Some Fundamental Fixes Need to be Done in Warwick
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….)