More than 300 supporters of the Education Support Professionals union looking to speak out against the North Kingstown School Committee's move to outsource the department's custodial services as well as contract negotiations on Tuesday will have to wait another night.
Just more than an hour after the start of the meeting, the committee abruptly moved to adjourn the meeting shortly after 8 p.m. – leaving almost half the agenda unaddressed. Amongst the lingering agenda items was public comment, which the committee moved from the beginning of the agenda to the end in a 3-2 vote. (Members Melvoid Benson and Bill Mudge opposed the vote, as well as the votes to adjourn for the night.)
"To adjourn and not let the public speak is irresponsible," said Larry Purtill, president of National Educators Association Rhode Island. "It showed 400 people what ESP has had to deal with."
The school department and ESP have been negotiating the union – which represents the district's paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, custodians and other support personnel. Earlier this summer, . Twenty-six custodians were laid off by the decision – though according to . Superintendent Phil Auger says that the union wants the outsourcing decision reversed as part of its current negotiations. The union has also taken legal action against the school department in the matter.
Both parties were in court Tuesday afternoon following a strike by the ESP union, . According to an announcement from Superior Court Judge Brian Stern, .
Members of the North Kingstown teachers union, the North Kingstown Fire Union (Local 1651), NEARI, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Local 2323) and others joined ESP members outside the high school prior to the meeting. Once inside, the crowd raised signs reading "We are one" and "Economic Violence." A banner proclaiming "NK School Committee = Playground Bullies" was held up before the committee table before police asked it to be moved.
Though the committee never got to public comment, members of the audience voiced their opinions throughout the meeting – yelling, booing and applauding at various points in the meeting. Before and during the meeting, the crowd chanted "shame on you" to the committee.
Committee Members Larry Ceresi and Lynda Avanzato were absent from Tuesday night's meeting. According to School Committee Secretary Laureen Berglund, all seven members (including Avanzato and Ceresi) attended portions of the committee's executive session meeting – which took place an hour before its regularly scheduled meeting.