More than 1,500 members cast a “no-confidence” vote in the leadership of Superintendent Harrison Peters and State Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, with twelve voting against, according to Providence Teachers Union Vice President Jeremy Sencer. 

Infante-Green and Peters are leading the state-backed effort to transform the state’s largest district. While the “no-confidence” vote changes little materially for the union, it signals that the relationship between teachers, the state and district leaders has soured. 

The state and district are now about one full year into renegotiating the teachers’ contract with the union. The state is also in the middle of a massive takeover and turnaround effort initiated in 2019. And teachers continue to work both virtually and in-person because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is rare for unions to take no-confidence votes, but in our case, there has been mounting and palpable frustration over so many critical issues that have affected our students’ education,” said Union President Maribeth Calabro in a statement Monday. 

Sencer said some rank-and-file members of the union have been pushing for the “no-confidence” vote for “months.” Leaders declined earlier, Sencer said, because of the ongoing contract negotiations between the state and the union. 

This is a classic tactic that’s been used by union leadership during collective bargaining negotiations and we aren’t surprised to see it here in Providence,” said Education Commissioner  Infante-Green and Superintendent Peters in a joint statement. “We won’t be distracted. Our focus has been and will always be doing the hard work of transforming our schools so we can meet the needs of every Providence student.”

The vote follows the news last week from the district that 270 educators received displacement notices, as school positions were eliminated or consolidated. The largest district in the state, the Providence schools employ about 2,100 educators.

The state took over Providence in 2019, after a report by Johns Hopkins University laid bare a litany of problems in the district. The takeover and turnaround were supported by then-Governor Gina Raimondo. From the start, Infante-Green has said re-negotiating the contract would be instrumental in transforming the district. 

Negotiations between the state and the union began last spring, and are approaching the one year mark. State education leaders, the union and the district meet about twice a week. Teachers have been working without a contract in the city since August of last year.

As the negotiations drag on, Sencer said the union has offered up a number of proposals for inclusion in a new contract, but the administration side is likely looking to pare down the nearly 70-page document. 

I can’t speak to the details,” Sencer said Monday of the negotiations. Sencer says he believes the turnaround effort is still necessary, but “the approach isn’t working.”

The acrimony has broken out in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which closed schools in spring of last year, and have left classes a patchwork of in-person and virtual across the state. 

In Providence, the union clashed over the nature of the return to schools, complaining about a hap-hazard start to digital classrooms, and calling for an independent review of the district school buildings by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.

“Rhode Island, and Providence in particular, has been a national model in reopening schools during COVID-19 because of collaboration at all levels,” Infante-Green and Peters said in their statement this week.

The union plans to send copies of the “no confidence” resolution to Governor Daniel McKee, and member of the General Assembly, Sencer said, signaling that the union may look to other elected officials to step into the turnaround effort.

“We’d like someone else in the state to step in,” Sencer said. The union plans to hold a press conference to detail concerns Tuesday afternoon.