East Providence coaches continue to await their contractual fate

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EAST PROVIDENCE — As the 2012-13 winter sports schedule regains steam following the recent holiday respite, coaches at East Providence High School continue in a state of limbo in terms of knowing just how much they’ll be compensated at the end of the season.east-providence-athletics-l copy

Talks between the union, the East Providence Education Association, and attorney Joseph Whalen, the lead negotiator for the Budget Commission, continue, but interscholastic stipends, as defined in budgetary terms, remain one of the sticking points to reaching a comprehensive long-term agreement.

Not to be confused, the union and Mr. Whalen/Budget Commission recently reached an accord on a “gap” agreement to keep teachers on the job while the larger deal is hashed out.

For almost the entire time it’s been charged with fixing the city’s fiscal failures, the Budget Commission has penciled in a proposed 60-percent across-the-board cut in coaches’ salaries, stripping approximately $130,000 from the school department’s athletic budget. Mr. Whalen, representing the Commission’s wishes, has been steadfast in maintaining that number during discussions.

According to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, the union has presented Mr. Whalen with a plan to chop some $80,000 from the high school’s extracurricular activities budget, which not only includes coaching stipends but also those of academic and club advisors such as yearbook and band.

Going forward, the union’s proposal would set up a tiered salary structure, giving more credence to teacher’s with tenure in their coaching or advisory positions. The proposal would also trim travel expenses of sports teams.

The sources termed the proposed union cuts as  “structured” and “substantive,” yet they say there’s been little to no ground given on the subject. The sources added Mr. Whalen is using the stipends as a bargaining chip, contrasting its relatively minor affect on a small group of union members (about 40 teachers) against the greater good of the larger unit as a whole (roughly 500 instructors).

Both sides, it seems, can use numbers to back their positions.

According to numbers available online, most East Providence varsity head coaches and academic advisors, by comparison, earn similar salaries to their counterparts in the Cranston School System, approximately $4,000 per season. In its current contract, Cranston uses a seven-year step scale, which actually starts at $2,600 for first-year coaches before topping out at $4,200 for seventh-year coaches.

In contrast, East Providence stipends are lower than some of the other so-called “urban ring” or “urban” communities like Providence and Woonsocket, where salaries for like positions are based off a percentage of a teacher’s yearly salary.

For instance, a basic top-step teacher (bachelor’s degree with certificate) in Providence (10-12 years) earns around $70,000 a year. For coaching most varsity sports, except football which is 15 percent, he or she would receive 10-percent of that total or $7,000. The average of mid-step (5-6 years) teachers’ salaries is roughly $48,000, so the mid-range coaching salary is $4,800.

Likewise in Woonsocket, a basic top-step teacher earns $70,000 a year in salary and for coaching most sports receives 8.35 percent of that sum or $5,845. The average mid-step teaching salary in Woonsocket is also $48,000, 8.35 percent of which is $4,008.

East Providence coaches entered the winter season working under the existing agreement between the union and the city, but the signing of a new pact could change the conditions of the their employ, including compensation. E.P.’s fall coaches worked under the same circumstances, not knowing if their pay would be changed before the season ended. It didn’t and the coaches received what was called for in the current contract.

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