2015-09-17 / Front Page

Teachers Move to Arbitration

By Olga Enger

The Newport School Committee has elected to go to arbitration after negotiations failed to progress with the Teachers Association of Newport (TAN). The teachers have been without a contract for a year, after a three-year contract expired Aug. 30, 2014. That contract was settled through arbitration in 2011.

“We are still talking, but if nothing has happened we will go to arbitration,” said Committee Chair Jo Eva Gaines during a liaison meeting with city council members on Tuesday, Sept. 15. “I’ve been preaching arbitration for the last six months.”

Gaines said the “red-herring” in the talks is class size. The committee reported there are three classes that are currently over 25 students, but teachers are compensated for extra pupils.

As a separate agenda item, the committee said this year’s enrollment increased by approximately 150 students.

Councilor Justin McLaughlin inquired about the reason behind the increase, since the birth rate has not gone up.

“We see a fair amount of Central Americans. Are we seeing their children being enrolled in our schools? That is perfectly fine with me, but there are implications,” said McLaughlin.

Councilor Naomi Neville said when she dropped off her own children, she noticed a lot of students from Cluny.

“I think there are a lot from private schools. They are willing to give the school district a chance,” said Neville.

McLaughlin added that classes of 23, 24 or 25 are not large classes by national standards, but they can be difficult to manage, depending on the makeup.

“The ideal is everyone wants to see small classrooms,” agreed committee member Kathleen Silvia.

Gaines responded that special needs students or children with behavioral issues do not make up the larger classes. She added that although tentative agreements have been reached with TAN in the recent past, they have fallen through.

“We were hoping to settle, but if that does not work we are hoping to arbitrate at an early date to get this resolved.”

In other school news:

. Two positions, which would be an experiment in shared services between the city and the School Department, were briefly discussed by the committee and council representatives at the liaison meeting. The position for a shared facilities director, who would be responsible for both city and school buildings, was advertised and a hire is expected in the near future. A second position, in information technology services, will need to be explored in more detail with an outside consultant group.

. At a special committee meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16, it was announced that Donald Smith has been hired as a new music teacher for Thompson Middle and Rogers High schools. Among his responsibilities, he will be charged with launching a marching band program at Rogers. Smith has held music positions at several universities, and has been with the South Kingstown schools since 2001. He will assume his duties in Newport on Friday, Sept. 18. Committee member David Carlin III and a phalanx of teachers in attendance were upset that the additional step of appointing another third-grade teacher was not taken, but Superintendent Colleen Jermain was unwilling to make that recommendation based on previous personnel directives from the committee. Carlin’s attempt to sidestep procedural obstacles in forcing the issue was unsuccessful.

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