July 2, 2009

Caruolo Not a Foregone Conclusion

Justin Katz

As a threatening cudgel to wave during negotiations and town meetings — allowing school committees to declare that they'll just take what they "need" and unions contriving to force them to do so — the Caruolo Act is still an insidious force in Rhode Island politics. But with the move being denied in West Warwick, it would appear that many of us, including school committees and unions, expected it to be a bit more of a rubber stamp:

Judge Steven P. Nugent, in a ruling from the bench, dismissed the School Committee's Caruolo suit against the town, saying that school officials didn't even try to balance their fiscal 2009 budget after voters at the Financial Town Meeting limited their spending to $49.2 million — roughly $4 million less than they had requested.

Nugent said the committee had failed to heed the state law requiring that it give the town and the state auditor general a corrective action plan within five days of realizing that it would have a substantial shortfall.

Although this may be good news in the long run, in the short term for West Warwick, it will require cuts in programs and services. Plan B, in other words, will not be to tighten belts on payroll, but to limit benefits to the town and its children. And it's not as if belt tightening would be egregious. According to the district's budget plan released in March 2008 (PDF via Transparency Train), making up the $3.3 million that the district sought through Caruolo would require merely a 6.7% cut in the combined salary/benefit totals for next year's projected budget. Salary/benefits, by the way, were projected to go up 5.4%. The amount of actual cuts to current salary and benefit amounts would be approximately 1.4%.

Cry me a river.

You'll recall that the 2009-2010 school year is the so-called "fourth year" that the school committee tried to opt out of in the teachers' contract — which it was contractually permitted to do. After a few months of damaging work-to-rule by the teachers, the committee relented. The result (PDF) is that teachers' salaries are contracted as follows, with the categories after step 10 (10 years of service) incorporating longevity payments:

Step 2008-2009 2009-2010 % increase in step % increase in pay
1 $40,802 $41,822 2.5 NA
2 $44,273 $45,379 2.5 11.2
3 $47,743 $48,937 2.5 10.5
4 $51,212 $52,492 2.5 9.9
5 $54,683 $56,050 2.5 9.4
6 $58,153 $59,607 2.5 9.0
7 $61,624 $63,165 2.5 8.6
8 $65,093 $66,720 2.5 8.3
9 $68,564 $70,278 2.5 8.0
10 $72,034 $73,835 2.5 7.7
11 to 14 $72,926 $74,750 2.5 3.8
15 to 19 $73,819 $75,665 2.5 3.8
20 to 24 $74,711 $76,579 2.5 3.7
25 to 29 $75,603 $77,494 2.5 3.7
30+ $76,495 $78,409 2.5 3.7

And that's not all; extra payments for other activities are all going up, as well. Summer school will pay $42 per hour, rather than $40.50 per hour (3.7%). Substitutes will get about 4.5% more (to around $110 per day, depending on the length of the assignment). Teachers who cover other teachers' classes will see a 3.7% increase in the resulting payment, to $42. Tutors will see the same. Extracurricular pay is going up approximately 2.5%, with the student council adviser, for example, getting $2,510 rather than $2,450. The bonus payments for graduate credits and degrees are all going up — an average of 2.6% (to $4,200 for a Master's in the teacher's field).

All with a 7% share of healthcare premiums.

Little wonder the teachers were willing to damage their students' educations back in 2007! Little wonder, as well, that Rhode Island's schools are in their sorry state.