February 17, 2010

Trading Schools for Raises

Justin Katz

The Newport Daily News isn't very friendly about putting information online, so I don't have a link to the story, but I read this weekend that the Tiverton School Committee is floating the idea of closing the town's high school. In hopes of saving $450,000, as I recall, the town would either send its students elsewhere or bring in a charter school company to run things.

Meanwhile, in West Warwick, closure of an elementary school is expected to save $750,000, with the students dispersed to other schools and fifth graders heading to middle school. A reader emails:

So you are looking at placing 10 and 11 yr olds with potentially 15 y/o kids in the middle school. It gets even worse, its one thing to save the $750,000 but to then budget $900,000 in Teacher Step raises is mind boggling. Closing a school to fund Teacher raises, West Warwick is currently in the top 5 in salaries, with the top step at approx. 79,000 and health care contributions this year at 10% and next yr at 15%.

Here in Tiverton, the proposed increase in salaries, for next year, is $535,954. In other words, multiple Rhode Island communities are toying with the idea disrupting the lives of the students for whom they have responsibility in order to fund pay increases for well-remunerated public-sector workers in the middle of a painful recession and the economic collapse of the state. As if to add insult to injury, evidence of the quality of education in the state continues to be negative, such as this from the Providence Business News:

According to the College Board, 1,766 students in Rhode Island's class of 2009, or 17.3 percent of the class, took at least one A.P. exam during high school, compared with 26.5 percent nationwide. That was up from the 1,555 students in the class of 2008 who took an A.P. test and 1,112 in the class of 2004. ...

The organization said 10.7 percent of last year's class — or 62 percent of A.P. test-takers — earned a passing score of 3, 4 or 5. That was up from the 9.5 percent who passed at least one the prior year, but lower than the 15.9 percent of students who did so nationwide.

If we're to resist the urge to let emotion run away with us, we must admit the probability that some of the school closure talk is little more than a ploy to rile the public to accept tax increases and shame the teachers' unions into accepting concessions. Even so, the current dynamic is unacceptable: that the anxieties of residents are being manipulated in an attempt to achieve the obvious and reasonable step of holding salaries flat, or even trimming them a little, for professionals who, as a group, are failing their students.

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there's so much fodder for political campaigns IF the RI Republicans would include in a platform a call to repeal the law permitting collective bargaining for teachers, i.e., kicking the teachers unions out of RI.

Property tax stressed seniors, even the ones that are of the FDR-JFK generation who have always voted Democrat, would be tempted to give the Republicans a chance.

Non-welfare parents that actually care about their children's futures would definitely be on board.

Normal citizens just plain sick of teacher strikes, work to rule and their arrogant and insatiable greed would come aboard. Even a lot of state / municipal workers who've seen the teachers get away with crap that their own unions never could would be tempted.

That the RI GOP doesn't do so shows that the controllers of it -- whoever they are -- are really on the Democrats' side. And hobble the RI GOP in return for ...?

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 17, 2010 7:55 AM

But hasn't Little Compton for years sent its school children to other nearby towns to be educated? And LC has always -- I think -- had one of the lowest tax rates. It would be interesting to hear what the LC town leaders see on the education horizon from an education cost/quality perspective.

Posted by: Abigail at February 17, 2010 8:20 AM

Abigail, tax rates are only half the picture. You look at a city like Pawtucket or Woonsocket and their $22 or $22 tax rate and then try to compare it to LC and their $4.61. You have to also figure in the property values. Cities need to charge this much when an average property is worth $170,000. LC can charge that much if their average property is worth $600,000. The end result is the same.

I don't know what the average property values are in each town, but that is how we have to look at the whole picture.

Posted by: Patrick at February 17, 2010 8:34 AM

The reader is off on some of the numbers and assumptions:

"its one thing to save the $750,000 but to then budget $900,000 in Teacher Step raises is mind boggling."

Why should they budget $900,000 in step raises? The contract is up for negotiation this year. They don't have to budget a penny for step raises, and then stick to it in negotiations.

"the top step at approx. 79,000"

Actually, it's under $74,000. Let's not bend reality to make a point. Maybe top step teachers make approximately $79,000 a year, but that is not the top step rate.

"health care contributions this year at 10% and next yr at 15%"

Where is this info coming from? The contract states they pay 7% this year. There is no contract for next year. How does anyone know what they'll be paying?

I don't understand why, in this economy, West Warwick would negotiate in any kind of step raises for next year, when a starting teacher's salary is over $41,000 today and the top step is nearly $74,000, along with some great benefits.

Justin, someone wrote this email to you?

All of my figures are straight from the 2007-2010 teachers' contract on the ridata.org (Transparency Train) web site.

Posted by: Patrick at February 17, 2010 8:42 AM


I'm in Jamestown, a community that sends its high schoolers to North Kingstown HS. Our RATE is low, but I assure you that our TAX is high. Adjusting for house size, I think that I pay as much as I would if I still owned my home on the East Side of Providence. And I have extra expenses associated with a well/filtration system and a septic system. Cities are the low cost providers of those services.

Posted by: chuckR at February 17, 2010 8:46 AM

Interesting points, chuckR and Patrick.

Posted by: Abigail at February 17, 2010 8:49 AM

Justin the numbers are good, if not a little low for top step, if you look through the contract, top step is just under 74,000 but does not include longevity, and incentives for education. Funny how most teachers have the eduction and is a "bonus" and this brings it just under $80,000 yr. They revised the health care and now pay 10 with next fiscal yr at 15%. The contract was extended a yr that's how they budgeted the step raises. Its all good.

Posted by: kathy at February 17, 2010 10:16 AM

Justin the numbers are good, if not a little low for top step, if you look through the contract, top step is just under 74,000 but does not include longevity, and incentives for education. Funny how most teachers have the eduction and is a "bonus" and this brings it just under $80,000 yr. They revised the health care and now pay 10 with next fiscal yr at 15%. The contract was extended a yr that's how they budgeted the step raises. Its all good.

Posted by: kathy at February 17, 2010 10:17 AM

Thanks Kathy. So the town traded an additional 3% and then 8% on health insurance for $900,000 in raises?

Using some very general numbers, a health care package costs about $10,000 for a family plan, $4,000 for an individual. There are usually more families, so let's put the average at $8,000. I'm guessing there are about 150 teachers in West Warwick. Doing the math, the city saved $36,000 this year by increasing to 10% and $96,000 next year by going to 15%. So the city "saved" $132,000 in exchange for $900,000 in raises? Because my numbers are estimates, the final number is not perfect. But it's not off by 4x or so.

And mayors wonder why the Governor is telling towns to smarten up?

Posted by: Patrick at February 17, 2010 10:40 AM

Tiverton would only have the one choice most likely Portsmouth as I doubt they
could ship them to Fall River.

The Charter school would be fought tooth and nail by the unions.

Stop funding these out of control systems and force them into Chapter 9 as they default on obligations and bills etc. That will effectively break the unions because the contracts are voided in C9 and give back control to the employers - us.

Posted by: doughboys at February 19, 2010 11:42 PM

living in tiverton my whole life and graduating from the tiverton public schools, closing the high school is a rediculous proposal to save money.

sending students elsewhere will only create more problems. where are they going to send the students? portsmouth? if we do send tiverton students to portsmouth there will be an increase in violence. i can guarentee more fights will occur due to the fact that tiverton and portsmouth have been rivals for years. it may sound silly to some but it will definately be an adjustment for both tiverton and portsmouth students to get along both in the classroom and play on the same sports teams.

the idea of bringing a charter school to tiverton is a good proposal. after researching the other charter schools in rhode island it seems like they are quite successful in preparing students for higher education. it would be great if the charter school could work with CCRI, URI, RIC, Brown, and PC to develop thier "law" so students can prepare themselves and have better perspectives on our in state colleges.

one aspect of the charter schools in rhode island that was appealing to me was thier senior project. tiverton has one as well that is part of thier graduation requirements but i felt it was not fully developed.(for those not familiar with the senior project the basic concept is to have students pick a topic that is a "learning stretch", do research on the topic, spend time with a mentor, and present the information you discovered in front of judges) when i had to present my project, the teachers were on strike and the senior project was not in thier contract. at that point in time the teachers were not going to do anything that was not included in thier contract. (a lot of the after school programs had to be shut-down because once again, it was not in thier contract) as a result i had make my presentation in front of my classmates rather than in front of a pannel of judges. one very important aspect of writting, and speech writtings/presentations is keeping your audience in mind. changing the audience from a pannle of judges to a students former classmates completely changed a major learning experience i was supposed to draw from the senior project. it was all because of the teachers not having a contract.

at blackstone academy, for pawtucket and central falls residents, part of thier mission is to include comminity partners. so on top of having a senior project they have these partners that allow students to job shadow and internships. they also have a program called SPIRIT, that is a summer program to help decrease thier district high school dropout rate.

the charter schools have much more to offer than what tiverton high school offers to its students. the 9-12th grade charter schools gear thier students towards higher education and towards future careers.

the fact that our town officials are even thinking of shutting the school down disgusts me. the constant debates about the teacher contracts is tedious as well. during the years i was in high school a lot got taken away from us and it was not fair. made me feel that the teachers cared more about how much money they made rather than thier job, which is to educate. i guess the town of tiverton does not realize the value of education. as a town if we can't provide education out state will suffer. the middle class is dicipating, therefor, there are limited middle class jobs. the only way to even apply for a high paying job now is to get higher education. if one doesn't have a high paying job he/she cant buy the newer, smaller "oh i just gotta have it" stuff that americans value so deeply to stablize our economy.

.....reading the article in the sakonnet times i did not see any mension of a charter school. i only saw the option of sending students elsewhere and shutting it down. where was the idea of a charter school stated?

Posted by: LSE at February 23, 2010 2:46 AM


I'm pretty sure that the mention of the charter school was in the Newport Daily News version of the story.

Not to worry, though. I don't think there's much chance that the high school will actually close. Rather the suggestion is an attempt to get the attention of two audiences: the union and the taxpayers.

You mention the advantages that charter schools and private schools offer. The thing that really motivates me to get involved with this topic is that what the privates and charters offer is what all of the public schools provided when I was a teenager a couple of decades ago. The problem is that the teachers' unions have been absorbing an ever-increasing portion of the available resources.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 23, 2010 8:44 PM
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