By Meg O’Neil
NEWPORT – School Committee members voted on Tuesday to oppose a pair of bills currently making their way through the General Assembly, the first of which would require mandatory binding arbitration in school districts and another that would allow for automatic contract continuations.
In a separate vote, the committee also unanimously threw their support behind a proposal that would push back the date of teacher layoff notifications.
Reiterating past objections to binding arbitration, Superintendent Dr. John H. Ambrogi wrote in a memorandum that the School Committee has always been opposed to the concept, labeling it as “just a bad idea.”
In a resolution, introduced by NSC Chairman Patrick K. Kelley, the committee said that “Mandatory binding arbitration would take away from locally elected officials the ability to control the biggest component of local budgets.”
Meanwhile, Committee member Jo Eva Gaines called a proposal to mandate that an expired teacher and school employee contract continue under the same terms and conditions, an "incentive not to settle on a new contract.”
That sentiment was backed up in a resolution written by Kelley, which said the bill would serve as a “disincentive for unions to bargain in good faith” on future contracts.
Finally, the School Committee passed a resolution that supports the House bill that would move the teacher layoff notification date from March 1 to June 1 – a shift that the school department has sought for some time.
Ambrogi explained that the March 1 is “too soon to have an understanding of revenue, enrollment, and expenditures needed for the subsequent school and fiscal year.”
Gaines called the March 1 date a “lesson in futility,” saying that the early notification puts people in a state of angst, even though the majority of those given pink slips will still have a job in September.
Impact of Truancy on Test Results
In the district’s continuous battle to fight truancy in Newport schools, Director of Curriculum Dr. Caroline Frey reported on standardized test scores that showed students who are considered truant (missing 18 or more school days a year) are far less proficient in reading and math.
For example, in grade 11 mathematics, 37.5 percent of students are considered proficient, compared to only 8.9 percent of truant students.
The issue of chronic absenteeism has plagued the schools at all levels, and while the district has attempted different methods to get children back in school, Gaines suggested law enforcement needs to step up to help combat the problem. “When people are breaking the law [by not getting their children to school], it’s not our job to go after them. It’s the law enforcement’s job. If the police have to ring the doorbell to get that parent out of bed to get that kid to school … we need to do it.”
Committee member Thomas Phelan echoed Gaines’ sentiments, saying, “At the elementary level there is no excuse for a child to be out for 18 days unless he or she is very sick. Keeping a child out for that many days is a form of child abuse that delays the child. Until the state decides to do something about the issue, we can’t do anything … and they don’t care.”