Teachers in mass firing plan to appeal dismissal

By Ray Henry
Associated Press / February 26, 2010

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PROVIDENCE - The entire staff of teachers fired in a radical attempt to improve one of the worst performing high schools in Rhode Island will appeal their dismissals to school authorities, the head of the teachers union said yesterday.

The board of trustees overseeing the school system in Central Falls, one of the poorest communities in the state, voted Tuesday to fire 88 high school teachers and other support staff by the end of the year. Other administrators will also lose their jobs.

Those teachers will appeal their dismissals to the school district’s board of trustees, said Jane Sessums, the president of the Central Falls Teachers’ Union. She plans to meet with union lawyers and other labor representatives in coming days before deciding whether to take additional legal action.

Sessums said she still hopes negotiations will resume, although her union has not made any requests to school officials to continue talks.

The firings were ordered after the state identified Central Falls High School as among the six worst in the state and ordered it to make improvements by selecting one of four reform plans outlined in federal law.

Just 7 percent of 11th graders tested in the fall were proficient in math. Only 33 percent were proficient in writing, and just 55 percent were proficient in reading. In 2009, just 48 percent of students graduated within four years.

Superintendent Frances Gallo said she initially hoped teachers would agree to a package of changes, including lengthening the school day and requiring teachers to offer more tutoring, get additional training, and eat lunch with students once a week.

Gallo said she decided to fire her teaching staff after union officials said they were not getting paid enough for the additional work.

The school district offered to pay teachers extra for getting training over the summer and for other professional development time during the school year, Gallo said. But she did not have the money to raise salaries for extending the school day or for making teachers eat lunch with students once a week.

“They absolutely refused to work without pay,’’ Gallo said. “Eating with students, they considered it a duty, not, as I had hoped, a relationship-building opportunity.’’

Gallo said she does not intend to resume negotiations over the firings, although she said there will be talks over other aspects of the turnaround plan.