PROVIDENCE – A former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice is now at the bargaining table with the state Department of Education and the Providence Teachers Union.
Frank Flaherty, who retired from the state’s high court last year, has been hired as a $350-an-hour mediator to help the two sides reach an agreement on a new union contract, according Department of Education spokeswoman Emily Crowell.
Crowell said that the two parties came to a mutual agreement to hire Flaherty – as opposed to having mediation ordered by a judge – and will split his hourly fee. He started attending negotiating sessions several weeks ago.
The two sides are scheduled to continue negotiations Monday, the first time they’ve met since the union took a vote of no confidence in Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and Providence Superintendent Harrison Peters.
Infante-Green led the charge for the state to take control of Providence’s struggling school system in 2019, and the plan was supported by Mayor Jorge Elorza in large part because he believed the state would have more power to renegotiate the union contract than he had. (Elorza had a tense relationship with the city’s teachers during negotiations over their last contract.)
The union has been working under an expired contract for the entire school year, and Infante-Green and Peters have hinted that they may seek to make unilateral changes to the agreement if a deal can’t be reached. Union leaders have said any changes could wind up in court.
Flaherty’s job will be to help move the two sides along in negotiations.
A former mayor of Warwick and two-time Democratic candidate for governor, Flaherty was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2003. He announced his retirement from the bench last October, clearing a path for then-state Senator Erin Lynch Prata to be nominated as his successor.
Governor Dan McKee said he’s hopeful that Flaherty can help the two sides reach a deal.
“I have met with both the union leadership and the commissioner to discuss the Providence educator contract and I remain open to having additional discussions that can help bring parties together in the best interest of our students,” McKee said in a statement. “Now that a mediator is involved in the process, we hope this will bring parties closer to resolving the issue. I look forward to engaging leaders at every level to ensure our students receive the support they need to access the quality education they deserve.”