July 16, 2009

Gutting the District in Woonsocket

Justin Katz

For those who need a bright light in the lazy days of a tardy summer, here are the cuts approved by the Woonsocket School Committee last night (PDF, including other documentation):

  • All sports except track & field: $155,903
  • Athletic supplies: $12,750
  • Athletic uniforms: $9,350
  • Choral, class advisors 8 through 12, RI Honor Society, band, drama senior high publication, VICA: $49,461
  • Saturday detention: $2,000
  • 40 teacher furlough days: $6,084,033
  • Total: $6,548,134

Pondering what students are going to do with no teachers for 40 of the school year's 180 days brings to light a general principle that seems to have been baked into the Rhode Island education paradigm: Everything must be cut, rather than reduced. Salaries never go down; staff are laid off. Extra activities are never included in teachers' already high salaries; they are eliminated. An across-the-board cut in the combined salaries/benefit total of about 13-14% for all teachers, staff, and administrators would eliminate the shortfall with no cuts to programs.

Sure, that's a bitter pill for employees to swallow, but it's hardly unique among workers in today's environment. It's also mitigated with some perspective about salary trends, especially (as ever) among teachers:

Over the three years of the most recent teachers' contract (PDF), the average pay scale step has increased 7.64%. In any given year, the average salary increase from one step to another is 6.5%. The result is that an actual teacher has seen nearly a 10% increase each year and a 21.5% increase in salary since the contract went into effect. (Higher education bonuses are not included.)

Of course, teachers at step 10 have had to make do with the 7.64% increase to their step and longevity (as well as whatever seniority-based perks are worked into the contract), but sometimes an organization has to do what it must do in order to maintain its purpose. And besides, those teachers hired before 1994 (about 70 of them, I'm told) have never paid a penny for their healthcare.

It remains a possibility — another principle baked into the public sector paradigm — that the objective, here, was to put forward cuts that the unions, government, and public wouldn't permit to happen rather than adjustments that might actually solve the problem. Eventually, everybody involved is going to have to cease petulant demands that money just be found... somewhere... and accept that the old way is not sustainable.

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No sympathy for anyone here, not even the kids affected. When the rest of the state pays 75% of the bill for this city, they should cut things. Maybe they're cutting the wrong things, and of course the school committee will be seen as the villain, but something's gotta be done.

I still think cities and towns should be available for takeover by other towns who know what they're doing. Acquire them like any other business.

I also think the RI Interscholastic Association should let private groups enter teams into competition. What if I wanted to privately fund a football team for Woonsocket youths from 15-18 years old and play against many of the other local towns in the fall. If someone else wants to foot the bill, these kids should still be allowed to play.

Posted by: Patrick at July 16, 2009 10:21 AM

For the life of me, I cannot figure out how anyone can compare the cost per student to educate in regards to the quality of education per student!

I went to Sacred Heart Academy which was a broken down building, the costs were rather minimal, the teachers had the power to smack a disruptive student and I received the best education of any school I attending including CCRI!!!

I attended Central Falls High school in the junior year and we were taught Algebra that I had already learned in the 8th grade!

Money doesn't solve anything except teachers salaries!

Want a better education? Send a better kid to school to the lowest paid hungriest teacher.

Posted by: Roland at July 16, 2009 10:45 AM

The program cuts are peanuts. Why aren't a few union stewards and unneeded senior bureaucrats laid off? That would do much more to save money, and would improve the quality of the schools at the same time.

This is the school equivalent of a city cutting police and firemen while maintaining free welfare and housing for illegal aliens.

Posted by: BobN at July 16, 2009 11:56 AM
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