North Kingstown Education Support Professionals (NKESP) – who have been battered over the last few months by the town’s school committee and Superintendent Phil Auger – took overwhelming votes of “no confidence” in the leadership both have provided for the school district. Our local union of teacher assistants, clerks, food service workers, mini-bus drivers, bus paraprofessionals, maintenance workers, and custodians has worked more than 18 months without a contract, despite working toward an agreement by following the process of mediation and arbitration.
The NKESP membership voted unanimously on two letters sent to School Committee Chair Kimberly Page and Superintendent Auger. About Auger, NKESP pointed to his cavalier attitude toward employees; his inability to focus on employee related issues; his leadership style of intimidation, bullying and lack of collaboration; and his lack of respect for support employees, their union, and its leadership, among other charges.
The first letter stated, “Dr. Auger leads by firing employees who get in his way, ignoring concessions from the union to save these employee’s jobs, cutting deep into the contract conditions of the existing ESP workers, using contract language only when it suits him and causing over 13 grievances, a record number for the most ever filed under any prior superintendent.”
All 26 custodians were fired in June, in a privatization move by the school committee and superintendent, who then imposed deep cuts in the pay and benefits of remaining employees.
The letter went on to say, “NKSD is no longer the wonderful place it used to be…”
The second letter regarding the school committee cites members’ behavior at meetings, such as refusing to listen to the union or the public; texting; talking among themselves; interrupting each other; flirting with each other; shutting off microphones on other members and the public; reading newspapers during meetings; making false accusations; bullying; and using abusive and inappropriate language.
This letter stated, “The school committee has no concern for the hardships it has caused its employees and the families of the employees. The school committee has made itself look ridiculous and has eroded public confidence in the school department.”
NKESP is calling for the school committee to bargain in good faith toward a fair settlement. The arbitrator’s decision four months ago – which the committee rejected – would have settled the contract with enough money to balance the budget and keep the custodians’ jobs.
Karen C. Jenkins is Communications Director for the National Education Association RI