WOONSOCKET – The school department's continuing budget problems will be back in the limelight this week when the school committee considers laying off all of the department's union employees for the coming school year.
The action, expected to result in the issuance of pinks slips to more than 700 district employees, will allow the school administration to preserve its options for budget cuts that may be needed in setting next year's school budget, according to Committee Chairwoman Anita McGuire-Forcier. The school committee is scheduled to consider the layoffs at a special meeting at the Hamlet Middle School Wednesday night, beginning at 5:30.
“We have been on a financial cliff and now we must look at extreme options,” Forcier said Friday while confirming the panel will consider the layoffs of all union employees.
Forcier added that the step is purely one to preserve options in making staff changes for budget reasons. State law requires union employees who will not be retained in the coming year to receive notification of that action by March 1.
“This has nothing to do with performance, it is all for financial reasons,” Forcier said.
Word of the planned committee action began to circulate in the district on Friday as teachers, students, and school support staff headed out on February vacation.
The news included rumors that notices were being issued Friday but that information was incorrect, Forcier said. The School Committee must consider the notifications as a formal committee vote and that will be taken up at the special meeting on Wednesday, she said.
While all teachers working for the school district will be affected, Forcier said the notices are also expected to be issued to union teacher assistants, and all other union district employees including custodians and clerks.
Although placing all those employees on notice of layoff by March 1, Forcier said it is unlikely that all of the staff members affected will remain on layoff by the time the new school year begins.
“You have to have a teacher in front of a class,” she said. Instead, the notifications would allow the department greater flexibility in making staffing changes and shifts of personnel to accommodate any budget reductions the school committee considers as part of its upcoming budget work, she said.
“We have to leave our options open,” Forcier said.
The school department is still working to determine if it is overspending its current budget and heading to a repeat of last year's $2.7 million budget deficit. Forcier has said the committee won't be able to begin work in next year's budget until that information has been received from Dina Dutremble, a retired school finance director, and the city's auditing firm, Braver PC.
For now, Forcier said, the committee must preserve any option that might be needed to set next year's budget.
“This is the best way to leave all our options open,” she said.
Woonsocket Teachers Guild President Jeff Partington said teachers did hear on Friday that the layoffs were being considered but added that no formal notifications beyond the 54 approved by the school committee at its last meeting were made during the day.
The union official said he would prefer to withhold comment on the layoff move until more information was available.
“Right now, I really haven't had a chance to formulate where we are on this,” Partington said.