As the Governor Speaks; Tiverton School Committee to Parents: Flee now!

This is absurd. Superintendent Bill Rearick is going over budget woes with the Tiverton School Committee. First came the bad news that the district has to budget an additional $248,715 for healthcare, putting its current working budget $1.1 million over the spending cap.
Rearick’s recommendations were to:

  • Use the $229,546 that it has this year (after TCC supposedly cut its budget) from changes to the pension system (to $911,000 over cap).
  • Eliminate 2 special ed assistants, one part-time physical ed. high school, one in-school remediation position, and a part-time high school nurse (to $744,268)
  • Cuts to office and student supplies, text books, and technology (to $624,440)

He says that the last couple of years, “we’ve been level funded,” speaking, I guess, of non-personnel expenses. Regarding unions, they’re “hoping to obtain certain concessions, but that’s not going very well.”
Things that Rearick blames for driving up budgets: end of magic Obama money, special ed requirements, career center tuitions, heating oil, electricity. No mention of the massive retroactive pay increase that the school committee approved last year. Rearick used that odious phrase about not having any more rabbits to pull out of the hat.
School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy suggested that they might as well add $200,000 to the overage to cover litigation, because there’s no way through the mess otherwise (he likened it to a messy divorce). Data point: eliminating 10 full-time teachers would get to the whole $1.1 million. Oddly, nobody has calculated that a few percentage points of salary/benefits packages across the board would easily do the same.
Committee member Danielle Coulter suggested that the district go out to bid for healthcare coverage. Union-friendly committee member Carol Herrmann brought up the new healthcare panel that the General Assembly created in the dead of night and suggested that it “makes no sense to come up with our own alternative.” (Thanks Legislative Stooges!)
8:40 p.m.
TCC President Dave Nelson just suggested that nothing should be cut. He pointed out that we’re cutting paper and pencils while the salary/benefit line item is increasing by more than $700,000. “We need to develop the political will to get the concessions.”
Doing anything else is unconscionable, especially with the NEA playing games with the state’s federal Race to the Top application.
8:45 p.m.
Former school committee member Mike Burk doesn’t think many people want to cut teacher pay. In fact, he thinks the school committee’s current contract proposal is unreasonable. He wants to offer an “olive branch” to the union. Because they’re usually so agreeable. Burk also implied that those who wish to take a harder line with the unions are irrational.
9:25 p.m.
I got up to suggest that it isn’t irrational for parents and taxpayers to look at charts such as these and notice that everything that the committee is talking about cutting has been essentially flat, on a per-student basis, for the past 10 years or so and suggest that it’s time to stop the other line, which grows reliably year after year, from growing year after year. Year after year. Again: the entire overage translates into a few percentage point reduction in pay and benefits. And that’s off an increased baseline (by more than $700,000).
Another active resident and parent (reliably supportive of every policy that is strangling the town and the state), Deb Pallasch, suggested that we all need to be cool headed and reasonable and not take any hard lines and all work together. Clearly, the committee is not interested in debates among the audience, so I didn’t return to the microphone to remind the committee that the last time I showed them my chart, they approved a large pay increase for teachers, with retroactive raises.
Last year, I spoke in response to their expressed hopes, and Pallasch’s suggestion, that they would just approve the contract so that the district could move on in a positive fashion and get the next negotiation off to a better start than implied by the acrimony of the last one. I warned the committee that it was obvious that the union would not negotiate according to schedule but would delay and delay until the economy improved and they could procure yet another retroactive raise, because to their experience, that is always the how things go.
For those who don’t recall recent history, I was right. This town and this state need to stop playing community (think “playing house”) when entrenched special interests are playing for keeps. The analogy I used while speaking a few minutes ago was that we have to stop playing footsie when the other side knows we’re boxing. These meetings are like a window into a bizarro world.
Perhaps that’s what was indicated by General Assembly Speaker of the House Bill Murphy and his chosen successor, Gordon Fox, were indicating that they don’t have to follow the rules of economics.

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14 years ago

“No mention of the massive retroactive pay increase that the school committee approved last year.”
In municipality after municipality, inexplicably, the 900 pound gorilla in the budget seems to be completely off the table when adjustments are needed.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem in the private sector.
Put it another way. What percentage of municipal employees got raises last year? And what percentage of private sector employees got a raise?
It’s a lot easier to budget and be generous at contract time when you’re using someone else’s money.

14 years ago

FYI… Thought you might be able to use this…
IF they know of a POTENTIAL over expenditure, by law they have 5 days to offer a corrective action plan!
Ref: RIGL 16-2-9
(f) In the event that any obligation, encumbrance, or expenditure by a superintendent of schools or a school committee is in excess of the amount budgeted or that any revenue is less than the amount budgeted, the school committee shall within five (5) working days of its discovery of potential or actual over expenditure or revenue deficiency submit a written statement of the amount of and cause for the over obligation or over expenditure or revenue deficiency to the town council president and such other person who by local charter or statute serves as the city or town’s executive officer; the statement shall further include a statement of the school committee’s plan for corrective actions necessary to meet the requirements of subsection (d). The plan shall be approved by the auditor general.

14 years ago

Justin –
If you’re going to blog live please get your facts straight. First, my last name has no “e” at the end. Second, I stated that I don’t think there are too many rational thinking people in town who want to run up exorbitant legal bills caused by the School Committee taking the suggested extreme approach by the TCC as David Nelson stated by “drawing a line in the sand” and ramming a contract down the union’s throat. I very clearly stated that we do need to discuss with the union the need to flatten out steps and hold the line on COLA’s.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

Have you considered adding the “e”? There’s something more poetic about that spelling. (I kid. I’ll edit the post; I think I first began writing your name at a time when there was also a Burke on my mind for other reasons.)
Dave and I argued that the committee has to take a harder line in order to get concessions, especially of the magnitude required. History bears this out. You said legal bills would be inevitable, making us irrational. I don’t want to run up legal bills, but there’s no other option if your suggested path is fruitless, as I have no doubt it is. That might be incorrect, but it’s not irrational, as you were so mean-spirited as to state in a public forum of people who just want to improve the operation of their town, including the operation of the schools.
The unrelenting threat of the unions to sue cannot always be a preemptive trump card. And it certainly shouldn’t lead the committee to go begging a hostile union to consider locking in deals for increases in years two and three of the contract in order to procure savings in the first. Rhode Island’s recession is now systemic, not temporary. It would be reckless to agree to anything beyond year to year, at this point.
In short, we have to cease behaving as if the world were as we wish it to be rather than as it is.

14 years ago

Legal bills cut both ways. Once the union loses a few expensive lawsuits or has to explain to its members why they have so much trouble reaching agreements at the table and instead have to constantly go to court and raise dues, maybe they’ll change their tune and actually start being reasonable. They are bullies, so deal with them like you deal with bullies – show them you aren’t afraid to fight back. They threaten a lawsuit, tell them to go ahead.

14 years ago

“or has to explain to its members why they have so much trouble reaching agreements”
Oh come on Dan, that’s an easy spin. It’s because “the school committee was being unreasonable and unfair!”
“maybe they’ll change their tune and actually start being reasonable”
Why? They keep winning. If you have to whine and cry and defame and sue to get what you want, then why not keep doing it?
As I’ve said many times here, the problem is not with the unions. It is with the elected officials who give them what they want. If I go stomp up to my HR office and complain that I didn’t get a raise last year and I now want a raise and an additional one retroactive to last year or else I’m going to sue, I’ll get fired. Why can’t the towns do the same with the unions? They want to be unreasonable, fire ’em. Start all over. What happened to the new Golden Rule, “He who has the gold, makes the rules”. The towns have the gold, so make the rules.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
14 years ago

Want to really cut legal bills?
Repeal the statute permitting collective bargaining (unionizing) by teachers.
Just think how much better public education in RI could be without the parasitic drag of Bob Walsh, Pat Crowley and the rest of the enforcers of exorbitant mediocrity.

Robert Balliot
14 years ago

The labor attorney legal fees may be one of the biggest scams going in Rhode Island. Where else can you make more money by creating more conflict and failing to deliver a positive outcome?

Rather that making it a flat hourly rate, maybe the fees should be based on a percentage of the actual concessions gained.

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