Hundreds of teachers, students and union supporters rallied on Wednesday to protest dismissal of all of Providence's nearly 2,000 teachers as Rhode Island's capital city struggles to address its shaky finances.
The protesters demanded that Mayor Angel Taveras retract the terminations, most of which he has said will be rescinded.
Something insane is going on, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told the crowd gathered at City Hall. This is destabilizing to kids and dehumanizing to teachers, she said.
Protesters waved signs reading, What did we do wrong?
Notices were sent to all the city's teachers to comply with a state law requiring they be notified before March 1 of any possible changes to their employment status, Taveras has said.
Teachers were sent dismissal notices instead of layoff notices, as dismissals end financial responsibilities toward a teacher if their position is no longer necessary, Taveras said in a statement.
The number of teachers ultimately fired depends on how many schools will be closed in Providence, according to Taveras' spokeswoman Melissa Withers.
On Monday, the closing of four to six schools will be recommended to the Providence School Board, which will make its final decision at the end of April, she said.
Newly elected Taveras, a lawyer, has said cuts to the school budget are crucial to bolster the city's finances. About half of the city's budget goes to education.
Providence faces a $70 million budget deficit this fiscal year and a $110 million deficit next fiscal year, according to a new report by the Municipal Finances Review Panel that will be released on Thursday.
The financial crisis facing the people of Providence is staggering, Taveras said on Sunday. Issuing notices of dismissals to all teachers was a decision of last resort.
The Providence Teachers Union has called the 1,926 terminations unlawful and it filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state Labor Relations Board on Monday.
You can only fire a teacher for a good and just reason, not because you are unprepared, Providence Teachers Union President Steven Smith said to the crowd on Wednesday.
Aja Butler, a high school physics teacher, said the sequence of events was wrong.
The damage is already done, Butler said. What he did was dismiss all of the teachers without cause.
At the rally, Ian Rosales, 15, brandished a poster that read, Students Love Teachers.
Providence is a small place, said the high school freshman. When they affect one of us, they affect all of us.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Bohan)