July 8, 2008

Grumbling to Power

Justin Katz

Well, exhausting schedule notwithstanding, I'm at the Tiverton School Committee meeting because a concerned citizen is on the agenda to raise questions about the superintendent's use of public resources to invite interested citizens to vote for higher taxes at the last financial town meeting.

Speaking of which, I see the town council is taking careful steps toward undermining the year-long efforts of the Charter Review Commission to come up with a potential alternative to such meetings:

"We need to let the citizens weigh in before we nix any of these proposals," said council Vice President Donald Bollin, even though he and others said they would not support the main question that would ask voters if the annual financial town meeting should be replaced with an all-day referendum.

Council President Louise Durfee said that question is so "fatally flawed" that she couldn't even bring herself to vote to have it heard at a public hearing.

If voters do not approve the budget at the all-day referendum, the proposed process calls for the previous year tax levy to be adopted and increased by a percentage equal to an indexing factor of no more than 4 percent.

Durfee contends that a "no" vote could have a chaotic effect on the town — "the likes of which we have not seen."

Just in case your jaw didn't drop, let me repeat that Town Council President Louise Durfee "couldn't even bring herself to vote to have it heard at a public hearing." The "fatal flaw," apparently, is that citizens could limit budget increases to around four percent — which is about what state law will soon limit them to, anyway. It would seem that Ms. Durfee doesn't take the state cap very seriously. (She must think that the small-government contingent in town has now been noticed and can be squashed as a matter of course in the future.)

To remedy this "fatal flaw" of citizen activism, the council proposed its own change to financial processes in the town, taking our government in completely the wrong direction:

A counter amendment to replace the annual financial town meeting was submitted by Councilman Brian Medeiros and calls for the Town Council to adopt an annual town budget, including the School Department budget. Any resident not happy with the budget could petition for a referendum that would have voters decide the dollar amount.

So the system would shift from a regular, expected, meeting at which everything in the budget is available for change to a representative-only decision that citizens would then have to petition (with signatures in the hundreds, probably) to vote on.

One can only hope that a goodly number of Tiverton residents will prove unable to bring themselves to return a majority of council members to their offices as election cycles go by.

ADDENDUM (8:00 p.m.)

The meeting is back in session. Rob Coulter will be taking the microphone after some regular business. The delay may prove to have been worth the time, though, because it gave some worthy candidates who'll move the town government in the right direction a chance to gather signatures to appear on the ballot. Among those candidates were Rob, for Budget Committee, his wife Danielle, for School Committee, as well as a gentleman name Tom Parker for Budget Committee.

ADDENDUM (8:20 p.m.)

The difference between summer meetings and school-year meetings during teacher contract negotiations is palpable. It'd be nice, though, if the citizenry were sufficiently engaged to keep the meetings lively year-round.

ADDENDUM (8:35 p.m.)

Rob: "The morale of the town is pretty low, and this is an opportunity for this body to address what did or did not happen." The council seems skeptical that "the town" is upset.

Denise DeMedeiros (chairwoman): "A group is upset, I'll give you that."

Rearick: "I think the confusion, if there is any confusion, is that a letter may have gone out on our letterhead that was not signed."

DeMedeiros: "In my opinion, the more people that you get in that room at the financial town meeting the better." Of course, especially if those voters might be inclined to "redo" the will of voters at the previous meeting.

Rob noted that the language of the committee's messages suggested that the budget cuts should be "avoided." DeMedeiros explained that it's the school committee's job to advocate for the school, and a budget cut is part of that.

The committee's lawyer cited state law suggesting that the school committee communicate with the public. "Where public bodies get into trouble when they go out and hire a PR firm." It's the political campaign, he suggests, "to maximize the troops" that is contrary to policy and law. One wonders how a last ditch effort to undermine citizen unrest isn't an effort to "maximize the troops."


Committee member Leonard Wright has moved for Supt. Rearick produce a report on the use of town resources. Other members seem content with this current conversation.


DeMedeiros is trying to close the meeting. "This isn't a public hearing." Boos from the crowd.

Jeff Caron, of the Budget Committee, pointed out that school resources have been used to distribute PTO advocacy.

ADDENDUM (from home):

I'm no constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that the school committee admitted that the PTO frequently uses school resources, and it was an "oversight," but not a travesty, that the group managed to send some of its advocacy out on official school letterhead. Be opinions on that as they may, no doubt the next budget cycle will see small-government groups permitted to send messages via school children also "offering information" to parents with regard to the need to vote on budgetary matters. Surely letterhead in the name of "Tivertonians for Non-Crushing Taxation" would be acceptable... so long as the message didn't advocate a vote in any particular direction.

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I was once a strong advocate of Town Financial Meetings.

But, over the years I have changed my mind. In today's fast pace / busy society, it is difficult to gather a broad group in one place at one time for as long as a Town Financial meeting can take.

Inevitably, the meeting is full of special interest groups (i.e. Police, Fire & Teacher Union members) pushing for more spending and higher taxes. Basically, the meeting gets hi-jacked by these people. Case in point, Lincoln, RI.

The best answer is for the City / Town Council to be the ones setting the budget, after public hearings / deliberations.

That way, you know EXACTLY who to hold accountable, as opposed to elected officials being able to hide behind "the public voted for it".

You will rarely get as many people to come sit through a Town Financial Meeting as you will get to come out for an election.

When you have a system that allows the Council to set the budget, you effectively have Election day as being the day in which the budget is set.

Posted by: George Elbow at July 8, 2008 9:35 PM

"If voters do not approve the budget at the all-day referendum, the proposed process calls for the previous year tax levy to be adopted and increased by a percentage equal to an indexing factor of no more than 4 percent."

So if no budget is approved by the voters (which in itself could be a significant statement by the voters), the default setting would be an automatic increase in taxes?? That's ridiculous.

How do any of the goodly elected officials of Tiverton justify a school and town budget that 1.) has only ever increased year to year and 2.) has increased completely without relation to student enrollment or performance?

Posted by: Monique at July 8, 2008 10:24 PM

" Surely letterhead in the name of "Tivertonians for Non-Crushing Taxation" would be acceptable"

That would certainly be fair as it would bring some much needed balance to official correspondence from the School Committee.

Posted by: Monique at July 8, 2008 10:37 PM

You morons crack me I up. You vote for an ambitious school bond to build new schools, but now you don't want to pay for it. You want sports, music, gifted and talented programs but again, run around crying foul and our freedoms are being abridged when he bill comes due. Grow up! you want good schools - shut up and pay. End of story cheap moron

Posted by: Bill Therault at July 10, 2008 7:56 PM

"shut up and pay. End of story cheap moron"

That should be an NEA t-shirt... or better yet, an anti-NEA t-shirt.

Unlike you, I wouldn't make any assumptions about the intelligence of people whom I don't know, but your comment is off the mark in a couple of ways:

1. Conceptually, nobody's saying that we shouldn't pay for the bonds. However, taking out a loan doesn't suggest an explicit right to more money. There is no contradiction to the conclusion that school infrastructure renovation is necessary, but that it ought to be paid for within the town's means.
2. Factually, I don't believe Tiverton has much of a music program to speak of, and I know it doesn't have much of a gifted/talented program.
3. Personally, I do want those programs, and I am willing to pay for them for my children. That's why I've pulled my children from Tiverton public schools and am sending them to private school. Why do I suspect that you would take umbrage to my suggestion that you greedy bastards should give me at least some of my money back to help defray the cost?

Posted by: Justin Katz at July 10, 2008 8:09 PM

Hey you moron (aka Bill Tetrault),

Why don't you share with us what kind of annaul salary increases the Union Teachers are receiving?

Why don't you share with us how much the cost of their health-care has increased over the past 3 year, 6 years and then share with us how much of that increase the Union members have shared in.

Why don't you share with us what a Union Teacher is earning after JUST 9 years of employment (excluding the goodies such as "degree stipends") and gross it up for the fact that they work 6.75 hours per day for just 185 days a year.

Then share with us what the average Retirement age is of our Union Teachers.

Once you present that info, you will understand why people are fed up and bitching, 'cuz due to the "Do it For the Children" Union, our Public schools have created UNSUSTAINABLE cost structures that are crushing the Taxpayers and precluding many districts from making the necessary investments into infrastructure and curriculum.

The bad circumstances are compounded by spineless & moronic elected "leaders" who are too chicken and too stupid to say "No F'ing More" to Pat "I struggle with basic math" Crowley and his mentor, Bob "Don't worry the $5B Pension deficit will correct itself in 22 short years ...well after I got mine" Walsh.

Posted by: George Elbow at July 10, 2008 8:44 PM

"you want good schools - shut up and pay"

We have paid for very good schools. For many years now. Isn't all of this "for the chi-hhh-illl-dren" [lip quiver]?

Where is the student achievement to show for all that money spent?

Posted by: Monique at July 11, 2008 11:20 AM

Well, exactly what you would expect from coward bloggers who have never spent a millisecond in a public school actually helping with education.
You computer geekazoids wouldn't last 10 seconds in a classroom. Teachers are the single most underpaid profession on the planet. They work long hours in and out of the classroom and do so for near freekin minimum wage. You moron, you said it all, but let me finish the sentence for you. I've pulled my children from Tiverton public schools--- so I don't give a flying shit what happens to those kids who didn't win the DNA lottery and whose parents actually have to work for living. Long as I can buy a new flat screen TV to watch the Fox News Channel on - let them all eat cake.
In your world you pay teachers nothing and work them till they drop -that's why we need unions you cheap moron.

Posted by: Bill Tatrault at July 11, 2008 11:16 PM

Congratulations on proving yourself to be the moron, Bill. I'm a long-hours-working carpenter who can barely afford the private-school bills and who wouldn't have a prayer if I felt indulgences like flat-screen TVs to be worth diminishing my children's educational opportunities. Moreover, I've been a teacher and long-term substitute (computer classes and seventh grade), and my wife is a teacher.

In your world, teachers eat plenty of cake, and if the public questions why their so fat, with such poor results for the community's children, then it's all vituperation and exemplification of precisely the behavior away from which any conscientious parent will steer his or her children.

"Near freekin minimum wage"? The scary thing is that you've apparently no idea how out of touch you are.

Posted by: Justin Katz at July 11, 2008 11:27 PM

Bill (aka The Moron),

Face it, your "Do it For the Children" Teacher Unions have destroyed education in RI.

In fact, the "Teachers" Union and the National "Education" Association have NOTHING to do with "teaching" or "education". Rather, they are all about putting money in the pockets of unaccountable teachers.

Minimum wage?? Let's do the math, pal.

The Average teacher salary in RI is $54,730 to work 1,249 hours per year ...6.75 hours per day, 185 days per year (and 5 of those days are fluff).

A typical worker in the Private Sector works 1,920 hours per year (48 weeks x 8 hours per day ...2 weeks vacation; 2 weeks of holidays; and two weeks of sick time) ...I am being generous w/ the vacation & sick time.

So, that $54,730 teacher salary is the Private-sector equivalent of $84,149 ($54,730 / 1,249 hours x 1,920 hours = $84,149).

At Top Step teacher earns ~$70,000 after just 9 years of Teaching. That $70,000 is the Private Sector equivalent of $107,627!

How many people do you know that earn $107,627 after just the 9th year of their career?

Add to that the near free health-care and the Pension that allows them to retire in their 50s. You call that minimum wage? You must be either an Entitlement minded Teacher or you were "taught" by one. In other words, you're a MORON.

And don't take issue with the 6.75 hours per day, as 6.75 hours is exactly what the lazy Union slobs have chosen to define their work day to be in their precious, almighty "Do it For the Children" Contracts.

And don't whine about taking work home ...we ALL do.

The problem with our Union teachers is that, most of them, have spent their ENTIRE lives in the cacoon of the class-room & academia (high-school; onto college; back to the classroom teaching)and have never spent any prolonged time in the real world where they are NOT protected by "tenure" and seniority and grievance procedures and competition for customers, etc.

Thus they have NO clue how offensive their Entitlement mentality is.

In summary Bill, you, and the Entitlement minded public-tit sucking morons like you, are what is destroying education and the state.

Posted by: George Elbow at July 12, 2008 10:20 AM

Ok, here's an idea for you self absorbed ignorant pin-heads. Why not volunteer 20 minutes of your precious time in, oh, I don't know, a school? Why? because you would be absolutely scared to death to see just how underpaid teachers really are for all the hard work they do. Oh, I know, here's another idea, why not run for a public office and kick all these union hacks to the curb? No, wait, that would mean you would have to test your stupid ideological drivel in the court of public opinion - where, by the way, most adults realize that good schools cost money and are worth the investment in our future, so you would, humm, what's the political term for it? ah yes, get you ass kicked in, by great politicians , nay public servants like Denise DeMederious and Mike Burk.
You add nothing, you do nothing (except throw stones) and your empty dialogue is useless so, why not use your apple laptops for video games and stay out of government, unless of course you have the intestinal fortitude to actually DO something. In the meantime, I stand by my earlier comments - Shut up and pay - end of story!

Posted by: Bill Therault at July 14, 2008 8:24 AM

Bill (aka The Moron),

Obviously, being the moron that you are, you are incapable of answer simple questions of fact.

So why don't you give us your opinion as to why we don't have teachers leaving in droves if they are so "underpaid ...for all the hard work they do"?

Do you think, just maybe, it's 'cus they got a damn good deal and most couldn't make it in the real world if they tried?

Posted by: George Elbow at July 14, 2008 7:41 PM
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