Back to School
The new teachers’ contract is up for approval again in Tiverton, and inasmuch as the agenda item is “approval of arbitrator’s interim award (NEA contract),” it looks likely to go the other way. Apparently the latest info is that the state is only reducing their funding by 5%, so they’re confident giving away over $300,000.
The crowd is certainly not of East Providence proportions, but some of the same principals are here (e.g., Pat Crowley), and the local union leaders are way too happy, and much too chummy with Superintendent Bill Rearick, for the outcome to be good.
ADDENDUM 7:01 p.m.:
As we wait for the school committee to have their beginning-of-meeting executive session (probably deciding how to vote after the formality of public comment), I thought I’d note that I’ve prepared some remarks to read when the time comes. I sincerely hope that I’ve done enough work with the recorder, already, to have persuaded the union to let people speak without attack.
ADDENDUM 7:08 p.m.:
While I wait, some more broad musing: I’m really not afraid of public speaking… I’ve made too much of a fool of myself in too many situations to be timid, but it’s really an intimidating prospect to speak at school committee meetings. I really wish Tiverton would do as East Providence does and put the audience microphone off to one side, rather than in the very middle, of the space below the stage so that speakers don’t feel as if they’re in some interrogation setting with the angry audience bearing down from behind.
ADDENDUM 7:40 p.m.:
We’re back in session and hearing a review of the status of the new school construction. The contract discussion is next.
The school committee looked somewhat glum when it entered, but it’s impossible to tell from that which way things might go.
ADDENDUM 7:49 p.m.:
Here goes. Carol Herrmann voted to approve, and Sally Black seconded.
Supt. Rearick is about to speak and suggested that committee members speak before public comment.
ADDENDUM 7:52 p.m.:
Rearick just stated that this money is budgeted and will not affect the tax rate… as if every year is distinct.
He’s also arguing that negotiations are holding up needed reform and accreditation changes.
ADDENDUM 7:54 p.m.:
Carol Herrmann is for the contract. Again, she brought up the held-up reforms.
Danielle Coulter is arguing that economic times have changed and that, since we’re laying off teachers, it’s ridiculous to give their coworkers raises.
ADDENDUM 7:58 p.m.:
Growing titters in the crowd as Danielle speaks. They’re clearly trying to keep it down, but the habit must be strong.
ADDENDUM 8:00 p.m.
Leonard Wright is “on the fence,” but willing to listen, and leaning toward approving the contract for “high quality teachers.”
Sally Black is arguing that “during this time” — when people are suffering — education is something that we need to hold on to.
ADDENDUM 8:03 p.m.:
Jan Burgandy (committee president) is also “on the fence.” “This is the most difficult vote I will probably ever have to take.”
“We have to hope that in the future this process will be more civil and converge must faster.”
As I’m about to argue: it won’t.
ADDENDUM 8:06 p.m.:
I cannot believe that it doesn’t strike the school committee as plain wrong that an employment contract should potentially hold up the educational need of students (e.g., accreditation).
ADDENDUM 8:08 p.m.:
Bergandy just held up a giant gavel. The audience is laughing. Glad it’s so clubby.
ADDENDUM 8:09 p.m.:
David Nelson (TCC president) is speaking. I hear shushing behind.
ADDENDUM 8:12 p.m.
TCC member Joe Souza is talking about state-wide budget history.
He just mentioned that, in his construction job, he had to lay off 16 guys, this year.
ADDENDUM 8:16 p.m.:
A citizen I don’t know is saying that teachers should sacrifice. “We’re not asking you to move into a tent city. You’re all doing pretty well.”
ADDENDUM 8:24 p.m.:
I was working through my three-minute statement and — amazingly — Jan Bergandy stopped me to state that we’re not getting into monetary or performance analysis.
Guess I really am disliked around town.
ADDENDUM 8:27 p.m.:
Ms. Black stopped me as I walked away to say that she voted against unreasonable contracts, so it is clearly not her intention to give teachers everything they want. I’m open to correction on this, but my understanding is that the committee decided the maximum amount that they could give to the teachers and told the teachers that was it. In other words, Ms. Black voted not to give over an impossible amount, but did intend to give over what she understood to be the maximum amount possible.
That was the attitude against which I was speaking.
ADDENDUM 8:32 p.m.:
TCC member Rob Coulter suggested that the school committee should consider this action (approving the contract) to negate any further request for money from the taxpayers.
ADDENDUM 8:35 p.m.:
Jan Bergandy just stated that the school committee held off on signing the contract longer than anybody else in local government.
Mike Burk just mocked me — I brought up onto the stage a chart for the school committee to consider — by throwing up a bag of candy. (“Red herring.”) It struck me that several of them were not actually arguments that had been made, which would make the statement about red herrings a red herring itself.
ADDENDUM 8:43 p.m.:
Burk just said that the committee should really “hold the line” with the next contract. Well, there’s the excuse for the union to spin the wheels until the economy is better suited to their contractual desires.
ADDENDUM 8:46 p.m.:
Chris Cotta (formerly a local elected official) just suggested that the school committee shouldn’t listen to us taxpayers because “they’ll always come forward to complain.” Guess that’s as good a reason to ignore us as any.
ADDENDUM 8:49 p.m.:
I’ve wondered why local officials take themselves so seriously. That’s not to say that their job is not important, but the heat of the politics strikes me as excessive. Some of the speeches tonight from (former) elected officials confirm my growing conclusion that it’s really an ego thing.
Not to say that’s not understandable. But it’s interesting.
ADDENDUM 8:53 p.m.:
The contract passes. All for, except Danielle Coulter’s no and Leonard Wright’s abstention.
ADDENDUM 8:59 p.m.:
Five minute recess.
You know, this went the way I expected, so I guess it was good to state some principles and considerations for future use. Watching the whole interplay of local politics can be dispiriting, I must say, and I’d suggest that, for that very reason, more regular folks should get involved. Society at large doesn’t operate this way, and neither should our government.
It certainly isn’t pleasant to be the bad guy, though — especially when it’s on top of financial struggles and a frequently tough day job.
ADDENDUM 9:12 p.m.:
Rearick is talking about the next budget and the various reductions in staff. Almost all of the teachers who were here have left.
Guess it’s easier to leave on a high note.
ADDENDUM 9:18 p.m.:
My mind drifted a bit, but I think I just heard Supt. Rearick say that he’s considering cutting a high-school technology teacher position. That doesn’t sound good.
ADDENDUM 9:21 p.m.:
I do have a positive note, by the way: The union members were very well behaved tonight. I’m sure much of that had to do with their apparently sure knowledge from the beginning that they were going to get their big checks, but I do hope that it helps that they know they’re being recorded.
That’s something that other reform-type folks around the state should consider. I’d be willing to help.
ADDENDUM 9:33 p.m.:
Town Council Member Jay Lambert is objecting to the school committee’s apparent complacency with the notion of increasing taxes — during a recession, with the state losing population at nation-leading rates — at the maximum amount.
“This committee is a real disappointment.”
“That cap was not put in place to be a goal to shoot for every single year, especially during these economic times.”
ADDENDUM 9:43 p.m.:
Rob Coulter just clarified with the school committee that the 09-10 budget — on which the committee voted at the previous meeting — did reflect the passage of the contract this evening. The district’s financial guy stated that it’s reflected in the 08-09 budget, but it seems to me that the numbers would have carried through to the next year.
ADDENDUM 10:18 p.m.:
Local union head Amy Mullen just asked to clarify Mr. Wright’s vote on the contract. He said that he abstained and subsequently voted to approve. (“The minutes will reflect the vote as four for.”)
I’ve been here the whole time, but I must have missed his switched vote.
ADDENDUM (from home):
After the meeting, I confirmed with district financial director Doug Fiore that the budget that the school committee submitted to the budget committee did include the contract that was approved tonight. What that means is that the number for ’08-’09 would have been $301,264 lower had the contract been voted down. It also means that the number for ’09-’10 would have been roughly $150,000 lower, as well — almost one-half of the current budget gap.
Supt. Rearick has already brought the $323,376 down to around $209,000 (mainly through staff reductions), so absent the approval of the new contract, the school district would only need to come up with roughly $59,000 more in reductions. Five figures instead of six.