- As part of a planned state takeover of Providence Public Schools, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green announced last week she is willing to break the collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union if necessary, according to U.S. News & World Report.
- The takeover plan would give Infante-Green control over the school district’s facilities, budget and personnel, and while she said she won't rule out breaking the union contract, she hopes to collaborate with the union in seeking a better solution.
- The takeover was prompted by a recent independent review by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who detailed a combination of low-level academic instruction, poor school culture and teacher morale, and stifling bureaucracy that contributed to the district's decline.
The situation in the Providence Public School District offers ample opportunity to examine what can go wrong when the leadership structure of a district is not clearly defined.
The review by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Educational Policy stated that the “Providence Public School District is overburdened with multiple, overlapping sources of governance and bureaucracy with no clear domains of authority and very little scope for transformative change. The resulting structures paralyze action, stifle innovation, and create dysfunction and inconsistency across the district. In the face of the current governance structure, stakeholders understandably expressed little to no hope for serious reform.”
The report was commissioned by the newly appointed Infante-Green, as well as Gov. Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. The scathing review has been a call to action for state leaders and for many parents who have requested that the state take the reins.
The recently announced takeover plan would also include the appointment of a state turnaround superintendent to gather input from community members and stakeholders before developing a turnaround plan for the district. So far, this approach has won the support of all parties except the city council.
The current collective bargaining agreement was cited in the report as one of the “most pressing problems” named by those interviewed by researchers. According to the report, the union contract makes it difficult to hire good teachers and nearly impossible to fire bad ones, in addition to discouraging school leaders from providing more than one professional development day with a requirement that teachers be paid overtime beyond that. A lack of professional development, however, is reportedly one of the biggest issues cited by teachers.
Part of the problem seems to be that, because of the odd leadership structure, the contract was negotiated with the city rather than the school board. Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, a Democrat and the former mayor of Providence, acknowledged that the agreement posed “some limitations on the system.” Cicilline also said students in the school district deserve an apology for the education they have received.
The union, meanwhile, has stated it is ready to work with the state, issuing a report with its own reform recommendations and a request for cooperation.