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RI EDUCATION

Elorza confronts McKee over Providence Teachers Union contract

The heated exchange between the Providence mayor and the Rhode Island governor took place at a press conference to promote WaterFire Wednesday night

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, far right, confronted Governor Dan McKee, left, during a news conference Wednesday evening promoting WaterFire, taking the governor to task about the newly proposed Providence Teachers Union contract.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, far right, confronted Governor Dan McKee, left, during a news conference Wednesday evening promoting WaterFire, taking the governor to task about the newly proposed Providence Teachers Union contract.Courtesy WPRI 12 News

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza confronted Governor Dan McKee during a news conference Wednesday evening promoting WaterFire, taking the governor to task about the newly proposed Providence Teachers Union contract.

“This is too important for you to play the coward’s role on this,” Elorza said, according to video from WJAR, repeatedly pointing his finger at McKee, who kept his hands in his pockets.

“You gotta face the community on this! You gotta face the community. This is too important,” the mayor said as video from WPRI shows a plainclothes security officer inserting himself between the mayor and the governor, moving the mayor away and telling him to “back off.”

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Seconds later, the mayor returned to shake hands with a WaterFire official, who was standing next to McKee.

Attendees nearby seemed to ignore the exchange, but members of the Providence Teachers Union and others were quick to take to Twitter to condemn Elorza’s actions.

“Jorge_Elorza failed to lead when he had control over @pvdschools,” tweeted Jeremy Spencer, vice president of the Providence teachers union “His disingenuous political posturing is gross. Let’s work together to create the schools our kids and families deserve.”

“If facing the community is important to Mayor .@Jorge_Elorza, there are thousands of .@CityofProv residents who would like to tell him about the excessive levels of unnecessary and *unhealthy* #noise they must endure daily. When are you free, Mr. Mayor?” tweeted the Providence Noise Project, tagging the Providence City Council and the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations for good measure.

Some pointed out that Elorza had been less than transparent about his own deals around Providence Schools, including the installation of the First Achievement charter school in the Fortes Elementary School building.

“Face the community?” tweeted Cherie Sanger, also a vice president of the union. “Yeah just like you faced the community when you gave Fortes away for 1 dollar!”

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“‘You’ve gotta face the community,’ says the mayor who excludes teachers from every conversation about schools,” quipped Maya Chavez, a civics teacher at Dr Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence.

The state took over Providence schools in November 2019, a few months after a devastating report outlined widespread dysfunction and subpar student performance throughout the city’s school system. As mayor of Providence, Elorza has not been involved with the current negotiations.

Elorza, who is a likely candidate for Governor in 2022, has argued for major changes to the existing contract and has criticized the governor for not making details about the contract negotiations public.

“There is just too much hanging in the balance; this shouldn’t be done in secret. We need the community to be informed as to what’s in there,” Elorza told reporters after the confrontation. “The community was promised it would be involved in the process. ... This is going to be education for the next 40, 50, 60 years. If we wait two or three weeks to engage the community and allow them to provide input, nothing will change.”

McKee did not stop to talk to reporters after the WaterFire press conference.

The Globe obtained a copy of the proposed teachers contract Wednesday, shortly before Elorza confronted the governor. Providence teachers will receive modest pay raises and a one-time, $3,000 payment as part of the new contract, which also includes a 1.5 percent raise retroactive to 2020, 2 percent raises this year and in 2022, and a 0.5 percent raise on Aug. 31, 2023. The union is set to vote on the contract on Friday.

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By the end of the WaterFire press conference, the two politicians seemed amicable, holding torches aloft, though reporters noted that tensions remained high.


Lylah Alphonse can be reached at lylah.alphonse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.