September 30, 2005

An Experiment in Voter Initiative, Introduction part II

Carroll Andrew Morse

However, I want to kick off the discussion on voter initiative from a non-theoretical direction. I am going to propose a change in the law. At the end of its recent teachersí contract negotiations, the Cranston School committee gave very short public notice before voting on the new contract and apparently didnít make the exact terms of the contract public before the vote. Letís build a safeguard into the law that makes contract approval procedures more reasonably transparentÖ

Hereís a draft of the changeÖ

Amend section 16-2-9 (18) of Rhode Islandís general laws to add the following:

No school committee shall hold a binding vote on approval of a contract of any kind until at least seven (7) days after the exact text of the contract has been made available to the public. The town clerk shall be responsible for certifying the date and time when the exact text of the contract was made public.

Initial questions: Is the idea behind this change a good one. If so, does the proposed text implement the change properly?

If we decide that this is a reasonable good-government idea, letís see how responsive the legislature is to making the change on their own. If they do implement something like this in response to public deliberations, maybe there is no need for voter initiative. But if a simple and reasonable change like this canít make it to the floor, then RI does need voter initiative.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I think this would be a very helpful amendment. I'd also like to see an amendment that would make it so that city councils would also need to approve any contract that accounts for a large share of the city's budget, like any amount over 10% of the overall budget.

In Cranston, we are going to have so much trouble paying for this contract, and I think the school dept. deliberately did not disclose the full contract, since they probably knew there would be a lot of outrage on the part of citizen activists. Facts are, 60% of Cranston's teachers are on the top pay step -- this step is now going to increase by 4.5%, compounded by three years of raises at 3%, 4.5% and 3.5%. No one in their right mind is going to retire since everyone is going to want to put in at least three years on the new 11th step, so there will be no reduction in salary costs there. And then we will be paying 80% of this new number to the growing number of retiring teachers for the next 30 to 40 years, along with 95% of their health benefits.

The important thing to remember is that teacher pay in RI is already relatively high compared to most states. On top of this, salaries in the private sector in RI are relatively low compared to other states. This means all of us who don't join the exclusive club of the public schools (and I actually have joined, and will be getting one of these salaries one of these days when I decide to go back to work) are shouldering the costs of having school teachers earn 30 to 50% more than us. In Cranston, the average household income (that means 2 salaries added together usually) is about 42,000. The average teacher salary in Cranston is somewhere above 50,000, with 60% of teachers making 60,000 to 65,000 or more. That means while average folk rack up credit card debt to pay their taxes and medical bills in Cranston, and never miss a day of work since their jobs only provide a few days of sick time a year if that, teachers sit back and collect a salary that in one check alone is more than the average household income in Cranston. They go to the doctor and don't worry about the cost, fill prescriptions for brand name drugs and don't worry about the cost, and take sick time and don't worry about the cost.

On top of it, the educational standards in RI are not up to snuff, teachers are not evaluated and promoted based on their abilities, and schools send home notes demanding that parents bring in toilet paper because they are too poor to provide it. It's a system out of whack and crying out for change.

Posted by: citizenjane at September 30, 2005 7:26 PM

I would add the phrase "or other legislative body" after the words "school committee". Not all town contracts are negotiated or approved by school committees, and that wording provides just enough wiggle room for them to avoid the spirit of the law.

Aside from that, I fully support the amendment. Sufficient time to review and digest something for which there will be a legally binding vote is essential.

Posted by: Ron at September 30, 2005 9:22 PM

The proposal for City Council approval is an excellent suggestion. Teacher contracts have dramatic impact upon municipal budgets. The City Council should have some involvement in approval of the contract.

Posted by: brassband at October 1, 2005 8:03 AM