said parent and school reform advocate Karina Wood, executive director of the advocacy group Better Providence. “We really need a longer school day, a longer school year, recess back in the school day, more science instructional time. Maybe not all of these things can be achieved just through the contract but a lot of them are impacted directly by that.”

City officials say the contract puts the district on a path to mend relationships with teachers and takes some important first steps toward improving public schools. A spokeswoman for Mayor Taveras tells me that interim superintendent Susan Lusi will be cracking down on blatantly abusive cases of teacher absenteeism. She will also be looking at the issue of parent-teacher conferences, which are not required by the teacher contract.

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