December 16, 2012
For the Kids or For the Money?
First of all, if you do a job for an agreed-upon price, you should get paid for doing the job. However, I think the coaches at East Providence High School are handling this the wrong way.
In Saturday's Providence Journal was a story about the EP varsity sports coaches walking out on the kids due to non-payment, plus a game got postponed because the coach refused to attend.
Unpaid the $2,800 he earned for coaching the East Providence girls to the Division I volleyball final last month and expected to take a 60-percent cut in the $3,800 he is supposed to earn for coaching Townies boys basketball this winter, Alex Butler on Friday said enough is enough.If I was a player on the team, I'd be absolutely irate. The coaches deciding they're not going to show up to work anymore? Postponing or canceling games? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Hendricken coach and athletic director were to demand that the game be declared a forfeit. It was a scheduled game, weather wasn't a factor, it was simply that the EP team refused to show up. That's a slam-dunk forfeit.
Butler initiated a walkout by coaches of winter sports teams after he and the other coaches of fall sports did not receive checks on Friday, as they were promised.
As a result, Friday night’s EP-Bishop Hendricken basketball game was postponed.
This isn't the East Providence school administration who hasn't paid the coaches, it is the state-appointed Budget Commission.
[T]he checks for the fall coaches had been withdrawn by the Budget Commission, Butler said. He added that Val Lawson, head of the East Providence teachers’ union, received word from the city finance director — Malcolm Moore holds that title, according the city website — and passed it on to Paul Amaral, the athletics director. In addition to not paying the fall coaches, Butler said the Budget Commission wants coaches of winter sports to take a 60 percent pay cut.Ok, that is just wrong. If you're going to do something like this, let the coaches know so they can decide what to do.
However, this statement troubles me as well:
“If they take 60-percent from my boys basketball salary, I figured I would get paid $4.50 an hour,” Butler said.That sounds like he's doing this for the money. No coach is paid any amount that realistically compensates them for the amount of time they spend with their players. The payment is often not much more than a sign of appreciation. The coach was slated to earn $3,800 for the season, clearly not that much money, but again, no one should be doing this job for the money.
I coached a high school hockey team and though I knew I was getting paid, I sure wasn't doing it for the money. When the check arrived, it was nice to get, but it sure wasn't what drove me. Plus, I made less than half what Coach Butler was supposed to earn this season.
Bottom line, I agree with the coaches' frustration. However, I just wish they could find another way to show that frustration. To take this out on the kids is just the wrong answer. Canceling games on the kids is the wrong solution. Hopefully the coaches will be back for their teams' next game.
January 3, 2012
Big Finance Likes Totalitarianism, but Democracy Requires Hard Lessons
I'll admit that I don't have much new to say about the continuing activities of the state-appointed budget commission now ruling East Providence:
The state-appointed budget commission overseeing the city's finances convened for the first time Wednesday, chose Michael O'Keefe, a former state budget director, as its president, and established its first priority: improving the city’s cash flow.
Essentially, that means debt; the city needs $10 million in tax anticipation notes, and the lowering of its rating to "junk" will make that "more difficult and expensive," as O'Keefe puts it. It all comes back to government debt and charming investors. We've discussed previously that the municipal takeovers are meant as "a statement to Wall Street," and the point merits continued emphasis. What Wall Street likes about state-imposed budget commissions is that they open the door to options that might benefit civic units as economic entities, but not necessarily as self-determinant civil societies. The state can take money from other parts of the state to hand to struggling cities and towns; it can impose taxes on local residents without fearing democratic reaction; it can change policies and, ultimately, contracts to address shortfalls.
At bottom, the problem is that the way in which the state determines a preferred mix of these solutions will depend on the influences on it. That means not only special interests, like organized labor, but also the general priorities of the class of people who occupy the state's bureaucracy and elected positions. The people who actually live in a city or town are not likely to rate very highly, and voters in other cities and towns are not likely to pay all that much attention.
I'd suggest that a healthier solution in the long term, and with an eye toward effective democracy would be to let a city or town run out of money. Let it reach the point at which it cannot provide services or pay employees. Or, alternately, that it must raise taxes and impose fees almost immediately. If we're to be a self-governing people, we have to experience, together, the consequences of incompetent leaders and bad decisions.
Of course, if people start learning such lessons on the small, local scale, they might begin applying them at the state and national levels. And we couldn't have that, now could we?
November 11, 2011
East Providence Headed for a Fiscal Overseer?
According to the WPRI report, East Providence wouldn't go immediately into receivership, as Central Falls did, but would have a fiscal overseer appointed for them by the state.
The three stages of control where the state transfers power away from a municipal government and voters are available here.
June 25, 2011
Can We Please Deduct $142,000 from East Providence's State Aid for the Next Two Years?
It's already a lot that we send money for the salaries of municipal and school staffers who actually, you know, come in and work. To send money for someone to involuntarily "sit home, eating ice cream sandwiches" for absolutely no reason is a bit much.
The East Providence School Committee decided to keep School Superintendent Mario Cirillo on paid administrative leave in a split vote Tuesday night. ...
School committee chairman Charles Tsonos had a statement explaining his stance behind continuing the paid leave.
"In supporting the motion to continue the superintendent on administrative leave, I believe that we need to set a new course to constructively address the difficult and unresolved issues that lie ahead for our schools,” reads a portion of the statement.
Actually, Mr. Cirillo had worked hard and quite effectively for the East Providence school system during very difficult times recently. So that's clearly not a reason to bench him.
In fact, what is happening is that certain members of the new school committee view Mr. Cirillo as anathama to their masters (whose contract will soon need to be re-negotiated, by the way) and, in a very strange kind of political pay-back, are getting rid of him any way they have to. No matter the cost to the taxpayer or the effect on EP schools.
Most municipalities eschew no-show jobs. Those (few if any) that surreptitiously hand them out do so to political supporters. How absurd and wasteful that the EP School Committee is giving a no-show job to a political opponent -- at everyone else's expense, to boot.
February 21, 2011
In E.P., New "Bosses" Start Cuttin'
East Providence, you were warned. Kinda. Faced with a $6.1 million school budget deficit, the new, labor-supported East Providence school committee took action by axing School Department Chief Operating Officer Lonnie Barham and his $109,000 salary. So, they're down to $6 million! According to the new School Committee Chair Charles Tsonos:
We have more school administrators than the City of Cranston and yet we have half the students...Our point is that we need to do everything we can to watch our costs and still provide the best education possible and allocate our resources to the classroom.But they can't just focusing on cutting the administrative costs, which comprise 2% of the $75 million school budget (according to former SC Chair Anthony Carcieri). So, at some point, other personnel are going to have to take a hit. On another front, despite the aforementioned warnings by former EP Mayor Joseph Larisa, current Superintendant Mario Cirillo has gotten the (dreaded?) "vote of confidence."
November 29, 2010
A Right-Reform Fly on the Wall
Remember when a raucous School Committee meeting in East Providence gave reason to hope that the game might be up for the National Education Association's unchallenged control of Rhode Island education? If so, odds are that Anchor Rising plays in that memory. We liveblogged, photographed, recorded, and analyzed. And it made a difference.
Two days later, East Providence union president Valerie Lawson and NEA lawyer John Liedecker were on the Dan Yorke show, with Jim Hummel filling in. Lawson was explaining that the teachers would never shout down a member of the public who held the microphone; rather, teachers were a little overenthusiastic in cheering for the next person in line to speak. Hummel played a clip of audio from the recordings linked, above, that proved Lawson to be lying, and Liedecker had to jump into the conversation to change the subject.
The point is that we were there, and because we were there, people had access to the truth about what happened. That is why it's so important that Rhode Islanders who want to pull the state back from the brink help us to create a full-time job within Anchor Rising. So that we'll be there when it matters.
Please email or call (401-835-7156) Justin to pledge support for 2011. We're still a long way off, but pledges only commit you to payment if we achieve our goal.
November 26, 2010
East Providence as Emblem of Rhode Island
Ed Achorn laments the political reality of East Providence. Noting that voters supported a local tax cap, he points out that they removed from office the very people who would strive to meet it.
The unions, in short, outhustled, outspent, out-deceived and out-organized the public-spirited incumbents in East Providence, making sure that they won't be an impediment for the next two years.
I know, I know. That's democracy, and there is no way to constrain special interests from swamping elections in that manner without undermining the whole system. If people are ill-informed or apathetic enough to let them get away with it, they deserve everything they get good and hard.
Personally, I think Achorn's a bit too bleak and cynical. It's true, as he writes, that special interests have larger individual financial stakes in each election than the average voter, but it's also true that their political opposition has a better, more salable message. It ought to take fewer dollars and less repetitive action (advertising, stumping, and so on) to mount a defense.
Other than hoping that voters might someday become better informed and take their duty a little more seriously, or that good-government groups might somehow find the resources to fight fire with fire, I don't really have an answer for all of this. Wish I did.
It wouldn't take a "fire with fire" match of investment for good-government groups and Web sites (ahem) to compete. A relatively small, sustained investment with motivated individuals and organizations, even outside of election season, could create an atmosphere in which voters are better informed, not only about the minutia of local government, but also about the players and principles involved.
November 5, 2010
Union Theory Proven
The best election-results quotes from Rhode Island conservatives/reformers came out of East Providence:
[Soon-to-be-former School Committee Chairman Anthony] Carcieri laughed in the face of defeat and said, "The public has spoken, so get your checkbooks out. We'll be paying a lot of taxes in the near future."
Soon-to-be-former Mayor Joseph Larisa points to the deeper lesson of the election:
... Larisa said the results show "East Providence is now bought, owned and paid for by organized labor. This election proves that misrepresentation and money can buy elections in East Providence."
Actually, the more significant proof that the results offer is of the rationale for banning public-sector unions. In this case, the unions didn't like the parties with whom they were negotiating, so they've elected themselves new ones. Union members are fully within their rights to do so, but to allow them an organized often statewide or national movement funded via negotiated salaries and mandatory dues tilts the balance to an unjust degree.
In effect, public-sector employees are doubly represented, as employees and as employers taxpayers. Since it would be contrary to principles of democracy to disenfranchise them, it would be fair and reasonable to bar their unionization.
July 28, 2010
Of Rates and Levies
This intra-conservative debate in East Providence points to one of those issues that tends to slide under residents' awareness:
[Mayor Joseph] Larisa is now trying to solidify tax limits by putting language into the city's Home Rule Charter. Charter amendments have to be approved by voters in a referendum, while ordinances are approved and can be repealed by a council majority. ...
But Bill Murphy, spokesman for the East Providence Taxpayers Association, said the charter language isn't identical to the ordinance and the changes, although "subtle," are a "step in the wrong direction."
Larisa has changed the limit from one on the total tax "levy" to one on the tax rate.
I've noted before that, in Tiverton, those who set policy treat the tax rate as entirely incidental to the levy, while in Providence, the change in tax rate has been a major fight. On one hand, focusing on the rate more closely aligns with the meaning of the tax; you're paying based on what your property is worth, and if you property values decrease you have less wealth and should therefore pay less. On the other hand, focusing on the levy insulates the town from downturns in the market, but it also prevents the town from taking upturns in the market as well as the fruits of economic development as an excuse to grow which could become a huge problem when the market contracts or the tax base decreases.
For the record, I'm with Murphy, on this one.
July 22, 2010
Slow Improvement, or Spinning Wheels?
Little by little, we appear to be moving Rhode Island's political structure in the right direction:
A new law championed by East Providence officials has changed how its candidates and Central Falls' election contenders collected voters' signatures.
A provision in each of the communities' charters said voters could sign only one candidate's nomination papers. The candidate who submitted his or her papers first essentially owned every voter who signed his or her petition documents. ...
The matter was worse in East Providence because the charter also called for those seeking local office such as School Committee and City Council to get 200 signatures, four times the state requirement of 50.
It all seems so wonkish, but when these sorts of restrictions mount, they do create a significant disincentive to participation. The two questions, though, are:
- Are other instances of such policies being reinserted through the window as we shove these out the door?
- Are the changes happening quickly enough to pull Rhode Island out of the rut between balancing the budget and losing productive residents?
I'm afraid I'd have to offer the gut answers of: "probably" and "no even close," respectively. Although, it is possible that reform will accelerate from baby steps to a full sprint...
June 2, 2010
When Management Acknowledges Its Own Cards
Two factors are obvious in making Rhode Island school committees behave as if authority over the jobs is ultimately a weak card in negotiations: Some members see giving as much money as possible to teachers as one of their rightful objectives (whether they're teachers, themselves, or have some other reason for alliance), and other members are people who see their positions as a matter of community service, and they entered them not expecting to have to stand against organized, bare-knuckle negotiators.
Of course, Rhode Island has also set up a series of implied rules and what one might call "legal insinuations" that have led motivated school committee members to hesitate. That's why it took East Providence's challenging those insinuations and winning before its school committee could arrive at this point:
While it seems one-sided, the pact secures teachers' salaries and benefits. The School Committee imposed its 2009 salary and benefit cuts after the previous contact expired.
Read the article for the details, but the point that I wish to highlight, here, is that running the school system is not exactly a powerless position, when it comes to negotiations. It's well past time for Rhode Islanders in positions of authority to stop shirking their responsibility to think and act independently of the deadly, draining illusion drawn for the benefit of the state's public sector unions.
March 15, 2010
More Re: Committee Wins
Here's the decision from Superior Court Justice Silverstein: PDF.
About halfway through the document, it appears that Silverstein would draw his lines very tightly around his ruling in favor of the school committee:
Under the language of § 16-2-9 a school committee must bargain in good faith with certified public school teachers in accordance with Title 28 and honor current collective bargaining agreements. However, under a narrow set of circumstances, when such collective bargaining negotiations have reached an impasse and there is no longer a valid collective bargaining agreement, a school committee must comply with the mandate in subsection (d) and avoid maintaining a school budget that results in debt.
However, in most of the substantive ways in which Anchor Rising readers might want a little bit of breadth to the ruling, they won't be disappointed. For one, the judge determined that a never-ending contract is not implied by existing laws (citations deleted):
Although the Union contends that the Committee was under a statutory duty to continue to adhere to the terms and conditions of the expired CBA until a successor agreement was realized, the Court disagrees. Title 28 does not contain such a mandate pertaining to school teachers' labor contracts, and in fact under § 28-9.3-4, "no contract shall exceed the term of three (3) years." Further, when previously discussing the effect of an expired contract this Court found it to be no longer valid and cited to Providence Teachers Union v. Providence School Bd., City of Cranston v. Teamsters Local 251, In Providence Teachers, when discussing the effect of a general arbitration clause in an expired contract, the Court stated that "[a]n expired contract has by its own terms released all its parties from their respective contractual obligations, except obligations already fixed under the contract but as yet unsatisfied." Here, the CBA by its terms expired prior to the implementation of the disputed salary and benefits changes. Therefore, the Court finds that the CBA was no longer binding and the Committee did not "abrogate any agreement reached by collective bargaining."
And when a school committee finds itself facing a budgetary shortfall (determined as a measure of its best knowledge on the date that it takes action), and when the contract has expired, employees don't have an overriding claim to district money beyond other line items under the committee's control (citations deleted):
The Union has continually argued that there were other avenues that the Committee could have taken to reduce the FY 09 deficit. However, this Court remains mindful that under § 16-2-9 the Committee is vested with the entire care, control, and management of the interests of the East Providence public schools. Further, under the same provision the Committee has both the power and the duty to adopt a school budget. Accordingly, this Court will not discuss whether the changes to the teachers' salary and benefits were the only or even the best possible way to comply with the balanced budget mandate of § 16-2-9(d). However, this Court does note that the parties stipulated that the teachers' salaries and benefits consumed 63% of the Committee's total revenue from all sources for FY 09. Therefore, given the mandate in § 16-2-9(d) that a school committee "shall be responsible for maintaining a school budget which does not result in a debt" and the evidence before this Court that the Committee was, in fact, facing a debt for FY 09, this Court declares that the Committee acted lawfully under Title 16 by implementing the teachers' salary and benefit changes.
Lastly, Siverstein found that the State Labor Relations Board cannot, in effect, make law to suit its rulings (citations deleted):
The Court is mindful that when deciding such questions, the SLRB is empowered under § 28-7-22 to issue orders and award the relief it deems to be appropriate. However, our Supreme Court has cautioned that "[n]o state official by administrative action can affect the substantive rights of parties as they have been set forth by an affirmative act of the general assembly." Further, as indicated supra, administrative agencies are bound by statutory schemes and a decision or award is invalid if the decision or award contravenes a statutory scheme.
BREAKING: Committee Wins
The School Committee in East Providence has won its case in favor of unilateral changes to employment terms in the absence of a contract in Superior Court. On to the Supreme Court, and sneaky legislation, no doubt.
January 19, 2010
A Fortieth Municipality
At a time when common wisdom is marching straight toward a cliff labeled "consolidation" (at the bottom of which are sharp rocks of incumbency, special interests, and political corruption), I'm encouraged to see that the independent spirit lives on in some corners of the state:
Started in early December by Prescott Avenue resident and Riverside native William J. Hurley, a group officially titled the "Coalition to Secede The Riverside from East Providence" has expanded over the last five weeks to include more than 100 members. While many have joked in the past that Riverside should become it's own town, Mr. Hurley and his peers say they want to see the idea come to fruition.
Of course, Riverside residents should be made aware of the huge additional cost of going it alone, but if they're comfortable bearing it, then the desire for more local control is a healthy one. One East Providence city councilman puts his finger on the most prominent benefit (emphasis added):
City councilman Bruce DiTraglia, whose ward is contained entirely to Riverside, said the idea definitely has its advantages.
"I would like it," he said. "I would think it would be a lot cozier and a lot more personal. I think you could get a lot more people involved. I think it's a good idea."
When the playing field to change policies is smaller, more people will think it worth their time. As gravity pushes control out to state and national governments, more and more people conclude that the possibility of change is so remote as to make civic engagement fruitless. Moreover, as the pain of errors in governance spreads more broadly, it takes a higher degree of incompetence to teach the electorate the lessons that it needs to learn.
December 30, 2009
Pawtucket and East Providence Have a New Rep. With Old Ideas
The last paragraph of Alisha A. Pina's story in today's Projo on Democrat Mary Messier's victory in Tuesday's District 62 special election (former Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan's old seat, mostly Pawtucket with a little bit of East Providence) provides a perfect example of how the state Democratic Party's intellectual bankruptcy on fiscal issues continues to propel Rhode Island towards the more conventional form of fiscal bankruptcy…
During her campaign, [Ms. Messier] said the “need to control taxes” is a top priority and also supported the development of a new school district financing formula that would be fair to all cities and towns.Alas, as has occurred all too-often in Rhode Island, we have a brand-new Democratic representative who believes that a "funding formula" can do the impossible: bring more money to her community, without requiring substantially higher new taxes to raise that money -- unless 1) soon-to-be Rep. Messier meant during the campaign that Pawtucket, already one of the largest recipients of state aid, should receive less money from the state, when she discussed making things "fair to all cities and towns" or 2) "controlling taxes" has become a new Democratic codephrase for "raising statewide taxes", i.e. "we controlled them by not raising them as high a we could have!"
Rhode Island won't be able to pull out of its fiscal and economic crisis if it keeps electing representatives who expect that state's problems to be solved by revenue-shifting programs funded by magic money that will fall from the sky.
November 9, 2009
East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 5
RI Tea Party founder Colleen Conley capped off the East Providence GOP's Thursday night fundraiser with a message that GOP politicians should certainly heed:
East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 4
Interest in gubernatorial candidate Rory Smith is sufficient that his speech at the East Providence fundraiser on Thursday night, merits its own post:
East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 3
Next up, from the East Providence fundraiser on Thursday night, is East Providence School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri:
Followed, in the extended entry, by General Assembly Candidate Tom Clupny, Attorney General Candidate Erik Wallin, and East Providence School Committee Vice Chairman Steve Santos.Continue reading "East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 3"
East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 2
The next batch of video from the East Providence fundraiser on Thursday night begins with Congressional Candidate John Loughlin:
In the extended entry: Loughlin's brief Q&A and East Providence Assistant Mayor Robert Cusack.Continue reading "East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 2"
East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 1
Herewith, the first YouTube clips from Thursday night's GOP fundraiser in East Providence.
In the extended entry: RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicione, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, and Congressional Candidate Mark Zaccaria.Continue reading "East Providence GOP Fall Fundraiser, Part 1"
The Level of Political Discourse
One doesn't have to know the specifics to be taken aback by this dirt-bag move from State Senator Daniel DaPonte (D, East Providence) (emphasis added):
Larisa has cost the city money, DaPonte said, by creating "monumental parks" named after the mayor's mother. And, DaPonte continued, Councilman Robert Cusack has cost the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars" by using city-provided health coverage to pay for his son’s extensive medical care.
One could argue that this or that public office does or doesn't justify healthcare coverage, and if so, of what kind and with what subsidy. But is DaPonte suggesting that it is illegitimate for elected officials to use such a benefit to care for their sick children? Or is he just such a low life that any attack that his small mind can conceive is fair game?
In a healthy civic society, a public apology would be forthcoming indeed, those around and above DaPonte in the political scheme would demand it.
November 5, 2009
In the Heart of the New Revolution
Anchor Rising is well represented at tonight's fundraiser in East Providence, as are the familiar faces of the RI right-wing, and Republicans, too. About 50 people here.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian had to be elsewhere and spoke first:
State GOP Chairman Gio Cicione went next:
Gio noted that he was glad to finally be able to express gratitude for the presence of people with blue hair:
I caught Gio between speeches and asked his thoughts on the possible primary challenge to Congressional candidate Mark Zaccaria. He said there'd be a primary and was very disciplined about not offering any sort of favoritism.
Speech wave 2 began with Cranston Mayor Alan Fung, whom I last saw at a Northeast Republican Conference cocktail party at which the open bar regrettably had one of my favorite beers... an extra strong brew by Victory. Mayor Fung wasn't fond of my idea of the Republicans' forgoing the gubernatorial race.
Mark Zaccaria took the mic next:
And then Congressional Candidate John Loughlin:
East Providence Assistant Mayor Robert Cusack started the third wave, making the point that a few people can really make a difference:
East Providence School Committee Chairman Tony Carcieri is up. Among the first things he said was that he's not a Republican, but an Independent. The audience wasn't sure how to react.
Carcieri called out certain state senators and representatives (ahem) to oppose binding arbitration. He says that the unions and their pals in the state house are dragging down the state. "Anybody who's in allegiance with the unions, throw them out." He amended: "Throw them all out."
Tom Clupny, who is running for Betsy Dennigan's abandoned seat, spoke next, with Cusack sneaking in to suggest that volunteers and money would be helpful, because Mr. Clupny really does have a shot. Refreshing to see somebody who really is clearly in the game because he thinks he can make a difference.
And by way of contrast (of practice, not motivation), Attorney General Candidate Erik Wallin swept in and launched into a well-practiced speech. One new and interesting item was his statement that we shouldn't have to rely on reporters Tim White and Jim Hummel to investigate corruption.
Back to local with School Committee member Steve Santos, more refreshing enthusiasm at the local level.
Gubernatorial candidate Rory Smith is up. He brought papers up with him, so perhaps he's prepared this time. His initial point: My mission is to bring jobs back to Rhode Island. Lower taxes. Other high-tax states are economic powerhouses so "they can afford to be a little arrogant with their tax policy." Fix regulations. Stop the runaway spending. Save the educational system "from the brink of collapse," with incentive pay, teacher evaluations, leave management of education with administrators.
I think Rory's been reading Anchor Rising.
Last up, Colleen Conley of the RI Tea Party. Apparently, the group sent three buses down to the Washington protest.
Colleen's making the case for the GOP to court tea party members. This'll be a YouTube clip worth watching.
A couple behind the scenes notes: RINO state representative Jack Savage, who had been here, left early, without speaking.
Not to pile on to the Moderate Party, but I'm hearing rumors that it's losing members because of intransigent kids who won't compromise in their left-wing social views. Not surprising.
November 4, 2009
Real Hope & Change: East Providence GOP Fundraiser
Tomorrow 6:30 - 9:00 pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 50 Crescent View Avenue.
Good food and lots of interesting speakers. Details here.
East Providence has been one of the
major battlegrounds Ground Zero's for reform in Rhode Island. It's always fun (and enlightening) to drop in on events there.
September 22, 2009
Performance Pay Doesn't Mean Cut-Throat Workplace
Dan Yorke has been talking about the East Providence school administration's push for a pay-for-performance system for teachers, and one teacher from the district called in from her house in Barrington to explain that that sort of pay schedule doesn't work in her profession. Teaching is cooperative, you see, meaning that unlike other professions (apparently) the teachers have to work together, and if some know that others make more, they'll refuse to help.
If that's the case, then the people with whom we currently entrust our children's educations must be replaced immediately, because they lack the requisite maturity.
Now, I know all other fields of work pale in comparison with the divine calling that is public-school teaching, but in every job that I've ever had, whether carpentry, editing, graphic design, office help, retail seafood, or even private-school grade school, differing pay has had absolutely no effect on employees' ability to work as a team. (Boy, wouldn't professional sports be in trouble!) For one thing, pay-for-performance is not zero sum; high-performing employees do not take their additional money away from those who perform less well.
Indeed, it behooves those who earn less to help those who earn more so the latter will provide them assistance in return both as a matter of course and explicitly to aid in advancement. The carpenters on my jobsite are always quick to help each other, regardless of pay, and they are also quick to seek the input of those whom they know to have more experience and knowledge. Heck, the carpenters are quick to help the electricians and plumbers, who make more money than us even if they're terrible! As long as the structure is perceived as fair and is available to everybody, nobody has cause for grievance against their fellow workers.
If the current crop of teachers in East Providence can't even match the cooperation of lowly construction workers... like I said, they've gotta go.
September 11, 2009
East Providence Moves Forward in Another Way
From a press release just out from the East Providence School Committee:
The proposal calls for a collaboration among "stakeholders" in developing the system of evaluating teachers that will be the basis for paying them beginning in 2011. The "stakeholders" would include parents, teachers, administrators, the teachers' union and educational experts from Rhode Island and beyond.
The proposal would pay a top step "Master" teacher a base salary of over $80,000, higher than any other school department in the state.
"We're not just willing to pay for excellence, we want to pay for it," said Carcieri. "We have many, many teachers who are worth their weight in gold. It's time to stop pretending that all teachers are the same, and to reward those who go the extra mile, who really bring the best out in their students."
The details are the difficulty, of course, and the trick is getting the union to agree, inasmuch as folks will tend not to abandon a really good deal (as the teachers currently have) if there's any risk at all that obtaining a better deal will require work and will not be a sure thing. But this is a direction that the United States must pursue if it is eventually to cease its dereliction when it comes to educating younger generations.
My guess, though, is that it's yet another obvious and necessary change that is going to have to be implemented unilaterally.Continue reading "East Providence Moves Forward in Another Way"
September 10, 2009
Mixed Messages from School Districts, and Final Decisions from the Judiciary
Doesn't it seem that school districts somehow always just happen to find money? I mean, sometimes a car's brake lines just happen to go the day after it's been in the shop for a tuneup, but it's difficult to know what to make of the Woonsocket superintendent's claim that the district can now hire a few new teachers, as the state insists, without increasing the budget deficit:
Gerardi said those positions could be paid for with money that the district was receiving from the Northern Rhode Island Collaborative and by consolidating classes elsewhere in the system because of lower-than-expected enrollments that became apparent after the start of school.
For two other positions an administrator for part of the literacy program and a librarian at the high school Gerardi said the district believes it can show that more qualified people already on staff will be capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of those positions.
So was that collaborative money just going to be used for red balloons? Were those "qualified people" just going to be employed blowing them up? One begins to sympathize (just a little) with unions' feeling that school committees and the administrations that they direct preserve plenty of fat in their budgets that they can trim when required.
That impression adds a little bite to Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's reference, in this context, to state law requiring "maintenance of effort." It would be disconcerting to think that Ms. Gist sees the maintenance of effort clause as license to force districts to adhere to her demands.
Meanwhile, in East Providence, the embattled school committee is seeking a 3.5% increase in the municipality's contribution to its funding, even as the state demands that the city revise its plan for balancing its budget. Look, I'm thrilled about the list of items slated for increases:
The proposal calls for a 210-percent increase, from $250,000 to $776,962, in what was allocated for textbooks and instructional supplies this year. It also has more money for building and classroom maintenance (from $289,500 to $820,500); technology (from $214,682 to $489,682); and athletics and extracurricular activities (from $46,453 to $146,453).
But not only are these things that Rhode Island's townspeople should be considered as already paying for, but it can't do otherwise than leave it to judges to decide between this spending and increases in adult compensation packages. Maybe they'll rule the right way, maybe they won't. But it's way too easy to envision their joining with Gist in affirming the principle that budgets may always be balanced with an increase in taxes.
September 9, 2009
East Providence Plan Not Good Enough
General Assembly Auditor General Ernest Almonte has rejected East Providence's budget balancing plan (PDF):
The City of East Providence and the School Department have a well established history of deficits. Unfortunately, the City has failed to adequately resolve its financial dilemma. The current Plan is similar to prior deficit reduction plans which proposed the sale of school buildings and dedicating meals tax revenue. I find this Plan does not provide sufficient detail. It includes speculative and uncertain elements, and does not provide calculations in support of the savings you assert will be realized. A serious deficiency in your Plan involves the teachers' union complaint pending before the Rhode Island Superior court and the State Labor Relations Board. The Plan's failure to provide for a contingency in the event the union prevails in this litigation is unacceptable. Clearly, a ruling adverse to the City would undermine your Plan. I expect the city to address its course of action if the union prevails in this litigation. The Plan also fails to eliminate the accumulated deficit by annual appropriation, over no more than five (5) years, in equal or diminshing amounts as required by law. ...
The school deficit has been accumulating for too many years and must be immediately addressed in a financially responsible fashion.
So, the school deficit must be addressed, but the city can't count on its being done via the single greatest expense in that budget.
September 4, 2009
The Hard Work of Educating
The rhetoric about public-sector workers' doggedly, thanklessly doing the hard work that the community requires, recently promoted around here by Phil, comes to mind especially with the item that I've italicized in the following:
EAST PROVIDENCE The city's teachers have voted to withdraw from volunteer activities in the district's schools.
The roughly 500 educators won't help with afterschool activities except for those that are accompanied with paid stipends, nor will they chaperone dances, buy supplies for their classrooms or participate on committees for curriculum development, accreditation or school improvement.
This isn't just a temporary imposition affecting only the irreplaceable educational experiences of current students which is egregious enough; it's acceptance of decay in the system itself. Teachers may see school committees come and go, they may see budgets swell and ebb, but in East Providence, they apparently don't consider themselves to be guardians of the city's education system. Of what value are they, then, beyond replaceable cogs in the public machine?
Perhaps it should be encouraging that Education Commissioner Deborah Gist included the East Providence teachers' actions among the issues of concern that she highlighted at yesterday's Board of Regents meeting, but a contrast of emphasis emerges. In the case of Woonsocket, she threatened the superintendent's certification over the hiring decisions of the school committee. If she believes, as she states, that educators should never "make decisions that directly impact students" (in a negative way, we can assume she means), then perhaps she should be looking into revoking their certification when they behave as if their jobs are more a matter of entitlement than calling.
August 13, 2009
The Role of the City Manager
Is anyone else at all squeamish about a city manager asserting the authority to go ahead with layoffs without City Council approval, as has happened in East Providence? For the background, here's the Projo's Alisha A. Pina from yesterday…
[East Providence] will lay off 13 of its 100 police officers immediately to save $1 million, City Manager Richard Brown announced at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting….I thought the job of the city manager in a council-manager system was to implement the decisions made by the City Council, and I'm pretty sure the East Providence City Council approved a police budget that specified a certain number of positions (then again, they may also approved a budget that said spend only so much money, and charged the CM with finding "savings").
He also said he did not need the council’s approval and planned to have the Human Resources Department act immediately on his decision. The changes — from a budgeted force of 104 to an actual force of 87 — are estimated to save $1,057,500.
I suppose the Council retains the ultimate say, in that they could fire the city manager if they really don't like a decision that is made, but especially in Rhode Island, allowing yet another layer of indirection to be placed between decisions impacting public services and the accountability of the decision maker to the public does not strike me as particularly wise.
June 23, 2009
Where the Confidence is Truly Lacking
... is referenced, in fact, by National Education Association Executive Director John I. Wilson in yesterday's 7 to 7 ProJo News Blog report about the teachers' "no confidence" vote in the School Committee.
Our goals are basic and universal - to protect the rights of employees and defend quality public education.
Undoubtedly, most individual teachers in the East Providence school system do their best to deliver "quality education". If, however, this were a goal shared by Mr. Wilson's organization, wouldn't there be some mention of student achievement or teacher merit in the contact [PDF] negotiated by the East Providence affiliate of the NEA with the City of East Providence? In fact, that contract is bereft of all such language or any mention of the provision of a quality public education to East Providence children.
It is much easier to have confidence in a purported goal when it is memorialized in writing instead of verbally trotted out on certain very limited occasions.
A Press Release to Emulate
East Providence School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri has issued a press release on which other elected representatives throughout the state should take notes:
On being informed that NEA has voted "no confidence" in the East Providence School Committee, its Chair, Anthony Carcieri, said this.
"So what’s new? No union is going to give a big vote of confidence when they're told they have to contribute to their health insurance. It's unfortunate, but it's the way of the world. That all happened six months ago. We've moved past it. We're bringing technology to our students for the first time in the Fall. Our Vocational School is launching innovative new programs that will catapult our students forward. We're pushing forward a revolutionary initiative to raise the quality of special education in East Providence to World Class standards. These are just some of the things we’ve accomplished in the last six months, as we are bringing the school system back from the brink of bankruptcy.
What has NEA done in the last six months?
They put on red shirts and disrupt School Committee meetings. They say they want to bargain, but they never schedule a meeting. They try to stop innovation. They demand that we raise taxes and go deeper in debt.
The East Providence Schools will be a magnet for students from other communities within the next few years. We will be a magnet for creative energetic teachers who put kids first. We don't need teachers who want to spend their time parading around like the Red Army. We need teachers who will help us to prepare our kids to deal with an increasingly competitive world.
We're told that NEA has threatened to tell their members to leave our school system. Any teacher who doesn't want to be a part of what's going on here should do what NEA says. We're building to be the best. We're putting the students first. Any teacher who doesn't want to be a part of that should follow NEA's direction.
Remember, we pay our teachers better than 90% of the school teachers in America. The teachers' union just can’t get over the fact that we had to retrench a little bit in January so we could pay their salaries in June. This is the time to focus on delivering the best education for our students without breaking the backs of our taxpayers. It's time to get over it. We have a lot of work left to do to raise the performance of our schools. We have to do a better job for the kids. That's our focus, and it’s the focus of most of our teachers."
June 18, 2009
Will Ricci: East Providence GOP Puts Its State Reps "On Notice"
The following resolution was passed by unanimous vote of the East Providence Republican City Committee at its meeting on Wednesday, June 17, 2009. Copies of this resolution will be mailed to all state senators and representatives in East Providence.
The East Providence Republican City Committee strongly condemns the fiscally irresponsible and grossly short-sighted actions of East Providence's two State Senators, Daniel DaPonte and Frank DeVall, for their recent votes in support of Rhode Island State Senate Bill 0713, "An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations Certified School Teachers Arbitration."
S-0713, if enacted, would change the law so that the terms of any expired teacher contract in Rhode Island would remain in effect until a new collective bargaining agreement had been ratified. This may seem harmless or even helpful to some, but in fact, it is uniquely dangerous. This legislation would give already very powerful public sector unions even more power to wield over us. It would strip away one of the very few weapons which school committees in Rhode Island have left at their disposal to try to curb out-of-control spending in the face of massive budget deficits. It would specifically give teachers unions throughout the state, the ability to effectively extend their contracts indefinitely, with absolutely no incentive or need to ever renegotiate new terms when their contract is up for renewal at levels which may be more reasonable for struggling taxpayers.
The effect on local taxpayers and homeowners would truly be disastrous. Given the favorable nature of many current contracts, the unions could run forever with those contracts without local governments having any ability to modify the terms, even after the contracts have "run out" leaving the only truly viable alternative to be municipal bankruptcy. Without the ability to rein in costly contracts, which account for most city spending and the overwhelming majority of the school department budget (87% in East Providence), the impact of this bill on residents may well include any or all of the following: massive annual property tax increases; mass layoffs of teachers, administrators, and municipal employees; multiple school closures; reduction or elimination of school sports and after school programs; and finally, the very real possibility of bankruptcy. This is "a clear and present danger" to the fiscal health of our city. For the sake of our city, we must not let this happen!
According to S-0713 co-sponsor Sen. Charles Levesque (D-Bristol/Portsmouth), the introduction of the bill was prompted by the contract stalemate between the East Providence School Committee and the East Providence Education Association. As a result of the teachers union's unwillingness to make fair and reasonable concessions after their extremely generous contract expired last October in an attempt to put a dent into the school department's over $9 million anticipated budget deficit the School Committee was forced to unilaterally implement a 5% pay raise rollback and enforce a 20% health insurance co-pay and other cost savings measures. This action alone has already saved the taxpayers of East Providence over $3 million so far; thus averting a roughly 10% property tax increase (about $300) for the average East Providence homeowner.
In light of this, we are particularly disturbed that freshman East Providence State Sen. Frank DeVall (Dist. 18) not only voted “in favor” of this fiscally irresponsible bill, but according to official records, even “seconded” passage of S-0713. Additionally, he spoke in favor of S-0713 right from the Senate floor! What a disgrace!
As S-0713 has now been sent to the Rhode Island House for consideration, we strongly encourage residents to immediately contact their state representatives to urge the defeat of its House companion bill, H-5762. Furthermore, the East Providence Republican City Committee hereby puts any and all state representatives in East Providence regardless of political affiliation ON NOTICE. A vote in favor of H-5762, will rightfully be considered to be a vote against the taxpayers of the City of East Providence and the people of the State of Rhode Island. As such, we will make it our goal to target for political elimination any East Providence legislator in the 2010 election cycle who votes in favor of this dangerous legislation. WE ARE WATCHING YOU.
Robert S. Carlin, Jr.
Chairman, East Providence Republican City Committee
Media Contact: Bob Carlin at email@example.com
Will Ricci is Treasurer of the East Providence Republican City Committee, a member of the Executive Committee of the Rhode Island Republican Party, and Editor of The Ocean State Republican blog.
March 21, 2009
RISC Winter Meeting: EPTA's William Murphy Encourages Engaged Citizens
The second speech at the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition's Winter Meeting came from the East Providence Taxpayers Association's William Murphy, who focused on local-level movement building (stream entire speech):
- RISC Chairman Harry Staley's introduction: stream, download
- Murphy's opening remarks: stream, download
- We must focus on our effectiveness as citizens: stream, download
- Step 1 is to formulate our goals clearly: stream, download
- Step 2 is to "offer the average citizen opportunity to constructdively participate," because "citizens have abandoned the public square": stream, download
- The reform movement needs to strengthen local taxpayer groups "we are learning in East Providence that shining the light on the process makes a difference": stream, download
- Describing the situation in East Providence and suggesting that the solution lies elsewhere than on taxpayers' backs, but that taxpayers must be more involved: stream, download
- Closing remarks: stream, download
March 14, 2009
Pelting with Rose Petals: The EP Ed Assoc Ad About Mayor Larisa
For the record, if the RI Ethics Commission ever finds me "guilty" of pro bono helping someone get due process in a civil proceeding, I sincerely hope that the East Providence Education Association will take out several ads for me, too.
February 27, 2009
Administering Results for Negotiations
It would go too far to speculate that this sort of thing is widespread:
Statewide testing procedures were violated at Whiteknact Elementary School last October when at least 14 third graders were given extra time, the state Department of Education has concluded.
And now school officials are looking into whether another violation occurred when the standardized tests for students in grades 3 through 5 were administered at Whiteknact. ...
Barbosa also said her daughter, also a Whiteknact student, told her that the person who administered the standardized tests in her classroom prompted the students with answers. Barbosa did not disclose what grade her daughter is in Tuesday night and she could not be reached Wednesday morning.
Students' success on these tests has a direct bearing on contract negotiations, and especially given other tactics of unionized workforces, it's reasonable to suggest that perhaps some third party should direct and supervise the test taking.
February 24, 2009
East Providence Meets the March 1 Deadline
... to issue teacher layoff notices.
Tonight, the School Committee voted 4-1 to approve the recommendation by Superintendent Mario Cirillo to send lay off notices, effective September 1, to fifty five teachers.
Most of the time, in most cities and towns, only a fraction of those receiving notices are actually laid off. School Committee member Steve Stantos emphasized
This is not something anybody wants to do. ... There are some excellent teachers on this list. Hopefully, we do get them back.
But by way of pointing out that this may well not happen, Director of Human Resources Lonnie Barham observed out that "we have not had this kind of fiscal situation either".
One final point. Upon being asked the criteria for the layoffs, Mr. Barham replied, "Least senior teachers". It was noted that this was pursuant to the terms of the (expired) contract.
[H/T Will Ricci at Ocean State Republican for breaking this news late Sunday night.]
February 17, 2009
Labor Relations in the Dark
According to a press release from the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (printed in full in the extended entry), without public discussion, the Rhode Island Labor Relations Board has declined to consider the East Providence School Committee's complaint against the union:
"The State Labor Relations Board reported it has dismissed unfair labor practice charges filed by the East Providence School Committee against the teacher's union alleging failure to bargain in good faith (ULP-5933)," said William Felkner, president of OSPRI, "but we learned this after hearing the news that they did issue a complaint based on the same circumstances filed as charges by the union against the school committee (ULP-5946)."
As background, complaints by the Board reflect that the charges have jurisdictional substance and may give rise to a finding of unfair labor practice. They are not meant to reflect on the merits of the case but lead to a formal hearing to weigh those merits.
The extensive submission of the School Committee details compromises offered by management and intransigence by the Union in attempting to set conditions for negotiation in over 3 pages of documentation for the basis of the charges. These are only allegations that have not (and apparently will not) have a hearing, but it is remarkable that the Board should have thought such serious charges if true, did not amount to a refusal to bargain.
Yet, the board did find evidentiary circumstance that may constitute bad faith on the part of the school committee based on a complaint consisting of 2 sentences that quote the school committee as saying that "no substantive discussion had occurred ." This is not to say that a charge cannot be brief and to the point, but the mere fact that no discussion has occurred offers no evidence whatsoever as to what party is responsible for the breakdown in negotiations and who is really refusing to come to the table. Both sides essentially alleged that the other wouldn't come to the table, yet one set of charges was sustained and the other dismissed.
"How the SLRB made this decision is puzzling and will remain so because the decisions are made behind closed doors," said Felkner. "Why these decisions are made outside of public view is one more mystery."
In the executive-session-discussed view of the Labor Relations Board, all of the discord in East Providence is apparently the fault of either unfair practices on the school committee side or, well, the fickleness of nature, I suppose. The other party to negotiations may play by no-holds-barred rules.
OSPRI is kind to suggest only the "appearance" of bias.Continue reading "Labor Relations in the Dark"
February 15, 2009
Savage on Education, the Romantic Versus the Paradigmatist
East Providence Representative John Savage (R-East Providence) describes a philosophy of public education that is fundamentally self-contradictory. On one hand, there was the system back in the day which cultivated those Americans who reached for the moon, invented the computer-driven society, and built history's most dynamic economy:
WHEN I BEGAN teaching in the late '60s, we had pens, pencils, crayons and rulers to give to the children. The school would supply the paper for their assignments. Our textbooks would be reasonably current, and some might even be new. Maps and globes would be in our classrooms for referencing.
Sitting at their desks would be some 30 to 35 sixth-grade students, three or four of whom spoke no English. I, unfortunately, spoke no Portuguese. I did take a six-week course to learn some basic phrases (now forgotten), but to communicate with these children was very difficult. There would also always be a student or two in the class who had a severe learning disability. Together in that classroom for six, seven or eight lessons a day, the 36 of us would all work very hard.
My salary was a modest one (all my friends who graduated with me from college were earning more, and they didn't even have to return to college for night courses). My benefits were good. At times I did consider changing careers, but I loved what I did so I stayed. I knew I would always be lower-middle-class, and that was okay.
On the other hand, there is the current system in which specialized services for individual students, smaller class sizes, and an emphasis on "attracting and retaining talented, motivated, and highly skilled professionals" are crowding out other expenses. Savage suggests that it is "the educational process itself" that is "driving up the cost of education," but that skirts the value judgment between the before and the after. Would Savage characterize his early years in the field as an era of endemic failure? I suspect not. Somewhere, he leaves off the lessons of his technicolor past for the demands of a digital present.
I'd propose that the current system of generating and remunerating teachers is nowhere near adequate for ensuring talent, motivation, and skill. Indeed, unionization is crushing those spirits from the profession. Talent is hardly a consideration against seniority. A one-size-fits-all career path is clearly stultifying of motivation.
Savage ends with the despairing question of whether we can afford the "free public education [that] is necessary for the maintenance of a functioning democracy." In a full and honest review of his experience as a teacher, perhaps he'd be able to identify the assumptions that make the answer "no" and the opportunities that would make it "yes." Not a lot of folks in the business can resist the natural inclination to turn away from the conclusions toward which that project would lead.
February 11, 2009
More Official and Public Comment from the East Providence School Committee Meeting
Here is one financial measure of exactly how dire a situation in the city is in.
Suprintendent Mario Cirillo praises the level of professionalism and effort exhibited by East Providence school system personnel...
...and outlines a plan for administrative restructuring that he believes will eventually save the city $400,000 per year, while helping to create a culture of achievement within the schools.
East Providence Education Association President Valerie Lawson argues that the school committee holding the meeting at City Hall, instead of at the high school, is an attempt to limit public participation, and that it was "the reaction of the school committee" that brought about the early retirement proposal made by the union.
Two East Providence teachers discuss their pride in their profession.
Teacher Richard Martin calls for a search for middle ground (warning: North Providence residents may want to skip this one).
Bill Murphy (aka "the good Bill Murphy", from the East Providence Taxpayers Association) discusses the negotiations process, open or otherwise.
East Providence resident Jack Fahey challenges the idea that there is something inherently wrong with open negotiations, and brings some discussion of how things are done in other states to the table.
Another East Providence resident lays out the the dilemma that many parents, in East Providence and across Rhode Island, are facing.
In the most contentious moment of the evening, when former school committee member Mildred Morris takes it upon herself to berate the current school committee, an audience member challenges the idea that past school committee members bear no responsibility for the current problems.
East Providence's Half-Million Dollar Compromise
During the meeting, the committee approved the retirement of 15 veteran teachers who chose a midyear buyout, saving what school officials estimated will be nearly $1 million in salaries and benefits by the end of the fiscal year, Oct. 31.......doesn't get the details quite correct.
With the retiring teachers’ last day expected on Friday, the School Department plans to replace them with retired teachers at substitute pay for the remainder of the school year. It expects to hire replacements in the fall at significantly less than the retiring teachers have been paid.
Actually, most of the teachers who are officially retiring have volunteered to stay on as long-term substitutes, but because of state law have to be away from their jobs for 30 days before they can be re-hired. In return for retiring mid-year, the retirees will be allowed to participate in the healthcare plan specified in the expired 2005-2008 contract.
Already-retired former teachers will be used to fill the 30 day gap.
East Providence expects to realize an immediate $400,000 to $500,000 savings with this plan. Add to this the fact that this proposal was brought to the school system by the union (although union President Valerie Lawson didn't seem too happy about the school committee accepting the offer), and it seems like we may have an honest-to-God compromise benefiting all sides on our hands here.
Click here for the audio of East Providence School Department Director of Human Resources Lonnie Barham's official description of the plan.
February 10, 2009
Not the Sideshow
This is being treated as a secondary matter, but in the long range it might be the more significant thread coming loose in East Providence:
The state Labor Relations Board has decided to hold a formal hearing on a complaint by the city teachers union that the School Committee violated Rhode Island labor law by insisting on public negotiations as a prior condition for collective bargaining.
The charge was filed in early December by the East Providence Education Association. Yesterday, the board confirmed that it has issued its own complaint, which says that the school board's insistence on public talks resulted in "mere surface bargaining," a violation of the duty to bargain in good faith.
The board's complaint is not a finding but its own statement of the issue, which will go to a formal hearing Aug. 25.
I'm not sure where the distinction lies between the board's having an official "complaint" and having come to a "finding," but the idea that the only fair negotiations are those that happen outside of the view of the people who ultimately pay for the results is another bit of insanity to add to Rhode Island's madness. If this complaint is found to have merit, the lesson will be that "fairness" is a measurement of the unions' leverage, rather than a two-sided balance.
February 7, 2009
Community Beyond Outreach?
An East Providence school committee member in attendance at the Ed Achorn talk gave me a copy of a flier that's going to homes across the town:
Inside are a few union talking points presented in a "true or false" format, my favorite of which is the following (emphasis in original):
It's the teachers' fault that the district is running a deficit.
FALSE. The district has been mismanaged for years, with annual budget deficits for the last 10 years in a row. The City Council and School Committee have made decisions that have worsened the situation rather than resolved it.
What makes this noteworthy is that the single greatest example of mismanagement has been in giving away too much to the union. In some of their more stumbling rhetoric of recent months, even union officials have tacitly acknowledged this point.
But there's reason for optimism: The back of the pamphlet provides contact information for all of the school committee and town council members, and at least according to the one who gave me the flier, every single response that it has generated was supportive of the school committee, not the union.
One must wonder whether the teachers' union in East Providence, and perhaps elsewhere, has squandered its support among the community at large.
January 22, 2009
East Providence Teachers' Union Denied
The East Providence School Committee just won the day in court at least to the extent that the judge denied the union's request for an injunction against the imposition of the School Committee's remuneration change.
January 18, 2009
Qualifying the First Amendment?
When East Providence taxpayer Tom Riley spoke during the Public Comment segment of Tuesday's School Committee meeting, members of the NEA and other unions from around the state boo'ed and shouted him down. (It should be noted that Mr. Riley would, nevertheless, have carried on with his remarks but the School Committee determined that the volume and ferocity of this reaction required the termination of the meeting.) Asked later about Mr. Riley's rights of free speech, the East Providence teachers union asserted that a lack of accuracy on the part of the speaker was the reason for this coarse and abusive interruption.
Parenthetically, a list of the inaccuracies in Mr. Riley's comments would be appreciated. Does someone, anyone dispute, for example, that the selection process for layoffs, if they occur, will be "last hired, first fired" as asserted by Mr. Riley?
The First Amendment to the American Constitution provides the legal definition of free speech.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So the teachers union proposes to amend, formally or informally, this definition to include accuracy of content?
If this is so, my concern is not for Mr. Riley. His comments Tuesday night would have easily passed such a new and more stringent standard. My concern would be for the speechifying ability of the teachers union. This would be endangered on two fronts as a result of the proposed new standard. Firstly, of course, the union has made statements which are erroneous to the point of absurdity. Secondly, however, this new standard would almost certain preclude what appears to be a communication staple of the East Providence teachers union: statements which include incomplete facts or facts presented out of context.
On that basis, other than pure statements of opinion and simple, unadorned requests, wouldn't the East Providence teachers union only silence itself with its proposed modification to the definition of free speech?
January 17, 2009
Taxpayer Group's Message Spun
The East Providence Taxpayer Association is getting a lot of well deserved press, lately. The dispute in their city is big news, and the EPTA is keeping a consistent and measured message out there. From today's Providence Journal:
Standing in the cold outside East Providence High School yesterday, a lone spokesman for the East Providence Taxpayer Association said public school teachers are being misinformed by their union in their ongoing dispute with the School Committee.
"We are pleading with our teachers not to let an out-of-touch leadership lead them off a cliff that perhaps will result in layoffs, missed payrolls or even the closing of the school system," William Murphy said. "Solidarity is little consolation at the bottom of the abyss."
In a statement, the association said one misconception is that the teachers were "attacked and victimized" by the School Committee when it decided earlier this month to reduce the teachers' salaries by nearly 5 percent and force the educators to pay 20 percent of their health insurance costs. The taxpayers group said the changes were "in no way motivated by the ill will toward teachers."
Of course, it's worth a moment's note that the Projo's headline for the report amounts to spin: "Taxpayer group says teachers misinformed." The group's tempered plea thus becomes an insult. Yesterday's Projo headline was "Taxpayer group criticizes teachers." Funny how the passive voice comes and goes. It would not have been grammatically unusual for the paper to have gone with "Teachers' Behavior Criticized."
The phrasing is a matter of interest within the belly of Alisha Pina's Friday report, as well:
The audience erupted in cheers when union President Valarie Lawson told the committee it should accept a recent arbitrator's recommendation for a new contract, which included a wage freeze this year and teachers' contributions to health care that would increase to 15 percent 5 percent this year and 10 percent next year within three years. She said the teachers were willing and simply want to get back to the business of teaching.
The rest of the meeting was dominated by boos and outbursts, most of which were directed at School Committee Chairman Anthony A. Carcieri.
Note that it was the entire audience not the teachers and their unionist allies who applauded the union president and that the union supporters are taken entirely out of the sentence about "boos and outbursts." Teachers of English and writing take note: These are some illustrative examples of bias's insertion into ostensibly neutral reportage.
January 15, 2009
Hummel and the Union Trio
Jim Hummel, filling in for Dan Yorke, has had three unionists on the program since 3:00, and as I've pulled up flooring and cleaned my jobsite, I've been itching to make three points:
1. Regarding the teachers'/union's behavior at the latest School Committee meeting, NEA lawyer John Liedecker pointed out that the police had said, on the radio, that at no point did the evening approach a riot. Is that the standard, now? Appropriate behavior on one side of the line and rioting on the other?
2. Local East Providence union President Valerie Lawson stated that all they want is for the School Committee to return to the negotiating table and try to get the two sides' numbers a little closer. As we've also experienced in Tiverton, this ignores the reality of what the School Committees have begun to do namely, to tell the teachers exactly how much there is available and to move from there. In other words, there is no hidden pile of gold. Either the teachers are refusing to believe reality, or they are, in effect, demanding that the districts cut broad swaths of other spending, even though teacher pay and benefits have been draining other areas of expenditure for years.
3. I want to give a quick tip of the hat to the blogging revolution. The union trio had been claiming that the heckling was all about School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri's microphone misuse. When Jim Hummel played my clip of the teachers' shouting down taxpayer Tom Riley, Ms. Lawson could only stumble through a response until Mr. Liedecker jumped in and smoothly changed the subject.
Beware entrenched powers and special interests: Bloggers are out there!
The Locus of Disruption
To the conversation about Anthony Carcieri's microphone volume (or lack thereof), I'd add my impression that Carcieri fully anticipated a disruptive atmosphere and was focused on moving through the agenda, without expectation that the audience would be following along or would be able to do so, given audience noise. Consequently, he didn't bother much ensuring audibility beyond the dais.
That said, from my limited experience in Tiverton, the tone that the union set in East Providence was pretty standard for negotiation-season school committee meetings. The "can't hear you" heckles are a mainstay anything to rattle the small-time public officials.
Indeed, if you listen to the second snip of audio from the meeting, somebody shouted that very phrase amid a drown-out wave of boos almost before Carcieri'd said a single word.
January 14, 2009
A Disconnect About Motive and Cause
East Providence is looking at budget deficits of over $4m per year for 2008 and 2009 and some scary tax increases if spending on the largest portion of their budget - personnel costs - is not brought into line.
This fact seems inexplicably missing from too many statements by the teachers union. These include but are not limited to:
They've set this thing up, they've run this city into the ground just with the sole purpose of trying to knock down this union.
They intentionally cut their budget short. There's a 1% increase in the school budget this year. They knew that wasn't enough.
Does the teachers union honestly think that the city of East Providence has not hit a financial wall? Or could it be that something must be said to justify the demand for ever-increasing compensation even in a bad economy, not to mention the need to justify the unionization of a group of professionals (and the attendant union dues that arise out of that relationship) and nothing resembling a fact-based rationale could be found?
In point of fact, East Providence, like many other municipalities (as well as the state), is facing a very difficult fiscal situation, mostly as the result, it should be noted, of the irresponsible budgeting practices of past School Committees and City Councils. No one on the present committee or council is the least bit happy about asking municipal employees to take a reduction in compensation. Not one bit.
While, to reiterate, the current budget crunch is mostly the doing of prior School Committees and City Councils, the teachers union only exacerbates a difficult situation, thereby mis-serving its membership, by failing to convey important facts and misinterpreting the goals of the School Committee and City Council.
East Providence Schools: The Fiscal Problems They Face
Anchor Rising has received the following:
The East Providence School Committee is providing 2 examples of the financial avalanche facing our entire community.Here is a copy of the bill from the NRIC (PDF). Additionally, here is a bill from the RI Interscholastic League with charges totaling $6,496 (PDF).
Attached is legal action by the Northern RI Collaborative seeking past due payment of $563,214.30 for tuition payments for our special-needs students.
It is irrational that the teachers' union chooses to ignore the financial crisis facing its own community. This is apparent given their behavior at our school committee meeting tonight.
Taking the Deliberative Out of Democracy
Let's recap the events that helped bring last night's East Providence school committee meeting to an abrupt end.
The third speaker of the public comment period was East Providence teacher Mary Texeria. As Justin alluded to in the previous post, Ms. Texeria made a tough but fair statement saying that she would be willing to accept a pay freeze for as long as five years, if the school committee would "admit" -- her word -- to all of the factors that have contributed to the East Providence budget crisis. The factors she mentioned were that "the school committee was never supported by the city council", "too many state mandates", "the collapse of our economy" and "mismanagement over a 10 year period". (Start at 0:49 here).
Then East Providence resident Tom Riley took his turn. He also discussed the salary situation, stating that he would prefer to see an across-the-board salary reduction that would preserve the existing number of teacher positions, rather than cuts that result in junior teachers being laid off. At that point, somebody from the union side demanded that Mr. Riley be prevented from commenting on this subject, despite the fact that Mr. Riley's comments were no more further afield from the subject of the meeting than Ms. Texeria's.
And the teachers clapped.
In response to a demand that a citizen be silenced, the teachers clapped, eventually loud enough to prevent Mr. Riley from being heard. (Interruption of Mr. Riley is constant, but start at about 1:50 here to hear the end).
East Providence teachers union President Valerie Lawson later went on WJAR-TV (NBC 10) with Dan Jaehnig to say that "we live in a democracy, everybody's entitled to free speech". Apparently to Ms. Lawson, a democracy is a place where only union members have the freedom to speak on issues in public forums. This kind of disdain for citizens, taxpayers and democracy is why many members of the general public have ultimately come to take a dim view of teacher unions.
We have to do better than this if we expect self-government to survive.
The Sound of the Beginning of the End
The following are some audio clips from the East Providence School Committee meeting. Keep in mind, while listening, that the sound isn't entirely representative. For one thing, I was sitting near the taxpayer group, so they might be overrepresented in the general sound level (although still greatly outnumbered).
- School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri makes his appearance to booing: stream, download
- The union sets the tone right from Mr. Carcieri's very first words (and, yes, that's me shouting "grow up" keep in mind that I'd already been subjected to a half-hour of union slogan chanting and screams): stream, download
- The teachers cheer that some of them have actually done (gasp!) extracurricular work: stream, download
- The teachers cheer that they can blame poor performance on "facilities" (nevermind that keeping up with teacher contracts has been bleeding other segments of school budgets for years): stream, download
- A moment of heckling, including the call of "Scared?": stream, download
- Just a snippet of the tone that continued, with a gradual escalation, throughout the meeting: stream, download
- The teachers find the phrase "anti-bullying" humorous: stream, download
- The teachers find the quip "outdoor voice" humorous: stream, download
- Anthony Carcieri attempts to lay down the ground rules for public comment, and local union leader Valerie Lawson speechifies: stream, download
- East Providence teacher Mary Texeira offers a reasonable statement although she probably goes off the union message a bit when she states that she wouldn't mind a five-year pay freeze if the school committee would lay out the reasons that it's necessary: stream, download
- Taxpayer Tom Riley takes the mike and faces down the hecklers inspiring the single most silent moment of the night when he suggests that younger teachers will lose their jobs if the union doesn't let the district spread the costs across their pay packages but the devolution of the meeting leads the school committee (almost inaudibly) to adjourn: stream, download
Images from Tuesday's School Committee Meeting
[Prior to the commencement of the meeting]
At the entrance to the High School Auditorium
As media cameras roll, cheers, yelling and chants of "teachers, teachers".
And down in front, two or three merry bars of Solidarity Forever.
January 13, 2009
What We're Up Against
So parking has already spilled over to the supermarket parking lot across the street, and it was clear from conversation that the women standing at the crosswalk with me were teachers from another district. As we crossed, the policeman directing traffic told them to "be loud my wife is a teacher." (There's a six-figure household.)
Barely had I sat down when the unionist who had complained to me in the men's room of driving down from Boston for a recent Tiverton School Committee meeting accosted me, suggesting that I "get a real job you loser." I tried to be friendly, but he didn't seem interested. Subsequently, he walked around pointing me out to the other side.
At least there are some good guys here, some wearing t-shirts that read: "Teachers and Union Reps BIG Difference."
ADDENDUM (7:36 p.m.):
The teachers are screaming like kids at a rock concert for the benefit of a television camera. This should be required viewing for all citizens of the state.
ADDENDUM 7:39 p.m.:
It's sort of that old comic book cliché of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, isn't it? There simply is no money, and yet, one out of six Rhode Islanders is being prodded by union organizations to get out and demonstrate against necessary adjustments.
Do they not understand what is happening, or do they not care? (Or does their union organization strive to keep them misinformed and maleable?)
ADDENDUM 7:44 p.m.:
I saw Pat Crowley strolling up the aisle along which I'm sitting, and I prepared myself to shake his hand, should we make eye contact. A friendly quip came to mind for the moment after skin contact: "See, reality didn't explode." Instead, he kept his shaking hand in his pocket and handed me a business card with the following quotation from a Boston Globe letter:
Why are we the pigs? The public employees I know are social workers who care for abused and neglected children. Or they work with mentally ill and mentally retarded adults and adolescents. They find homes for the homeless. They keep the roads repaired and clean. They open and close the bridges. They run the 911 emergency system. They teach our children. They keep the city and state hospital systems working. They run state prisons. Public employees are police officers and firefighters. Public employees help keep you healthy and safe.
But nobody disputes any of this. We who wish reform have a variety of roles that benefit society. Were I in a poetic mood, I'd list some of the more sympathetic among private sector jobs, but you can certainly come up with them yourself. Rhode Island simply cannot afford to keep leading with its heart, because those people who do all those wonderful things along with coaxing the system to pad their wallets are pulling the entire state into the quicksand.
ADDENDUM 7:56 p.m.:
True to the usual maturity of these audiences, the teachers booed as the school committee walked toward the stage one of them a young lady who's probably a student.
ADDENDUM 8:02 p.m.:
Vicious "boos" as Anthony Carcieri walks in room. Unbelievable. And intended to intimidate.
ADDENDUM 8:05 p.m.:
Boos and heckling as soon as Committee Chairman Carcieri tried to speak. I cannot believe adults think it's appropriate to behave like this.
ADDENDUM 8:08 p.m.:
Even the Pledge of Allegiance became a bit of protest theater in their hands.
Despite quips and harangues from the audience, the school committee is just moving forward with the agenda.
Pay attention, teachers: this is what courage looks like.
As a few teachers continue to shout out, and the rejoinders from the crowd for them to "shut up" increase, I do wonder whether any of the teachers are embarassed that they are asked to join these mobs. Or did those teachers decline to come out tonight?
Mr. Carcieri has skipped an item or two on the agenda, requiring others at the table to correct him. There have been a couple of snickers from the crowd, but one really must appreciate the anxiety that his position engenders, just now even those who disagree, I would think.
ADDENDUM 8:31 p.m.:
During a review of a district-wide analysis, an administrator mentioned a couple of instances in which teachers are volunteering time and working after hours. The teachers cheered, as well they should.
They're also cheering as she describes that some deficiencies aren't the teachers, but the supplies and tools that the district provides. As I'll be pointing out in a graph in the near future, a significant reason for that development is that more and more of RI districts' money has been going to pay teachers' salaries and benefits.
Some heckles to "speak up" and "use the microphone." A woman called out, "Scared?" If she were closer to me, I might have called out in return: "Wouldn't you be."
Perhaps the most astonishing thing, coming from teachers, is the utter lack of empathy that they exhibit. I imagine they do better with the students, but it's disconcerting to realize that they believe school committee members to be The Enemy, and therefore undeserving of some basic respect.
ADDENDUM 8:40 p.m.:
A mention of an anti-bullying program brought what I'd describe as cackles from the audience. It's like a movie set in Medieval times.
Now their screaming "out door voice." Really.
ADDENDUM 8:43 p.m.:
It's a good thing that we've gotten to the public comment section. I don't think the audience could stand to sit still much longer.
ADDENDUM 8:46 p.m.:
Local union head Valerie Lawson wants them to accept the arbitration. "Let the teachers get back to teaching the students."
You mean they're not?
ADDENDUM 8:49 p.m.:
Comments from the crowd around me suggest that the teachers intend to run the clock.
One just gave a reasonable speech and said that she "has no problem not getting a raise for the next five years" if the school would admit the problems.
The next speaker got up and introduced himself as a taxpayer. He was jeered.
ADDENDUM 8:53 p.m.:
The union is declaring "point of order" that the speaker is bringing up issues that aren't on the agenda. Heckle. Heckle. Jeer. Jeer.
But this isn't an agenda item. It's just a statement from an interested member of the public.
The school committee declared that the meeting is getting out of hand and called it a night.
ADDENDUM 8:58 p.m.:
Very loud boos as the school committee prepares to leave.
Any teachers who read this, I implore you: Take a moment to consider why it is reasonable for these town officials to be nervous. Think of the environment that you create at these meetings not just this one, but every big and small town in the state. Is this who you want to be?
January 12, 2009
Thousands of Sharon Wests
Many Rhode Islanders surely share the sentiments that Sharon West expresses from East Providence:
Recently, a consultant hired by the committee reported that the average teacher makes $69,000 a year and receives benefits costing $26,000 annually.
Yes, $95,000, and many make even more. The consultant stated that this amounts to an hourly wage of $93. Please bear in mind that currently the School Department is $4 million in the red and sinking deeper every day.
As average homeowners, as well as renters, struggle to pay utility bills, car payments, the mortgage or the rent, buy groceries and pay medical bills, these 180-day-a-year workers want still more. Teachers, look around! These folks are valiantly struggling day by day to provide basic necessities for their families.
We, the working stiffs who pay for everything, need some relief, not further plundering.
The question is whether there are enough of us to force change. Can we (or hard experience) shake enough of our neighbors out of their apathy to counterbalance the well entrenched interests that bind the state? Let's hope the isolated reform movements that have emerged (notably in the East Bay, for some reason) are the tip of the spear, not the rear guard of an exodus.
January 7, 2009
Tasting the New Environment
I just heard on WPRO that the judge won't decide whether to stop the East Providence School Committee's unilateral employment change until the 23rd. It looks like union members will start to feel the pinch of not giving concessions.
That's a huge change for the better from an environment in which they expect to get back pay no matter how long they hold out.
January 3, 2009
Wherego the Impressions Goes Public Opinion
Union members and supporters in Rhode Island should contemplate hard where their self-imposed imperatives are placing them in the battle of messages. On their side is a dogged assertion that official processes don't weaken their hand even during financial emergencies:
[Union lawyer John] Leidecker also said state law says districts should adhere to the old contract until a new one is executed, and there aren't exceptions for a fiscal crisis. In addition, he said the committee members' decisions yesterday "further indicates their disdain for the process," particularly the arbitration process, which produced a "fair settlement."
It's understandable that the union would take that line; they've managed, over the years, to hone The Process in their favor, after all. However, regular folk tend to turn against tilted processes when they collide against reality and reason:
Mayor Joseph Larisa said: "East Providence is flat broke. The big labor contract that finally expired was as outrageous as it is unaffordable. Now that the damage has been done, the options left are a crazy 15 to 20 percent property-tax increase against our hard-hit taxpayers, bankruptcy or finally setting reasonable and fair compensation for all school employees. There is no fourth option.
January 2, 2009
East Providence Charges into the New School Year
So states East Providence School Committee Chair Anthony Carcieri in a press release just out (and available in full in the extended entry):
"This school system has cut everything to the bone except the teachers' contract. Everything," Carcieri said. "They stopped capital improvements years ago. Basic maintenance of the school buildings has all but stopped. We've been ordered to replace about 70 doors for safety reasons, and there's no money to pay for it. We have no extras in our educational program. We've had expert after expert look at this. There is no place left to cut except our biggest account teachers' pay. I hope they'll understand that this is nothing we want to do. We have no choice."
In a letter to the NEA's Jeanette Woolley (PDF), School Committee Lawyer Daniel Kinder notifies the teachers' union of several changes that the committee "must, and will, implement... effective Monday, January 5, 2009 at 12:01 a.m." Included is no pay increase, a 20% contribution to healthcare premiums for all active teachers and all retirees on or after November 1, 2008, and other healthcare-related provisions. Chief among those is not only the complete elimination of the buy-back provision (previously over $5,000 for declining coverage), but the addition of the following language:
No employee or retiree shall be eligible for either family or individual health coverage or family or individual dental coverage if the employee or retiree has available to him/her alternate coverage from another source, whether from another employer, a spouse's employer, a governmental entity, or otherwise. Thus, for example, without limitation, if an employee's spouse is employed by an employer who maintains a group health insurance plan that includes family or spousal coverage, the employee is not eligible for coverage under the East Providence Schools group plan. Similarly, without limitation, Medicare eligibility or a teacher's employment by an employer who maintains a group health insurance plan would also render the teacher ineligible for coverage pursuant to the East Providence School Department plan. Each employee and retiree claiming eligibility for health insurance coverage pursuant to the School Department's plan shal be required each year to provide the School Department with an affidavit in form satisfactory to the School Department, averring under oath and penalties of perjury, that the teacher does not have available to him/her health insurance and/or dental insurance from any source other than the School Department.
In short, any teacher who can get coverage elsewhere must do so. Note the absence of any weasel language like "comparable."
The teachers in East Providence and throughout Rhode Island must come to realize that their union has served them extremely poorly by:
- Failing to accurately assess the financial realities of the state and towns, and/or
- Promising the possibility of endless advances via hardball negotiations.
The state's been pushed off a cliff, and it is time for unionists and other riders of Rhode Island's apocalpyse to reorient themselves toward reviving our drowning society.Continue reading "East Providence Charges into the New School Year"
December 24, 2008
Union Reverse Tautology and Arbetrayal
The rhetorical dance of the East Providence teachers' union is so flowing, it's easy to miss the essential argument:
"The School Committee's solution to their self-inflicted fiscal problem is to blame it on the teachers' contract and to shift the entire burden of paying off that deficit to the teachers," union representative Jeannette Woolley countered in her opening statements. She also said the district had opportunities to implement health-care cost sharing before with past contracts but the school board members at the time "dropped the ball."
In addition, Woolley showed the teachers conceded scheduled raises three years ago when the district needed help, and the committee and school administration didn't raise the issue of health-care cost sharing then, either.
"So the bottom line from our perspective is that this school district is not in its current condition as a result of what the School Committee likes to term an overly rich contract," she said. "The facts suggest that the School Committee simply hasn't taken care of business over the years in this school district."
Got it? The School Committee didn't negotiate tighter contracts over the years, leading to the currently unaffordable one, so that contract can hardly be said to be "overly rich." The lessons for children are manifold: That overweight child could have forced himself away from the potato chips and the video game console at any time, so it can hardly be said that he ought to change his behavior now that he's obese!
The worst part is that the tie-breaking "neutral" arbitrator apparently bought the argument, at least sufficiently that his panel issued a decision that the school committee clearly can't accept thus illustrating what a scam the arbitration process is in Rhode Island:
Mr. Ryan continues:
"The Union urges that comparability (to other district contracts), not ability to pay, should be the panel's paramount consideration. The School Committee insists that it has no choice but to pay its FY08 debts and adhere to its budget for FY09. School department deficits are unlawful under R.I.G.L. §§ 16-2-9(d), (e), & (f); 16-2-21 (b) & (c); 16-2-21.4; 16-2-11 (c); and 16-2-1. These interlocking enactments prohibit school departments from incurring or maintaining a deficit or engaging in deficit spending." ...
Mr. Kinder commenting on his dissenting vote said: "The award is useless because the School Committee is prohibited by law from accepting it. The award is useless because the School Committee cannot meet the award's costs in the first year of its 3-year term, let alone in the second or third years. Those are facts. Those facts were placed before the panel. The panel's award ignores these facts and provides modest changes that, if adopted last year, might have served to avert this year's financial crisis. But, last year, when the Teachers' Union was asked to accept similar, modest changes in order to avert a $3.2 million deficit, the Union refused. In consequence, the School Department will end this year with a deficit of well over $8 million, if nothing is done."
Will's got the entire School Committee press release up on Ocean State Republican.