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A rocky start to Central Falls school year

August 25, 2011

School officials in Central Falls are imposing a new contract on teachers, effective the second day of the new school year. Under the new rules, teachers will be paid based on their classroom performance, and the district will stop using seniority to determine teacher hiring.

The Central Falls Teachers’ Union has not yet responded requests for comment, but the discord does not bode well for the start of classes next week. Central Falls has struggled to regain the trust of teachers ever since the threat of mass firings at Central Falls High School.

School officials say they made the changes after five months of mediated contract talks, which failed to produce an agreement. The district has notified the receiver in charge of Central Falls’ bankruptcy. During the proceedings, the receiver must approve all contracts including those in city schools.

Central Falls now becomes the second district in Rhode Island to impose unilateral contract changes. The other district, East Providence, eventually reached an agreement with teachers, but only after imposing pay and benefit reductions. In that case, the union sued the school district, but a judge ruled that the pay cuts were justified because school officials were legally required to close a $4 million deficit.

The East Providence case is slightly different from Central Falls in that East Providence completed mediation and arbitration before declaring an impasse. Central Falls school officials say the city’s bankruptcy caused a delay in their arbitration, so the district may not have technically completed that stage of negotiations. However, Central Falls officials tell me that because of the city’s bankruptcy, they felt they had to have a new contract in place by September 1st.

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