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So the Providence teachers have a new contract…

August 11, 2011

…assuming it gets approved by the city council. Sources tell WRNI the next step will be the council’s finance committee, which also has new police and fire agreements to consider.

Providence Teacher’s Union President Steve Smith sounded relieved that negotiations are over and members have accepted the new deal. He says little attention has been paid to some of the more novel items in the contract, including a provision that creates committees of teachers and administrators charged with working out the kinks in new teacher evaluations and a staffing system that makes seniority a smaller factor in teacher hiring and placement decisions.

Smith says the union could have challenged the new hiring system in court but chose to negotiate terms with the city instead.

“We never said no to a new way of placing teachers,” Smith told me by phone yesterday. “We just said we wanted to be part of it and we want to be able to have a voice in how it’s rolled out and how it changes.”

The contract guarantees jobs for approximately 1,900 teachers, with the exception of 80 who either retired, left the district, or were fired for cause. According to Smith, the next challenge is to improve teacher morale, which continues to flag since mass termination notices sent out in February.

“That’s gonna take some time,” Smith said. “But I think we’re going in the right direction and everyone knows that they’re going be able to go to work and not have these distractions.”

Critics of the new contract say it doesn’t go far enough in removing seniority as a factor in teacher hiring and layoffs. But city officials call the agreement a step in the right direction, even if it does represent a compromise.

State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist had this to say in a written response yesterday:

“Though I have not yet reviewed the contract in detail, I am pleased to hear that, under this contract, the Providence schools will base teacher hiring, placement, and retention on teacher qualifications and student need, which is clearly in the best interest of our students.”

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