We made a difficult decision this past week to issue notices of dismissal to all of the City's teachers, effective at the end of the 2010-11 school year. I want to share with you my thoughts on the issue, the process, and where we go from here.
The financial crisis facing the people of Providence is staggering. For too long, politicians have avoided making the tough decisions. When I took the oath of office on January 3, I made a commitment to be honest with you about the problems we face. I also promised that I would not shy away from making tough decisions to put our City back on firm financial footing. Our actions this week reflect this commitment.
Issuing notices of dismissals to all teachers was a decision of last resort. My administration has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Providence to address the fiscal crisis we face AND a moral responsibility to our children to make sure we manage cuts to school funding in a way that best serves our students and the community.
State law requires that teachers must be notified by March 1 about any potential changes to their status. Given the March 1 notice requirement mandated by law and where we are in the budgeting process, issuing dismissal notices to all teachers was the most prudent and fiscally responsible decision. Here's why: We needed to retain the maximum flexibility we could to manage significant cuts to the school budget. We simply cannot have a situation next year where we have more teachers on the payroll than we can afford to pay or have expenses that exceed our resources.
This is also why we issued dismissal notices instead of layoff notices. As has been the case in the past, layoffs often come with many provisions, legally and procedurally, that could impact our ability to control costs to the degree we need to. A dismissal is different in that it enables the district to end its financial obligation to an individual completely.
These may seem like harsh words, but the March 1 deadline forces us to make binding decisions about next year before we know the full extent of the budget cuts we are being forced to make and the exact actions we'll need to take to address this unprecedented fiscal crisis. We also have a moral responsibility to guarantee that every student has access to the best educational experience, even in the face of unprecedented budget cuts. Decisions like these cannot be made based on an arbitrary legislative deadline.
Let me be clear on one important point: a majority of Providence teachers will have their dismissal letters rescinded in the coming weeks. If not for the March 1 deadline, no teacher would have received dismissal notices last week. If the March 1 deadline were eliminated, we would have had sufficient time to know the full extent of the City budget crisis, the effect this will have on school funding, and what this means in terms of school closures and teacher dismissals. Although the end result would still be fewer school and fewer teachers next year, the process would have been far less disruptive and painful.
It has always been, and remains my intent, to work together with our teachers and our communities. You may have read comments from union leaders comparing me to the Governor of Wisconsin. This comparison is wrong and misleading. Unlike the Governor of Wisconsin, I support the democratic right to organize and have been participating regularly in meetings with our City unions to strengthen our partnerships and find common ground in solving our financial problems. Just a few weeks ago I celebrated the settlement between union workers and management to end a labor boycott of the Westin Hotel. I was proud to support the hotel workers and support collective bargaining.
Collaboration is not over. It cannot be over. We have never faced a fiscal challenge like this before. I hope that our teachers and their union will be willing to work with us as the process moves forward. This weekend, I spoke to the union at length and I am confident that we can work together to meet these challenges. I particularly hope that we can make 2011 the year we successfully lobby the General Assembly to change the March 1 deadline so that no community in Rhode Island will face this terrible situation ever again.
Time is critical. I do not wish to prolong this period of worry and uncertainty for any citizen or teacher. I will work with the teachers, Superintendent, City Council, community and RI Department of Education as quickly as possible to reach clear and effective decisions about how best to implement cuts to our school department budget. I pledge to keep you informed with honest and accurate information. I also call upon our community, labor, business and neighborhood leaders to actively engage in the decision-making process and to offer their suggestions on how to best move Providence forward.
I understand that these are tough times. Yet, I remain confident that through collaboration and shared sacrifice, Providence will emerge a stronger city.