Smooth school opening predicted, but then...
Classrooms are ready, buses are prepared to make their runs, teachers and principals are lined up and a hurricane isn’t bearing down on Rhode Island – Warwick schools are set to open – although the current teacher contract extension expires Friday.
“We’re ready to go as long as we don’t get a hurricane like last year,” Superintendent Peter Horoschak said yesterday. All students return to classrooms tomorrow with the exception of secondary schools, where only 7th graders at the junior high schools and 9th graders at the senior high schools report. On Thursday, all secondary students are to report for classes.
A year ago, Hurricane Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached Rhode Island, delayed the start of school until Sept. 6. With so many days lost at the beginning of the academic year, many forecasted that, with a few snow days, students would be attending classes until July. But in the end, a milder-than-usual winter enabled schools to keep open without a hiccup.
With an extension of the teacher contract ending Friday, questions have been raised whether school openings could be disrupted. So far, it doesn’t look like a “contract hurricane” either.
Asked about the status of contract talks, Horoschak said,
“There is nothing I can say about it at this point.”
Warwick Teachers Union President James Ginolfi offered a similar outlook, at least for this week.
“I have no new news to give you,” he said.
Asked what might happen next week after the contract extension expires, Ginolfi said, “obviously things will go smoothly for opening [the teachers being under contract], but post-opening is a different story.” He didn’t elaborate.
Ginolfi said the sides would be meeting yesterday afternoon.
“We’re negotiating,” he said. While the parties have filed for mediation, they have not yet met with a mediator.
When the teacher contract expired last Aug. 31, the parties agreed to a one-year extension. The union also agreed to increase its health care co-payment from $11 a week to 20 percent of cost, which resulted in a $2 million savings to the department.
Ginolfi has said with expiration of the extension, or a new contract, the co-payment will revert to $11.
Looking at the big picture of school openings, Horoschak said, “there are no pending problems.”
He observed that all school busing has been outsourced and he expects First Student is prepared to make runs. Up until last year, the department had handled the busing of special education students. The transition over to First Student was made over several months and is projected to save the department in maintenance and personnel costs.