Providence Schools in Chaos — Teachers Union Blisters Elorza for Comments About Teachers and Race

Saturday, May 12, 2018


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Mayor Jorge Elorza

Mayor Jorge Elorza told the head of the Providence Teachers Union that Providence teachers should not attend the “All In: Providence Education Summit” because teachers are not capable of building relationships with people of color.

“[The Mayor] called me yesterday or the day before -- he said if he were me, he wouldn't have his people go, because of the community, and that there will be people of color. He said we don't build relationships with people of color. He actually referenced the two students who were quoted at the last all-in summit that they said they can't form relationships with teachers -- I've met with those students,” said Maribeth Calabro, President of the Union in a phone interview on Friday. 

“So I can't believe he said that. I said, ‘Are you serious right now?’ I can't believe someone in his position would say that there are 95% persons of that color in that district and he doesn't believe we have a relationship with them,” said Calabro.

The Mayor’s office doesn’t deny Calabro’s claims. “While I was not a part of that private discussion, it’s my understanding that the conversation between the Mayor and PTU was about their plans for before/during the Summit on Saturday. We were unaware of any informational session until after the conversation but had heard that there were plans for a protest,” said Emily Crowell, Acting Chief of Staff & Director of Communications.

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Teachers Union President Calabro

Educators Invited, But Not Teachers

According to a press release issued on Friday by Elorza’s office, educators are invited to attend the “All In Summit.”

“The All In Summit allows the voice of the community to be at the core of our decisions for the future of education in Providence,” said Elorza in the release. “We’re continuing to engage students, parents, educators and so many others, because their experiences and insights are powerful catalysts for progress in our schools. You’re invited to join us for an important discussion that will shape the strategies that will help unlock the full potential of our students.”

The battle of words continued all day. “Part of why we're [picketing] is contract-based, but this is taking a different tack because the Mayor is for being ‘All-In’ on a summit that we were excluded from the conversation. No one invited teachers in the planning and prep -- I don't know who was at the table,” said Calabro.

“I believe the mayor expressed his concerns about another disruptive protest given comments from students last year about feeling disconnected from teachers in our schools and pointed out that this summit is an opportunity to engage our very diverse school community and hear directly from our students. The mayor urged the union to participate in this conversation,” said Crowell.

“But back to the claims he made about our relationships with students, this is unfortunate for him. If he paid attention -- he'd know what's going on, and that we've made great inroads. That we got a 'Keys to Learning' grant for students and teachers to meet together. It's a remarkable experience to listen to the dialogue between students and staff. And for his and everyone's information -- one of the ladies who said she "didn't have good relations" with teachers at the last summit is actually taking part.,” said Calabro.

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Protest at City Hall in February

Battle Has Continued for Months

The battle between the teachers first spilled pout publicly in February.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, State Senator Maryellen Goodwin, and State Representative John Lombardi did not attend Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza's State of the City speech address, in light of the Providence Teachers Union picket.

Hundreds of teachers packed Providence City Hall ahead of the address -- and Lombardi, who formerly served as City Council President and Interim Mayor, showed up to speak with teachers, and then left. 

"I'm not staying. I'm not crossing that line," Lombardi told GoLocal.

Calabro told the crowd assembled that Ruggerio and Goodwin, who like Lombardi all represent parts of Providence, would not be in attendance for Elorza's address.

"They both sent me messages," Calabro told GoLocal. 

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Council President Salvatore arranges meeting -- but no negotiations

Contract Negotiations

Calabro says Elorza is treating Providence teachers with little respect.

“It's the same since January 19, which was the last day we had a negotiating session. There there was another meeting, where [the Mayor] said this is not negotiations. He said this is just a conversation -- except that he needed help 'selling [the water supply].' I think he meant that from a political standpoint, that he wants our help in that battle. So I'm supposed to go to our members and say let's do the mayor a favor -- so he can put that towards a pension we don't take a dime from?” said Calabro.

“After the State of the City, [Council President David] Salvatore promised he'd try and get us in a room together.  We are all meeting on Monday, but again, that's not negotiations.  There's been no call for restarting negotiations,” she said. 


Related Slideshow: Providence Finances - Benchmark Report - 2016


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