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East Providence School District readies ample layoffs

Expected to save some $3.4 million under "worst case" scenario

By Mike Rego
Posted 5/29/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — The uncertainty surrounding the budget and if, in fact, there will be in-person classes at the start of the 2020-21 term this fall led the central office to announce a series …

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East Providence School District readies ample layoffs

Expected to save some $3.4 million under "worst case" scenario

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The uncertainty surrounding the budget and if, in fact, there will be in-person classes at the start of the 2020-21 term this fall led the central office to announce a series of layoffs Tuesday night, May 26, at a special session of the School Committee conducted virtually due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent Kathryn Crowley explained to the body the decision-making process, which included a “worst-case” scenario of a potential 10 percent cut in the district’s state aid.

If that happened, something that needs to be considered seriously at the moment with Rhode Island facing a $900 million shortfall brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, then East Providence schools could lose another $3.5 million in assistance from the state. The district was already expecting a drop of over $600,000 in state aid following a revision of the formula taking effect next fiscal year.

The outlook could be better for the districts and others around the country, Superintendent Crowley said, if a second federal stimulus package is passed through Congress. However, she said “that’s going to be a hard fought battle and I’m not sure the states will receive that.”

“A lot of this is related to COVID-19. A lot of this is related to the unknown of what we are going to look like next year, but I have to protect the school department financial,” the superintendent added, saying the cuts so far are total approximately $3.4 million.

The superintendent noted the layoffs touched each of the district’s four bargaining units and that similar staff reductions are taking place in school systems all over the state. She added, it “had nothing to do with the quality” of any individual currently being released.

“The only way to get there (to trim $3.5 million from the budget) is with people…I don’t take this lightly. I’m doing this with a heavy heart,” Superintendent Crowley said after the meeting, adding how previously during her tenure she has called back every employee laid off and one year didn’t even need to take the action.

Some 34 teachers were “pink slipped” during the process. The superintendent said, however, that number was a bit deceiving. If an instructor is certified, as an example, in three subjects, until they choose what discipline they will teach next term three positions must be held. Once that is determined, two previously laid off instructors will be called back. Some jobs, like others throughout the system, may go unfilled, though.

Another reduction of 36 personnel took place among the para-professionals with a near equal number, 31, dropped from the group of supervisory aides. Five administrative assistants were laid off. The custodial staff is likewise being trimmed with two open positions going unfilled.

“We’re waiting to get more information from the state before we go any further,” Superintendent Crowley added. “There’s really not much else we can do at this point except to wait and see what happens with the state.”

The Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget process will begin to take on a greater sense of urgency, as always, in June, not only because a new plan must be in place, statutorily, by the end of the month at the state level, but also because the economy is still reeling because of the coronavirus crisis.

A matter at the fore as well is whether or not buildings will actually be open come the fall and/or if distance learning practices will remain in place. The superintendent said one scenario being considered is holding only elementary level classes to start next term, considering the virus seems to affect children of that age less severely, while maintaining virtual instruction at the middle and high school levels.

Because of the vagaries, Superintendent Crowley announced she’s forming a special task force within the district to study and respond to situation.

“It’s really daunting,” the superintendent said of what schools face in the near term because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have to find ways to be prepared for whatever happens.”

Per state law and contract, those affected by layoffs must be notified by June 1. The School Committee is planning another virtual special session on Friday, May 29, at 5 p.m. to formally approve the superintendent’s recommendations. The meeting can be viewed at the School Department's YouTube page, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_b1dCz9KE3fA872NUMZyYg

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