Fired Rhode Island teachers approve deal

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (AP) — All the teachers fired from a struggling Rhode Island high school will get their jobs back but will have to work longer days and make other changes under an agreement reached Monday that resolves a monthslong dispute.

The agreement passed overwhelmingly on a vote by the Central Falls Teacher’s Union and allows roughly 90 teachers who were fired to return to their jobs without having to reapply, according to union officials and Superintendent Fran Gallo.

Central Falls High School is one of the state’s lowest performing, with only 7 percent of 11th graders testing proficient in math last fall. The board that oversees it voted in February to fire all the teachers in a drastic reform effort.

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Gallo opted for the firings — effective at the end of the school year — after talks with the union broke down over changes she had proposed. No more than half the staff was allowed to be rehired under federal rules.

The firings caught the attention of President Obama, who in March singled out the move as an example of accountability.

The teachers and school district had been working with a mediator, hammering out an agreement over the weekend that averts the firings.

The agreement lengthens the school day by 30 minutes and requires all teachers to spend one hour tutoring each week. Teachers would be required to eat lunch with students once a week, face a more rigorous evaluation system and undergo up to 10 days of professional development every summer and 90 minutes of weekly planning time after school.

Those conditions are similar to but more stringent than the ones proposed by Gallo before the firings.

‘‘I hope the rest of the country can learn from our experience and avoid the pitfalls of mass terminations,’’ union president Jane Sessums said at a news conference announcing the agreement. ‘‘Cooperation and collaboration are necessary ingredients in school improvement.’’

Teachers would receive an annual stipend of $3,000, plus $30 per hour of professional development time.

State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said in an interview Monday that the firings were never intended as a knock on the performance of individual teachers, but rather emerged from concern that the staff was not sufficiently committed to making necessary reforms.

‘‘I hope what people learn from this is that we’re serious about reform, but at the same time, we’re ready to do that work collaboratively,’’ Gist said.