February 17, 2010

Some Fundamental Fixes Need to be Done in Warwick

Marc Comtois

Yesterday, a report in the Warwick Beacon compared the Cranston and Warwick school systems (the teachers for both districts are represented by AFT). By the numbers:

Warwick Budget: $164.6 million
Cranston Budget: $121.4 million.

Warwick Students: 10,507
Cranston Students: 10,774

Warwick cost/pupil: $15,666
Cranston cost/pupil: $11,272

Warwick # Schools: 24 (3 high schools)
Cranston # Schools: 23 (2 high schools)

Warwick Full-time teacher positions: 1,038
Cransont Full-time teacher positions: 944

Warwick salaries/benefits: $144 million
Cranston salaries/benefits: $105.3 million

A review of the most recently available Warwick School budget (via the Transparency Train) reveals that the amount spent on direct payment to personnel has decreased around .5% since 2008 (during that time 4 schools were closed--basically, to piggyback on Justin's point, Warwick already traded schools--as well as teachers and administrators jobs--to keep raises in place). Meanwhile, costs in benefits has increased 10%, which can't be dealt with unless the contract is reopened for negotiation.

Warwick School Committee Member Paul Cannistra said yesterday there needs to be a better balance of student needs against financial realities.

Cannistra, who voted against the teachers’ contract in 2008, arguing it would cost too much money for taxpayers, said that the district needed stricter health insurance co-share premium payments from its employees. Warwick teachers pay $11 per week for both individual and family plans.

Teachers in Cranston pay a 15 percent co-share of the premiums for health care. The Cranston School Department’s bus drivers pay health insurance co-share payments of 10 percent.

According to Warwick School Business Affairs Director Len Flood, the Warwick School District receives about $600,000 from its teachers due to the $11 per week co-share payment. A 10 percent co-share payment would mean the district would receive $2 million. With a 20-percent co-pay, the district would save $4 million.

That's the key: a percentage co-pay, not a flat amount. (Incidentally, Mayor Avedisian made the same mistake on the municipal side last year).

Further, as the Beacon reports, another primary cause for the difference is the practice of weighting students with IEPs (Individual Education Programs), whereby a student with an IEP is counted as 1.5 or 2 students for the purpose of determining class size limits (this is something unique to Warwick's teacher contract). According to Rosemary Healey, the school department’s director of compliance, the practice of weighting is also a magnet:

According to Healey, that might explain why despite having a smaller total student population, Warwick has 460 more students on IEP’s than Cranston. Cranston has 1,700 students on IEP’s whereas Warwick has 2,160.

“I think we provide quality education here. I think our special education program is second to none. I think the affirmation of that is that people want to move here for it,” said Healey.

“Is it very expensive? Yes. Is it necessary? Yes. I think we owe it to our students.”

The Beacon calculates that if no weighting was done, Warwick schools could save about $11 million per year. While he agrees that weighting helps students, Warwick School Committee Chair Chris Friel thinks it may be too costly:
“The question becomes, can the Warwick School District afford to continue the weighting procedures as currently enacted,” said Friel.

“I think that it is becoming cost prohibitive when you take into account the financial situation we currently find ourselves in.”

Whether or not to maintain, discontinue or scale back the practice of weighting is a cost/benefit exercise worth going through.

The bottom line is that there are some fundamental items in contracts and benefits that need to be completely revised, not just patched for now. And while the schools need to do the majority of the work, municipal contracts need to be re-opened (besides the limited, short-term give backs just negotiated) to make co-pays a percentage of costs, not a flat rate. (If I was a dreamer, I'd include revamping the contract step scheme....)

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Facts on firefighter give backs:

Language from Feb 2009 firefighter agreement with city:

"Amendments to the July 1, 2006 - June 30, 2009 CBA"

“Members’ remaining 2008-2009 Holiday Payments for: (1) Easter, (2) Memorial Day, (3) Firemen’s Memorail Sunday, and (4) Independence Day shall be withheld in exchange for four (4) banked holidays (a one-for-one exchange)".

"Members’ March Clothing allowance of $450.00 shall be withheld in exchange for two banked holidays".

"Effective as of March 1, 2009
a.5% reduction in base pay per member, inexchange for 2 holidays per member, to be 'banked'.
b.The 5% Salary Reduction shall not be applicable to retirement base pay".

Also as of July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010, "The pay schedule from FY 08-09 in the 2006-2009 CBA shall be re-implemented as the pay schedule starting July 1, 2009."

"Amend as follows:
a) The clothing allowance for all members of the Fire Department shall be Four Hundred Fifty ($450) Dollars per year.
a) The Clothing allowance for all members of the Fire Department shall be Eight Hundred Fifty ($850) Dollars per year".

So let me see if I can add correctly.

Deferred holiday pay = 4 days + Clothing allowance deferred holiday pay = 2 days + Reduced pay deferred holiday pay = 2 days

Total deferred holiday pay = 8 days.

How they say they are giving back 6 holiday pay days. Sounds like a net of two days to me.

Clothing Allowance under terms of contract prior to Feb 2009 deal
March 2009 payment = $450 +
March 2010 payment = $450 +
March 2011 payment = $450 +
March 2012 payment = $450
Total $1800 for the four years.

Since Mayor increased clothing allowance in the Feb 2009 agreement from $450 to $850 that means:
March 2009 payment = $0
March 2010 payment = $0
March 2011 payment = $850
March 2012 payment = $850
Total $1700 for the four years

In reality a $100 reduction over 4 years. Big deal.

That means the 5% cut in pay was only for 16 weeks but each firefighter gets two paid holidays in return, to be paid out at a future date.

Keep in mind under the terms of the previous contract, firefighter received a 3.75% raise beginning July 1, 2008 that was suppose to extend to June 30, 2009. That means before the new contract was signed they received the 3.75% raise in pay from July 1, 2008 through February 28, 2009, or a total of 36 weeks.

If you do the math that means from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009 firefighter actually received a little over a 2% raise factoring in the 5% reduction for the 16 weeks.

The 5% sounds good in the media but in reality they still got raises last year. How many in private industry can say that?

The bottom line analogy is: If I give you $100 today and 9 months later take away $110, is that really the types of cuts needed in the current financial crisis we are in?

Sounds good in the media: unions take big cut.

In reality they didn't.

In private industry a pay cut is a pay cut. You don't get banked holidays and deferred uniform allowances and you pay on average 30 - 40% of your health coverage, not the $28 a week paid by firefighters (about 10%)

Posted by: Warwick taxpayer at February 17, 2010 2:47 PM

You should have been a fireman.

Posted by: michael at February 17, 2010 3:46 PM

Warwick teachers pay a co-pay of $11 per pay period not per week. Teachers are paid by-weekly so they are only paying $5.50 per week for a family plan. We can all thank Bob Cushman, who was Chairman of the School Committee and cast the deciding vote in favor of the contract, for that, along with negotiating a contract that cost Warwick taxpayers 7 million dollars over 3 years. Mr. Cushman argues that the teachers had not received a raise in the 3 previous years when other city employees had. Maybe that is true, but we taxpayers could not afford the 18% pay increases provided to the teachers over 3 years. This cost the taxpayers 7 million dollars over 3 years. Interesting how he settled the teachers contract in the middle of his campaign for city council. Why won't anybody in the media hold Mr. Cushman accountable for his mismanagement of the school department? Everything I mentioned is the truth. Simply request a copy of the teachers contract and minutes of the school committee meetings from the school department. It's all public documents.

Mr. Cushman is always quick to criticize other people but it is his and his fellow Democrats fault the city is in this mess. Mr. Cushman was more concerned with getting elected to the city council then he was with protecting the taxpayers and the city council just complains but never does anything about anything.

Posted by: Gary at February 17, 2010 8:35 PM

Cranston schools are deep in debt aren't they from underfunding and overspending?

I'm just going by a grim picture of their schools painted in Projo today.

A few of these school systems need to be forced into Chapter 9 to break the contracts that are burying taxpayers.

Posted by: doughboys at February 19, 2010 11:33 PM
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