October 6, 2014 Ward Letter

This week’s Ward Letter discusses the proposed Zoning Ordinance Revisions and the Providence Teachers Union contract extension.

Read a pdf version

On Wednesday, October 8 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall (Third Floor), the City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance.  The Planning Department has prepared a Web page with background information about the ordinance, including a copy of the new base map, overlay map, summary of changes, and revised ordinance.

Several of you asked follow-up questions in light of the discussion in last week’s letter concerning the rejection, by Providence Teacher Union (PTU) membership of the tentative agreement to extend contract.  Here are some answers to your questions and further analysis.

One of the reforms negotiated into the tentative agreement was the opportunity for individual schools to opt for autonomy from District-level and contractual mandates.  The contract changes were designed to accommodate a draft autonomy policy developed by the School Board.  Under the policy, a school could apply to be released from mandates contained in District policies or the teachers’ contract to allow flexibility and new initiatives in the school building.  The tentative agreement limited the autonomy option to schools that developed a plan approved by at least 70% of the teachers in the building.  While PTU leadership cited this policy as a basis for rejecting the contract, I am hopeful they will reconsider during mediation, as the 70% approval vote is a powerful safeguard to limit autonomy to schools where teachers trust the building administrators.

Another reason offered for the rejection of contract was the discontinuance of the “no layoff” clause, under which teachers were guaranteed positions even if they were not assigned to a regular classroom.  The result of this clause was to assign teachers whose total compensation (salary plus benefits) could approach $100,000 to perform substitute teacher responsibilities, which normally are filled by teachers on a “per diem” basis of $100 or $150 per day without reduced benefits or no benefits.  The Internal Auditor prepared a Report that estimated the cost of this clause to be more than $3.3 million over the life of the previous contract.  With that said, the previous contract specifically provided that the “no layoff” clause was temporary, expiring at the end of 2013.  It is my hope that, during the mediation process, the teachers who based their objections on this issue will reconsider, as the “no layoff” clause was already out of the contract before negotiations on the new contract began.

The key financial components in the tentative agreement include increased teacher shares of medical insurance costs (approaching 20%) and salary increases of 1.5% in 2015-16 and 2.5% in 2016-17.  (Teachers received a 3% increase at the start of this school year under the recently expired contract.)  Last Spring, the Internal Auditor prepared a Report comparing the salary scale in the Providence contract with nine peer communities.  It found that Providence’s salary scale was in the middle, ranking 5th out of the group of 10.  The report also found, however, that the Providence contract had unusually generous employee benefits for retired teachers, including more compensation for unused sick days and lifetime “Medigap” insurance.  When the value of those benefits is added, Providence becomes #3 out of 10.  The two pay increases included in the tentative agreement likely will move Providence teachers closer to being the highest paid teachers when viewing total compensation of salary plus benefits, if teachers reconsider their rejection of the agreement.