Times of Drasticness Begin
I was a few minutes late to tonight’s Tiverton School Committee meeting, and it was already underway. The high school library is pretty well filled, which means probably about 30-40 people, an apparent mix of students, teachers, and residents. The topic: closing the high school. Of course, when the union is looking for a juicy raise, the teachers pack the gymnasium, which means three digits rather than two.
Frankly, I can’t help but recall the first school committee meeting after the financial town meeting at which the electorate restrained the school district’s budget by $627,000 or so. At that time, the message coming from people associated with the district was that the committee had to do something drastic to drive parents to the financial town meeting and vote for lots of money.
Now Superintendent Bill Rearick said, just now: “Folks in our community need to decide what they want.” He says they should go to town meetings, including the financial town meeting. This is just a dance to drive a few hundred more people to the FTM to raise taxes by double digits for everybody else.
Rearick argued that adjustments to labor would only solve this year’s problem, not the systemic problems that are yielding such high deficits, ignoring:
- That one of our problems is that raises are compounding.
- That the committee spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in “stimulus funds.”
- That he really shouldn’t leave such things as pensions out of the labor costs.
We’re something like $750,000 short for next year. Had the committee frozen compensation rather than giving out retroactive raises, it would now be only about $150,000 short, and the federal stimulus money was much beyond that.
Deborah Pallasch just read a letter on behalf of the Democratic Town Committee urging rapid resolution of negotiations with the union. No doubt some of the Democrats are urging the union to secure the maximum as they can right now, because they see that things are only going to deteriorate.
A resident whom I don’t know just said that the retirement communities that moved to town in recent decades are “cancers on our community.” He must be among the faction calling for unity and cooperation in town.
If he’s talking about Tiverton Citizens for Change, I can testify that a majority of the core members are not gated community types.
Jan Bergandy took the opportunity to say that people have to turn out for the FTM
Dave Nelson is now addressing the committee. As he’s began speaking, he turned periodically to face the audience. Unbelievably, Deborah Pallasch shouted from the audience: “You need to address the committee, not the audience.” Who does she think she is?
Here’s an interesting angle: A resident just asked whether there’s been any communication about bringing Little Compton students into our system. I know they used to do that, and I’m not sure what happened. But it does raise the interesting point that the district has an opportunity if it concentrates on making its programs attractive.
That means getting more for its money.
The next speaker talked about hiring maintenance staff who keep the property up, rather than merely cleaning it. Again: The upshot is that the district now allocates its money poorly. It needs to shift some of its per-pupil expenditures toward new programs, some to maintenance, some to technology, and so on. That will mean holding existing labor flat or somewhat decreased to make the school more attractive — especially with the possibility of increased student choice in the near future.
School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy just pointed out that the argument that some have made that losing the high school would make property values plummet has the problem that Little Compton’s property values are much higher even though the town has no high school. It’s not really a valid comparison, because the two towns are very different, but it’s interesting that he argued that way.
Deb Pallasch just suggested that the committee “do whatever it can do” to drive people to the FTM.
They’ve moved on to talking about possible health insurance switches. The upshot is that it would take a lot of money and research even just to find out whether switching would make economic sense.
Health insurance increases account for $450,000 of the current shortfall. Not sure what percentage of that is due to the union’s argument that it didn’t have to negotiate a new contract this year and would not accept the budgeted increase of health insurance coshare from 12% to 18%.
Now they’re discussing the 31 pink slips and 15 displacement letters that the district will send out to meet the legislative deadline of March 1 for such notices.
How absurd is it that the district must simply pick the junior employees for all layoffs. Are there no older teachers whose absence would save more money and whose absence would minimally affect the students (or perhaps not at all)? Moreover, I just don’t understand how the union can make all of the arguments for class size, solidarity, and basically its entire argument for existing if it would rather cut young teachers loose rather than give concessions.
A young librarian is making an extended argument for what her department accomplishes. Good for her. None of these programs should be cut.
Just an observation: Supt. Bill Rearick is offering a conciliatory lay-off-related speech, encouraging more participation in the leadership process, but his tone of voice is confrontational. His tone isn’t always so, which makes me wonder who, in his mind, he’s confronting.
A recent graduate of the high school just argued on behalf of the library staff, and she closed by expressing the opinion that “a more critical eye” should be applied to the layoff process. Perhaps it’s an introduction to the effect that the union system can have on a professional workforce. It’s plainly wrong and strategically ludicrous.
Bergandy mentioned that there’s been no movement with NEA negotations, except the scheduling of a March 4 mediation.
I’m increasingly persuaded that union-friendly legislators set the deadline for layoffs so early precisely for the angst and disruption it causes among teachers and the community, even though budgeting can’t possibly be complete by this point. The law should change, and teachers should be leading the charge.