WOONSOCKET – The School Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to send layoff notices to 41 of the district’s 485 teachers, the number recommended by School Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan.
The move defied the recommendation of the state Budget Commission, the body in charge of balancing the city’s budget.
Donoyan told the committee she had received the Budget Commission request by telephone on Wednesday afternoon and did not have any additional information supporting it.
School Committee Anita McGuire-Forcier objected to the proposal, citing the panel’s experience with a full-layoff last year.
At that time the department was facing a budget shortfall of $7 million she noted and had to find ways to reduce costs. In the end the school department received additional state and local money and rehired most of the teachers given notices.
“Last year we had no other way because we had no money,” Forcier said while noting the state’s move to eventually increase the school budget by $7 million.
“This year I don’t want to go through this charade with personnel again,” she said.
Donoyan had submitted a list of 41 positions to the panel that she recommended be issued layoff notices under the school department’s March 1 requirement for notifying union teachers. She did not support issuing layoffs to a higher number.
“The budget commission is asking me to recommend that and I will not recommend that at this time,” she said.
Typically all but a small number of teachers receiving such notices retain their positions, but receiving such a notice occasionally prompts teachers to seek more secure positions elsewhere.
The School Department lost several veteran teachers last year, with some claiming it was a result of the layoff of the entire staff. All the notices were eventually rescinded with the exception of seven positions.
School Committee Chairwoman Vimala Phongsavanh also agreed with the superintendent’s recommendation of 41 layoff notices.
“This is last minute without notice to anyone,” Phongsavanh said while calling the Budget Commission request “shocking.”
“I will not recommend the layoff or firing of all the teachers. I cannot go through that again,” Phongsavanh said. She said that the department is still working to
“rebuild the school system” after last year’s staffing troubles.
Jeff Partington, president of the Woonsocket Teachers Guild, initially cited concern over the impact of sending layoffs to even the 41 positions recommended by Donoyan but concluded with a caution that sending notices to the entire staff would seriously hinder the department’s ability to retain quality teachers.
“We lost a lot of very difficult to replace personnel last year because of the uncertainty that resulted from that mass layoff,” Partington said.
Although all five members of the committee voted to authorize just the 41 layoff notices, Richard Ackerman, school department legal counsel, acknowledged that the state-appointed Budget Commission likely holds the authority needed to approve such notices regardless of the school committee’s action.
It took a similar step to override the School Committee when it voted to close the Fifth Avenue Elementary School as a cost reduction in the current school budget and Ackerman noted the state law creating Budget Commission oversight grants the panel broad authority over personnel costs and budgeting.