Teachers' Contract: We Can Save Millions

Part 3 of 3: We argue over a shop teacher, but the contract is where our property tax dollars go. We can save millions, but people need courage to take on the status quo!

It is confession time.

Many people who have read my writing would probably think that I am a rabid anti-union Person. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I grew up in a very left-wing home, the son of a teacher and a social worker. I have all the words of all the Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs songs memorized. I listen to them every day. I have studied the history of the Unions from Eugene Debs, to the Triangle fire and the steel and mining strikes I believe in the necessity of unions to keep abuses of management in check.

But… having said that, as in the Monty Python skit of Dennis Moore who took so much from the rich to give to the poor that the poor had become rich. We have gone too far in our teachers union contracts throughout the state.

The pay and the benefits are out of whack with what is fair and sustainable.  And it will change. It will change because has to change because just like the pensions had to change, because the structure cannot be maintained. It can be addressed in the next contract or if we want to kick the can down the road the one after that.

But 6 years is as long as I give it until the system of teacher compensation will crush all of us under its own weight. It is not an issue anymore if the teachers should make that money. They can’t.

This side of the pyramid can’t support the ever-increasing salaries. Either we address the contract or start laying off teachers enmasse and teach classes online.

Now of everything in our schools, the most important component is the teachers. Our students come from an affluent background and the parents are involved and this helps, but without the teachers it would not mean spit. And there are dozens of things that could be better and fairer.

We should pay more money for science and math teachers than social studies and language arts teachers not because science and math are more important, but
because there are less science and math teachers available. That is supply and

But good teachers are at the crux of the matter. And there is no shortage of teachers out there. The last numbers I read showed that 70% of certified
teachers cannot find jobs teaching. That is 70%, 7 out of 10 teachers want jobs!
And this week our colleges minted hundreds more teachers who can’t find a job.

When you have a surplus of applicants, you don’t have to pay as much for good employees. Why is public education the only system that breaks that rule?

Below is a list of items I would change in the contract. It is not by any means a complete list. It is a combination of what I consider the most important and the most obvious. But rest assured that the school committee will not incorporate any suggestion I have into their plans. (Why spoil a perfect record?)

But I get this space to write for free and Patch readers say I am the “most popular blog” (see sidebar). So why not write my ideas down and have them ignored anyway.

First and foremost, I believe that no teacher should take a cut in pay. Period.  It is bad for employee morale to cut someone’s pay. Especially when great savings long term can be obtained without cutting pay. No teacher should take a cut in pay. (I said it twice for effect) In fact, I would recommend giving every teacher a 3% raise minimum each year. Some years they should get more than a 3% raise. And this will still save us thousands of dollars a year.

Okay, let’s look at the contract. Here are the items I would cut to save money.

Article 7: Teacher tuition reimbursement

We need to stop providing teachers with reimbursement for getting higher education. Almost every study shows there is no connection between higher degrees and better teachers.  Many teachers take extra classes in order to earn credits to move up the pay scale in appendix A of the Contract (More about that later) the school committee in a recent vote demonstrated that they question the value of higher degrees (more on that later also.) There is evidence of the value of professional development. We should concentrate on that. This would save $50,000.

Article 10 section 4: Sick leave

Currently teachers who work only 39 weeks a year, remember, get 15 paid sick days and 4 personal days. That is 4 weeks of paid time off. And the line between personal and sick often blurs. I know several teachers who use the sick days as personal days. I knew one teacher years ago who bragged to me that, with Monday holidays she could take off almost  every Monday to spend three-day weekends in New York with her family. Cut Personal and sick days down to 10 Paid days off total. Leave in the clause that in the contract already case of a major illness that the school committee can decide to pay the teacher anyway.  And if teachers need more time off let them take the time off, just deduct their pay the already contracted rate 1/187 of their salary per day. That will help pay for substitutes. Currently we pay substitutes $400,000 if we instituted this policy I would guess we would save $100,000 conservatively. Could be more but better safe without the numbers.

Article 10 Section 5: Sabbatical leave.

This is where we pay teachers 50% of their pay for not working. I couldn’t find it in the budget, but I am going out on a limb that we shouldn’t pay anyone to not work. I have always believed that.  Call me crazy.

Article 11 Section 5: Department heads at the high school.

Department heads at the high school are paid an extra stipend for their duties -- about $4,000 year each. Plus they get 2 extra classes off per day. Read that as .4 FTE less that each department head works, and gets paid extra. I went to the web site and counted 14 departments at the high school. Assume we could find a way to reduce 10 of those to 1 period off per day. We would save 2.0 FTEs. The woodworking teacher is one FTE and would save $100,000 so 2 FTEs would save $200,000. I am sure it is not that simple, that there is more to it and I am just reading the contract, but there is savings to be had there, I am sure.

Article 5.1

A classroom teacher who receives and maintains certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and continues teaching in Barrington shall receive a stipend in the amount of three thousand five hundred dollars ($3,500). Just eliminate this.

Now we come to the big money.

Appendix A.

In this section teachers get different monies depending on their level of education. There are 6 categories: Bachelor’s degree, B+36 Master’s degree, M+15, M+30, and CAGS.

As I stated before there is no evidence that higher degrees produce better teachers. I know that the school committee believes this to be true based on their recent choice for superintendent. Mike Messorre was chosen based on his ability and his character and his institutional knowledge. The school committee passed over two highly qualified candidates who had PHDs. If that was not an automatic requirement for superintendent, then why are we automatically giving a raise to teachers with higher levels of education regardless of subject matter or ability? What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If the superintendent does not need a PHD, why should we push for the average teacher to be a PHD? Let’s just have them all be good teachers, regardless of education level.

For each of those educational levels, the teachers get a raise of between $600 and $2,500. This is on top of the annual increase teachers receive every year. We need to reduce this to only one bump for getting their masters only. Then after attrition in a few years we would save about $3,000-4,000 per teacher or almost a million dollars! No cutting of pay. Just the old teachers will retire and the new ones won’t get the bump. A lot of teachers would stop taking extra classes at RIC after that.

Also in Appendix A is the longevity bonus. Each teacher gets an extra bonus at the completion of 15, 20, 25, and 30 years. These add $5,700 to the longest serving teachers’ pay. Keep the longevity bonus and make it only $500 instead of the $1350-1500 and eventually it would save $400,000 a year.

Lastly in "appendix a" are the step increases. This is the big one! Teachers
start at $40,000 a year and that doubles in 10 years. For doing the same job, if
there is no pay increase!

With a pay increase it comes closer to tripling! Step increases are mandated by law so we must give them and all teachers get a raise over and above their regular raise their first 10 years. In Barrington step increases range from $1,300-$9,000+ per year. If we gave teachers step increases of $500 per year instead of $1,300-9,000, we would save a base pay of $32,500 per teacher. Eventually all teachers would be effected. There are 278 teachers. In
30 years, the base pay savings would be 32,500x278. Or it would be a base
savings of $10,456,136.

That is 25% of our budget! There it is folks. That's where are money goes. That is why your property taxes go up every year.

The current plan is to reduce the salary increase to maybe 2% or 1.5%.
This number is irrelevant. 20% health care co pay? It sounds nice but it doesn’t
matter really. These numbers are political numbers. Giving teachers raises each
year is not the problem. The school department will claim to negotiate don’t
concentrate on the 3% raise. Give them the 3% raise! But mark my words if we do % or 2.6% as a negotiated victory. It is not! Fix the structural problems with
the steps and the longevity, or we will be cutting teachers and programs for
the rest of the time our children are in school! And out taxes will continue to
go up!

And don’t let the schools tell you that we will lose good teachers. Good teachers are not in it for the money, and any who would go to Providence for $5,000 more a year is not a good teacher. And remember there are 70% unemployed teachers. Offer more for math and science and a couple of foreign languages and maybe special ed, depending on supply, but there is big money to
be saved!

What I am advocating is reducing the few programs above (there could be more there are a lot of ups and extras in the budget but this is long

DO NOT CUT any existing teachers’ pay! Give all teachers a 3% raise+ give teachers in the first 10 years a step bonus of $500 per year. Give teachers in year 15, 20, 25 and30 a $500 raise each year on top of the 3%.

No pay cuts. Everyone gets a raise of 3% or more. Not bad in financial hard times don’t you think? And we would after 10 years or so save $4 million to $5 million. We could keep the teachers and the programs we want and save the town from ruinous tax increases every year to maintain a flawed structural contract designed to fail... and will fail.

What I have suggested will never happen. There is not the moral or political will. But that is how to do it. But if Barrington schools have led in graduation requirements. They have led in co-pays for teachers health costs. But if they really want to be leaders, this or a variation is the way if anyone has the guts to try.

If you made it to the end, congratulations, and thank you for your patience!

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Elizabeth Holmes May 23, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Wow, I can't believe that teachers get 15 paid sick days. Even as a full time librarian at the University of Georgia on a 12 month contract I only got 12 days and I thought that was very generous. I am a librarian at a law firm now and I can tell you neither I or the other firm staff get even 12 paid sick days.
Ignorance is not bliss May 23, 2012 at 03:43 PM
The sick day issue is a big savings opportunity. I work for a large corporation and I get 10 sick days (full time employee). I have experienced first hand just how many sick days the teachers take. I am always amazed at the teachers that decide to have elective surgery or a medical procedure done on the town's time. They do this because they can. It is considered the norm to use all your sick days. I think Joel is right that we can save a substantial amount of money if we reduce the sick days which will reduce the money paid for substitute teachers. This is not only a cost savings but also an educational benefit because the quality of education suffers each and every time the classroom has to have a substitute teacher for the day. It is disruptive for the students and many times not very productive.
Manifold Witness May 23, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Thanks Joel! Here’s a summary: Teacher compensation is unsustainably too high. Supply & demand market-driven solutions are needed. A plan: 1. No pay cuts to current teachers. 2. Give annual raises of at least 3%, + $500 at: <11 yrs., + at 15, 20, 25, 30. 3. Stop teacher tuition reimbursement for higher education- there's no connection between higher degrees & better teachers. Save $50,000. 4. Reduce paid Personal & Sick days from 20/yr to 10. Teachers work only 39 weeks/yr. (Note: In case of a major illness, the school committee can vote to pay the teacher.) If more time off is needed, deduct the already-contracted rate 1/187 of salary/day to help pay substitutes which cost $400,000 a year. Save about $100,000. 5. Go to unpaid Sabbatical Leave instead of 50% of pay for not working. 6. Now, about 14 Dept Heads at High School get an extra stipend ($4,000 /yr) & 2 classes off/ day. Reduce to 1 class off per day. Save 2.0 FTEs. 7. Eliminate $3,500 certification stipend. 8. Eliminate additional raises of $600-$1200 for additional higher education. Save nearly $1,000,000. 9. Reduce Longevity Bonuses to $500 raise. Now it's $1350 to $1500 bonus at 15, 20, 25, 30 years of service. Save $400,000. 10. Change statute & reduce step increases to $500: Teachers start at $40,000 a year. Step increases ($1300-$9000 +) alone DOUBLE that salary in 10 years! With pay increases, it comes closer to tripling! Save: $10,000,000 over 30 years.
Joel Hellmann May 23, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Larry-Stop thinking you know more than you know. You know nothing about me. You don't know how much money I make. You don't know My wife is a union teacher. You don't know I worked in the schools and had 22 kids in my house in the schools. I know what a great job teachers do!! and I know their skills do improve every year. and they should get more each year, and I am suggesting just that. BUT the money is going to run out. it is unsustainable. You don't seem to understand the numbers. If you can figure out how to pay the teachers and more important KEEP the within current laws and keep the teachers their jobs, Please take the time and write down the plan and share your wisdom with us. Because we are going to have to lay off many teachers under the current plan to make ends meet. This is not a "recent experience" for me. I have been working on these issues for 10 years. I have written dozens of articles on this issue. I have run for office on this issue. I have talked to people who had to give up thier homes because of the increasing taxes! And you, you are just blowing the same old hot air. I fyou have the answer then write it down and share it.
Joel Hellmann May 24, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Larry- My wife agrees with me and actually feels stonger about it. and the teachers contract is currently 87-88% of the school budget. What specifically would you cut to save 25% over 20 years, when everything else is only 13%. Would you be advocating cutting everything, Janitors, athletics, busing, heat, maintance, administrators, books, computers everything else in order to preserve the teachers pay bonus at the current level? Because if you cut everything, and I mean everything it would only be a dent. Perhaps you do not understand percentages. You advised me to take a math course. I ask you to take 2. the teachers contract is 87% of the budget and rising at 5-6% per year, while everything else is cut to the bone. I am advocating giving teachers a raise of a minimum of 3% annually to fix the problem, your answer is just look elsewhere. Absolutely brilliant why did I knot think of that! Elsewhere, that is the answer. Read the budget and the contract and understand it before you write.
Mocktheworld May 24, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Larry, your daughter needs to compare her "job security" to her peers that are graduating from college to be met with underemployment, if they are the lucky ones. I know of a graduate from a renowned university with a degree in biological sciences and was thrilled to get a job making $30,000 with benefits that do not come close to teachers. Her "pension" options are basically a 401(k). She's not guaranteed a raise, (regardless of expertise or effort), but she's thrilled to be working. In my book, starting at $40,000 is not minimum wage.
Mocktheworld May 24, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Joel, did I miss your mention of longevity pay? Like a teacher from Barrington, after 10 years is going to leave to go to another district? Longevity pay, along with STEP increases are what are killing us! (STEP increases are mandated by state law [something that needs to change], the amount of the STEPS are not. They are part of the "negotiated teacher contract" and COULD be addressed next year when the contract is up! Be prepared, there is NO way that will be in any contract. The full force of every union will be there to wage against it. Although I do agree, paying for tuition, then increasing pay for degrees in also up there on the list, as are all your points. I wish you would run for school committee... We need your voice!
Joel Hellmann May 24, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Pamela- Thank you. I cut the longevity down from 1500 to 500 at each break. Teachers do deserve something for staying with us.I ran for school committe last cycle and got 14% as an independent. Which was not bad running against 2 very strong party supported people. I am often abrupt with my comments and go after many sacred cows. This does not endear me to many people which is unfortunate but true. The contract like the pensions will change simply because they have to. The question will be when we discover there is a crisis and have to solve it.
Mocktheworld May 25, 2012 at 10:45 AM
Larry, I am married to a math teacher. I know how hard they work. they still get summers, Christmas, winter and spring breaks. My husband worked in the private sector before teaching as a VP. He worked 10+ hours a day, got 4 weeks vacation but never took more than 2 and got laid off in a consolidation. His is not a unique experience, I see a lot of people in the private sector experiencing similar situations. he was shocked to hear teachers whining when he started teaching. He has been thrilled now for over 20 years to be working with kids. He comes home exhausted everyday but loves what he is doing. And the school district he works in has not been as generous as ours.
Mocktheworld May 25, 2012 at 10:59 AM
Larry, I don't apologize for encouraging what you consider abrupt comments. i'm looking for solutions that will allow me to retire here in this house I was born in, as well as keeping our schools excellence! I like a lot of what Joel says...at least he is recommending viable solutions. As stated before, i am not going to be able to afford the taxes on my home AND, if taxes keep increasing I'll get pennies on the dollar when I have to sell! This is a very real concern to me, and I don't believe I am in the minority.
Mocktheworld May 25, 2012 at 11:07 AM
Sorry Joel, I absolutely do not agree with longevity pay. First, what teacher is going to leave the Barrington system? Where are they going to go? Barrington is a dream community, teachers are dying to het hired here. Secondly, What school district can afford to hire at 10th step teacher. I think Barrington is one of the few districts that will hire regardless of the step. Most districts do not hire new teachers above the 4th step. They are looking to reduce their budget with each new hire.
Joel Hellmann May 25, 2012 at 01:19 PM
That is ok Pamela. My favorite saying is if two people think exactly the same then surely one of them is unnessary. You are right about the 4th step techers can't move from town to town and because of the law of the steps in the contract if they get laid off in Central Falls or soon Woonsocket they are screwed for life. Larry again why don't try to solve the whole problem. this is about teachers and everyone. This is going to explode everywhere and the newest teachers are let go first. Your daughter, with 3 years only will be on the list..This is not an attack on teachers it is an attack on the contract which by any objective observer poorly concieved, and does not serve the community or even ultimitely the teachers well.
Joel Hellmann May 25, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Oh and Larry--Your welcome!
Manifold Witness May 25, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Educate us, Larry, please. For starters, was the elephant in the room tied to the CPI?
Clyde May 26, 2012 at 04:06 PM
don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone? let the education system fail completely and be done with this tired discussion among "those who know better," so parents can enjoy the luxury of knowing how good they had it if, in fact, that's the result. for teaching to no longer be a "hoor's market" - everyone wanting to do it - for teaching to be truly the labor of love all it agree it should be, it must pay nothing. not less. nothing. NO PAY NOW! NO PAY NOW! NO PAY NOW!
Local Mom May 28, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Catch 22, my friends. Look at economic macro for Barr today. Per RI MLS, 170+ homes on market in town - not counting any FSBO's/non-MLS listings, or likely more in process of coming to market after BHS graduation. Real estate pros here saying sellers here still in pie in sky area for asking prices (why does that 4th bedroom always seem to cost an additional $100K here?), and new buyers running to other towns or nearby Mass when they see those asking prices coupled with a heavy prop tax (and usurious car tax!) bill here. Despite record low mortgage rates, new buyers/young families can't buy here and locals can't trade up due to this toxic situation. Decline in school enrollments in town means school staff consolidation unavoidable and upcoming contract negotiations may hinge more than ever on saving jobs. Why else are they trying to push 50+ new "affordable" homes into Hampden Meadows? RIght down the road from this proposed development, Sowams enrollment predictions among lowest in town. Sad reality is that the education system has been sacrosanct magnet for new buyers here - but year over year tax increases are wearing out those who live here and alienating potential new buyers. As a % of town budget, Barr way too invested in the education system as dictated by the contracts, and town handstrung to make most other needed improvements - eg, replacement of the Middle School which has been held together with duct tape for too many years.


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