Not the Way to Arrive at a Salary
By far the most interesting audio from last night’s Tiverton School Committee meeting, in my opinion, was Vice Chairwoman Sally Black’s reasoning for voting to approve the teachers’ contract (stream, download) because the thought processes are indicative of the flawed way in which Rhode Islanders have conducted their public business.
Mrs. Black cycled through a bit of education policy history to conclude that the state and federal governments have not followed through with promised funding for decades, even as they’ve demanded more and more from local schools. From her perspective, the school committee did the work that they were supposed to do, and moreover, she was very pleased with her children’s experience in the school system and believes the teachers deserve as much compensation as the town can give them. Therefore, the contract is “fair and just” and ought to pass.
The problem with this approach is that it disconnects financial decisions from financial realities. We cannot come up with a notion of fairness and justice based on abstractions or on emotions and then make that the primary consideration. The primary consideration has to be the money that’s actually coming in.
Especially from the perspective of elected representatives — unless they were elected of the unions, by the unions, and for the unions — the first question has to be what is good and what is sustainable for the town. Double-digit tax increases are not sustainable. The next question has to be what is good for the students, and as I’ve pointed out, based on Department of Education data, Tiverton already pays more per pupil for teachers than the state average, and its student-teacher ratio is only slightly lower than the state’s overall. In other words, based on the money that the district actually has, it is already more generous to the teachers than the norm for Rhode Island, which is more generous than the norm for the nation.
Rhode Island has, for far too long, begun with the pay and benefits that “should be deserved” and only as an afterthought wondered where the money would come from and what the effects would be of taking it. Our teachers, specifically, are paid above the national average, even as our median household income is below the national average. We have to readjust, and we have to do so quickly.
For interest and public record, here’s the audio of Guidance Councilor Lynn Nicholas’s threat of “harm”: stream, download:
Before I ask Doug a question, I just need to make it clear that, if the award is not agreed upon tonight, there will be a lot of harm done. Some of it will be financial; a lot of it will not be, and I’m not going to go into detail.