Rhode Island Schools Need Collaboration and Reinvestment

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Randi Weingarten at Woonsocket High School. Photo by Constance Brown.

AFT president Randi Weingarten joined Rhode Island teacher union and school district leaders on March 22 to discuss the impact of budget cuts on public education, and to call for more collaborative efforts between teachers and administrators.

Weingarten was joined at Woonsocket High School by Woonsocket School Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals president Frank Flynn, who is also an AFT vice president, and Woonsocket Teachers' Guild president Jeff Partington for a news conference held in response to layoff notices received by every teacher in the school district.

"Tough choices must be made in a struggling economy, but we cannot afford to slash education budgets and take teachers out of our kids' classrooms. When we gamble on short-term fixes to our bottom line, we put our children's future at risk," said Weingarten.

The most recent layoffs are one result of destructive state fiscal policies that cut the budgets of municipalities, leaving cities like Woonsocket struggling to supplement the loss of funding. The city has said it will "run out of money" by April.

"Once again, the governor and Legislature have targeted teachers and paraprofessionals who have already given so much. It's shameful that the state of Rhode Island does not consider Woonsocket students to be a priority," said Partington.

Randi Weingarten at Rhode Island reception. Photo by Constance Brown.

Rhode Island schools have become the subject of political battles, with some elected officials using the economy as an excuse to target nonmonetary aspects of teacher contracts, such as tenure.

"Let's understand these attacks for what they are—a struggling economy being used as an excuse to dismantle our public schools and silence the voice of teachers. It is a clear political agenda that seeks to undermine the only institution that tries to prepare all children, no matter their circumstances, for life and democracy, as well as give them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed." Weingarten said.

Weingarten has seen positive signs of progress toward meaningful education reform in Rhode Island. She spoke with Rhode Island's Innovation District Partners, a coalition of district superintendents and union leaders who are working together on school improvement issues such as teacher evaluation and turning around low-performing schools. These collaborative efforts are under way in places like Coventry, Cranston, Pawtucket, Providence and West Warwick.

"Rather than allowing politics and a bad economy to divide them, these administrators and union leaders recognize that they need each other and are committed to collaboration," said Weingarten. "They are doing the hard work of respecting each other, listening to each other, and merging different philosophies into a unified plan of action for the sake of Rhode Island's children." [AFT press release/photos by Constance Brown]

March 22, 2012