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.
January 2, 2009
Anthony A. Carcieri
Chair, East Providence School Committee
The East Providence School Committee announced today that it will roll back a nearly-5% pay increase granted to teachers in May 2007, and begin charging teachers 20% of the cost of health insurance, effective on Monday, January 5. Also gone will be a controversial “buyback” program, in which teachers have been paid over $5,000 per year if they received health insurance from their spouses’ employers.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Anthony A. Carcieri, School Committee Chair. “On October 31, we had $4.5 Million in bills we couldn’t pay. It’s only gotten worse since then. If we don’t stop the blood loss now, we’ll owe $9 Million next October, and the schools will simply stop functioning. This is a death spiral. We’ve got to stop it.”
The School Committee and the East Providence Education Association (“NEARI”) reached impasse in negotiations for a new labor contract on October 29, two days before the last contract expired. Despite mediation by state-appointed mediator Bernard Singleton, the Union called off further talks, insisting that it could not agree to a package of concessions that would save the School Department $3 Million in the fiscal year beginning November 1, 2008.
The Union did make a verbal offer of concessions it said would save the School Department about $1 Million. “We costed out their proposal and it was a very bad deal for taxpayers. The actual savings this year would have been non-existent. The so-called “$1 Million savings” was simply a deferred pay raise and $330,000 in contributions to health insurance premiums. Even with the health insurance savings, because of other increases in the proposal, the School Department’s FY09 teachers’ contract costs would have increased over FY08 costs by about $800,000. Further, the proposal would have really socked it to us in the second year, when two pay raises within a month would have jumped our costs by another $2 Million,” Said Jerome Baron, Finance Director for the school system. “Even if they had offered $1 Million in real savings, that wouldn’t have done it. There’s nowhere to get the rest of the money.”
East Providence’s 500 teachers are the only public school teachers in Rhode Island who have never contributed a cent towards their health insurance premiums. Their pay amounts to over $33.2 million, better than $65,000 per full-time and part-time employee. That pay will drop to $31.7 Million on Monday, a 4.88% reduction, so the average pay will still exceed $63,000 per year. Full-time teachers work only 181 days per year, less, on average, 8 sick days and two personal days per year.
The new cost saving measures are only the latest in a series of steps taken by the School Department. In November 2008, bus aide positions were eliminated, with a private contractor taking over and saving the schools $549,000 per year. Last year, custodians agreed to a package of contract concessions that made them the first school employees to contribute to their health insurance premiums.
“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.”
Rhode Island law prohibits school committees from spending more than they are allocated by city, state and federal funding sources. In October, the School Committee submitted a budget to the City Council that would have paid off the $4.5 Million debt and ended the `08-`09 year without a deficit. It was $9 Million higher than the City’s allocation, and required tax increases that exceeded those permitted by East Providence’s Charter and by state law. The City Council rejected that budget, and instead provided the schools with a $400,000 increase over last year – a year in which costs exceeded income by $3.5 Million.
The School Committee filed a so-called “Caruolo” lawsuit against the City in October, in an effort to force it to begin paying last year’s bills.
“Those lawsuits make no sense,” said Committee member Steven Santos. “The taxpayers pay $200,000 to a lawyer for the City and $200,000 to a lawyer for the schools, and what’s the result? The taxpayers still have to find a way to cover the debt, and now its $400,000 bigger. We should be good enough to work it out without any lawsuit. I’m sure that will be high on both the School Committee and the City Council’s agenda in the new year.”
With a projected deficit this year of over $4.2 Million, the trimming of costs is not finished. The East Providence Taxpayers’ Association last week sent a letter to School Committee members demanding to know how it would close the budget gap if it reduced teachers’ compensation by only $3 Million.
“I hope everyone will stay calm,” said Carcieri. “The teachers and the taxpayers need to know that we are working on problems that were created over many years. We’re attacking those problems. We are not attacking the teachers or the taxpayers. Give us a chance.”
Mario Cirillo, Superintendent of Schools said, “We have to escape this detrimental financial cycle. Our administrative staff is one of the smallest – probably the smallest – of any school district of this size in the northeast. We should be focusing all of our efforts on improving our teaching, improving our curriculum, helping our kids to be better equipped to succeed in the 21st Century. For example, we should be thinking about teaching computer skills, but that’s just out of the question. Instead, we are focusing too much of our time on trying to figure out how we’re going to afford to pay our special providers for our special-needs kids next month. This can’t go on.”