Southborough schools may see teacher layoffs next year

by susan on January 11, 2010

Despite the grim economic climate of late, the Southborough schools have so far escaped any teacher layoffs. Next year we may not be so lucky.

In a presentation to selectmen at their all-day budget summit on Saturday, Superintendent Charles Gobron previewed a school budget that would eliminate nine or ten teaching positions in fiscal year 2011. Even with those staffing cuts, the budget is 3.6% more than the current year’s budget.

Gobron told selectmen the cuts are necessary because of an “enormous reduction” in state aid for special education services, to the tune of $420K.

School Committee Vice-Chair Marybeth Strickland explained the special education services are mandated by the state, so there’s no way for the school to cut back on the services they provide. “The state is cutting something we can’t cut,” she said. “It’s mind-boggling.”

Gobron said the teaching positions would be eliminated across the four Southborough schools, and would have the result of increasing class sizes. “I’m not saying we’ll have classes of 35 students. I’m not trying to be alarmist, but it will make things more difficult,” he said.

In addition to teacher layoffs, the budget proposed cutting the equivalent of two custodial positions. It would also reduce spending on textbooks by 37% and other instructional material by 22%.

All told, it will cost nearly $1.3M more to run the Southborough schools next year as compared to this year. A big chunk of that is the increased cost of special education services thanks to the state cuts. The other significant piece is contractual raises for teachers totaling $552K.

The school committee hasn’t reviewed the preliminary budget yet. They’ll do that at their meeting on Wednesday night.

1 Al Hamilton January 12, 2010 at 11:42 AM

I think the article misses some of the most important facts.

1. The K-8 System has experienced declining enrollment since 2004. In this school year the enrollment is about 5% (71 students) down from that peak. This trend is expected to continue and possibly accelerate.
2. Since 2004 staffing levels in the K-8 system have increased.
3. The biggest single increase in the proposed K-8 budget for 2011 (over $500,000) is pay raises for teachers, administrators, and staff.

The K-8 School Committee has a difficult and unwelcome job.

Given the difficult economic situation which has had a real impact on a number of families in Southborough the School Committee needs to deal with the declining enrollments and ever increasing pay packets for public sector workers or:

Say to someone who has been unemployed for a year “I want you to pay more in taxes so we can give raises to school employees.”

Say to someone who has had their hours cut back “Pay more so we can continue to offer a Cadillac benefits package and very low costs to our employees.”

Say to Senior Citizens, who got a 0% Social Security increase this year “We want more of your Social Security check so we can hand out step and lane increases.”

I fear that if the K-8 School committee does this it will threaten the social contract that has permitted us to operate a high quality school system.

Our K-8 system has huge legacy costs, a declining customer base, a powerful union, and emerging competition from leaner, more nimble institutions (charter schools). Sadly, we have seen how a very similar set of facts have played out at Chrysler and GM. Let’s hope the K-8 School committee has more courage and wisdom that GM’s management and that the teachers unions recognize where their long term interest lay.

2 Heather January 12, 2010 at 3:24 PM

Very well said.

3 Neil Rossen January 12, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Before even contemplating any increase in funding it should be noted that the K-8 school committee has not taken a serious look at closing a school despite the following facts:

1. K-8 school enrollments are down about 5% from their peak in 2004.
2. There are empty classrooms in the system
3. Closing a school would have savings that extend beyond the K-8 system. The closed facility would permit the town to consolidate a number of operations taking place in old dilapidated buildings into a reasonably modern structure.
4. The K-8 School Committee has not done a detailed analysis including population forecasts, and what if anything would need to be done to operate a 3 school system.

4 John January 12, 2010 at 12:49 PM

Thank you Al and Neil! It’s nice that someone has the proof that it’s not all doom and gloom as the school department would have us all thinking. As far as population forecasts, they’ve been done before and have overexaggerated school needs.

5 susan January 12, 2010 at 1:55 PM

Al, is the data on enrollment and staffing levels available somewhere? I haven’t seen it.

6 Al Hamilton January 12, 2010 at 3:15 PM

Susan:

The state keeps school population data I have a spreadsheet that is a little old I can provide you. You might also look at http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=02760000&orgtypecode=5&leftNavId=300&

This year (FY 10) the estimate going into the year was that we would be 50 students under the 2004 peak in the K-8 system. The actual number as reported by the K-8 School Committee & Dr. Gobron at the last Advisory meeting was 71.

The state has a population (UMass Miser Model) model that is unfortunately dated but it forecasts a steady drop in k-8 populations in Southborough for the next decade. It tracked pretty close to the 2010 numbers for what it is worth.

I think the point is that, based on the best available data, there will come a day when we might not need 4 schools. I don’t know if that is today or 4 years from today. The K-8 school committee needs to address this in a forthright and public fashion and tell us what has to be done in this eventuality.

7 Nancy Vargas January 12, 2010 at 3:11 PM

Many good points from Al and Neil on the need to update the data on the demand we have, and will continue to have, for K-8 schooling.

However, I must take exception to one comment as a member of the Southborough Historical Commission. “The closed facility would permit the town to consolidate a number of operations taking place in old dilapidated buildings into a reasonably modern structure.” Too often the adjective “old” is followed by “dilapidated” due to habit. Not every old building is by its nature dilapidated, and this is certainly true of many of our town’s older buildings. And if they are suffering from a degree of neglect, it is our neglect and our responsibility. Buildings are supposed to last and serve a community for centuries not decades. Just like our homes, if we do not keep up with maintenance and upkeep on a regular basis, the eventual remedy will be cumbersome and costly. New buildings are not the answer, especially not if the new buildings will be quick and cheap, fulfilling a temporary need and marring the architectural landscape of our town. Likewise, do we continue the pattern of neglect and then tear down those buildings in 20 or 30 years when they prove inadequate?

The solution is to take care of the buildings we have in a regular and faithful manner and to commit to a policy of adaptive reuse. This will allow them to continue to serve our community and add to the historic, picturesque fabric of our town. We must build when ABSOLUTELY necessary and build buildings intended to last for future generations.

Doing anything less is irresponsible and wasteful. The building industry consumes a frighteningly large percentage of all the natural resources expended in our country on an annual basis. Continuing to tear down and rebuild municipal buildings, or any building type for that matter, is an environmentally unsustainable practice that we as a society need to get into our heads is NOT in the best interest of our communities or future generations.

8 Heather January 12, 2010 at 3:28 PM

Well said.

9 Al Hamilton January 12, 2010 at 4:38 PM

Nancy:

I could not agree with you more about the need to properly maintain the facilities we need. I have been lobbying for years to establish and fully fund building maintenance funds. However, maintenance budgets are always the first to be cut. The problem is that in aggregate we have a lot more buildings than we need and as a result they all suffer.

In my opinion, if we were able to consolidate town operations into the unused school building (probably Neary) then we could sell off the Arts Center building, Fayville Hall, Cordaville Hall and probably Station 2. and very comfortably house all those functions in the unused school. The funds we raised from these sales would go a long way to funding the Police Station whether it was new or a renovation.

Make no mistake about it in the current financial climate we are facing layoffs of teachers, firefighters, police and other vital service providers. Continuing our current wasteful occupancy pattern is a sin in my mind. When the choice is teachers of dilapidated buildings I will choose teachers. When the choice is to hold on to these old buildings or pay for aides for senior citizens I will chose the aides. When the choice is to pay $1500 a week to heat the arts center or keep a police officer on the payroll I will choose the officer.

10 John Boiardi January 12, 2010 at 4:34 PM

There are many line items in the school budget that can be cut or reduced (in my opinion) before you resort to the usual scare tactic always mentioned first i.e. cut school teachers. By reducing, eliminating or postponing many of the items that make up the budget that are perpheral to actual teaching, teacher cuts can be reduced if not eliminated. Such budget items as:Administrative technology,Team teachers,Department Chairman,building tecnology(already reduced),Professional development,textbooks,Instructional equipment,instructional software, general supplies,instructional guidence, custodial service,technology maintenance,new equipment over $5000-7300. I realize that teacher salaries are the prime mover of the budget, however; a hard but necessary look at at each line item is required to meet the budget dollars available. Lastly, our laudable goal of keeping the student/ teacher ratio at 20 is fine in normal times. Cannot the ratio be upped to 21,22 ? Will learning fall off a cliff? How many of the current taxpayers attending public schools were in classes of 20? How about 35-40? I realize special education has changed the equation, but can’t we increase class size of non SPED? Necessity will call for cuts in all town budgets otherwise real estate taxes will increase. Keep in mind state taxes are going to increase, health care costs are going to increase, estate taxes are going to increase, cap and trade will cause increase in taxes, two wars and the shakey status of mid east oil supplies could strangle our economy,unemployment etc. etc. Real estate taxes can not be considered by itself when looking at your tax burden.

11 Marnie January 13, 2010 at 6:00 PM

John-

I do need to defend the importance of classroom size, content and quality of the interaction that Southborough teachers in the K-8 program have with their children. I do not think the proposed budget is a “scare tactic” and the reality of the proposed budget is elimination of almost 10 Full time employees/teachers. This is the proposed budget which does not reflect the town’s request for a -3% decline over last year, which by the way if that happens would be a 6% swing and I would say that would translate into >17 Full time teachers removed for budget reasons.

As I understand the impact of the state’s Special Education Circuit Breaker program is a significant budget driver to the tune of $638K vs the contracted salary increasese impact of ~$550K. The proposed budget would eliminate 10 FTE and would drive up class sizes. What is the impact?? Significant…..

“We face a challenging dilemma. Children are entering our school systems with significantly
greater special needs, and these needs are often identified at a very early age. The increased
cost of special education services is seriously compromising regular education programs and
education reform in states throughout the country. We need a solution that addresses the
financial crisis emerging in many districts while at the same time meeting the real and
substantial needs of these children. In addition, we need a solution that does not blame the
children or those working with them and does not pit regular education against special
education.” from Berman et al, “The Rising Costs of Special Education in Massachusetts: Causes and Effects”; http://www.dlc.org/documents/SpecialEd_ch09.pdf

The special needs children have every right to receive a public education and to be part of public school system curriculum and classroom instruction and today they are integrated into the classroom with non special needs children. What you neglect to mention is in a larger classroom you are more likely to alter the special needs ratio per classroom and altering the ratio to fit this year’s budget will have significant impact on the teacher’s ability to adapt lessons plans to meet all levels and to continue to provide quality, impactful and level-focused lesson plans.

This is not my original thought but one I will attribute to my close friend E- have you ever seen a teacher “handling” even a classroom of 20? It is not “easy”, we place so much on our teachers and yet what I read in your post and similar posts that we do not want to reward them for teaching our children math, science, english, social studies, not to mention manners, respect, conduct, collaboration, patience, etc. How is it that we place so much attention and value on our ability as a country to produce high quality education and yet we belittle the value that teachers can provide when it comes down to salary and budgets? Would we be as successful teaching our own children 180 days a year for 8 hours a day, speaking for myself absolutely not. In my opinion, we should pay them better than our Wall Street Executives who provide no real value to our economic system. Truth be told, I am troubled here.

I don’t know if people realize how this can impact their children, my real victory would be for our parents of school-aged children to come to town meeting in April and voice an opinion. That shared voice has been missing for many years. The facts need to be placed on the table and our residents need to determine what will be best for our children, that can be done at Annual Town Meeting on April 12th.

12 Al Hamilton January 14, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Marnie

The obligation to support Special Education is not new. What is new is that the State is providing less “circuit breaker” and other funding to help off set the costs of Special Education even though it raised our taxes last year.

However, the biggest increase in the proposed budget is the $500,000 in raises for public sector workers. Contractual or not let’s not blame special ed kids for our financial difficulties the culprit is skyrocketing labor costs both in terms of wages and benefits. $500k is enough money to keep 7-8 teachers on the payroll (the ones at risk tend to be the least expensive)

The K-8 School Committee can take a number of steps to alleviate this crisis without asking strapped taxpayers for another dime.

1. They can immediately freeze all non union salaries and wages.
2. They can bring their considerable influence to bear to get monies already paid by taxpayers released from town coffers. In particular there is about $3 million dollars gathering dust the Overlay Reserve fund and Stabilization fund. A significant portion of these funds could be used to fill our budget gaps.
3. They can lead the discussion about our fiscal reality with our teachers and their representatives
4. They could recommend that we eliminate the CPA which would increase the funds available for the General Fund (which funds the schools) by several hundred thousand dollars with no tax impact.
5. They could take a serious and detailed look at whether we need 4 schools particularly if we have to lay off a number of teachers. The efforts to date have been a start but far from complete.

I have supported every school budget for the last 10 years and have defended them from raids in forums where the School Committees did not even bother to attend. I could be convinced to support more funding if I thought that the School Committees were doing everything in their power to minimize the impact on taxpayers. But, I do not believe this to be the case.

We have a crisis in education funding and the School Committees need to lead. They can’t meet once a month and stay on top of this crisis. Over the next 4 months the Advisory Committee will meet weekly, the Selectmen will meet weekly. The School Committees need to step up their game and stay ahead of the curve.

I do wholeheartedly support your call to get more people to town meeting whether they agree with me or not.

13 John Boiardi January 14, 2010 at 1:58 PM

I Thought that the school committee goal was 20. Todays Metro west news says the average class ratio is 14.2 to 1 vs. the state average of 13.6 to 1. Your response can only lead to the conclusion that anyone educated in my era (vs. yours) were uneducated because of the class size we lived with. I do not mean to insult you but your response has all the talking points of the NEA.

There are many examples of so called third world countries with out the amenities that our school systems enjoy that educate their children with chaulk boards and dirt floors . These countries produce education and educated people as well as we do without our tricked out, media dependant, fill in the block textbooks. We have to live within our means.

John

14 Matthew Brownell January 15, 2010 at 12:07 AM

Marnie,

I think we all agree that teaching is an invaluable, and sometimes thankless job.

Yet, I have serious issues with public service union employees who – year after year, are granted automatic, non-merit based salary increases. I encourage you to look out at on the economic landscape, and take into account the circumstances under which most people today work – at least those in the private sector.

Many companies, including some very large companies here in Massachusetts -have enforced across-the-board wage **reductions** of 5% – 15% during the last 2 years. They continue to do so in 2010.

At the same time, most private sector employees – those fortunate to have health-care benefits, must cover between 40% and 45% of their fully-loaded family healthcare insurance premiums directly out of their payroll. Though I am not expert at benefits management, this stands in stark contrast to most in Government and public-service unions, where union members either receive their healthcare for “free” (Thank you UAW, IBEW, and SEIU) or on heavily discounted, taxpayer-subsidized platforms that cover 70% – 80% of their healthcare premiums.

That said, I am generally opposed to budget cuts that impact **front-line teachers** Most mysterious is that when local tax revenues dwindle and the waters get shallow – the knee-jerk reaction is to put front-line teachers, firemen, and police in the budget cross-hairs – and wave the imminent threat of cutting positions.

Mr. Boiardi’s post above is incisive, and thought-provoking. Why would we eliminate teachers? Why not look a few more levels up the Management food-chain & pay-scales to see what cuts can be made with County and State career education “officials” and “Administrators”; i.e., 6-figure salary recipients who are not student-facing, and make little or no direct contribution to the education of students?

What other reductions,eliminations, or postponements can be made – as Mr. Boairdi suggests, to capital or operating expenses that are not vital to teaching?

15 Al Hamilton January 15, 2010 at 9:22 AM

Your comments about line service providers being held up for ransom is spot on. When faced with a crisis the knee jerk reaction is to hold the most visible and important part of the operation hostage. “We won’t be able to afford fuel for the plows syndrome”.

No one asks the hard questions like “Can we organize our selves better for more effective service delivery? Can we substitute expensive labor with technology? Can we change the way we have done business for last 30 years and be more effective? Is this really an appropriate function of government?”

This crisis will challenge town managers and leaders as never before. Anyone can manage in good times. We are going to find out who is a manager dedicated to the effective delivery of public services and who is an empty suit.

16 bob a January 12, 2010 at 8:10 PM

The time is now to ask the teachers and ALL town employees to not only forgo raises but take pay cuts.

If you make over $100k per year 10% cut
50k-100k 5%pay cut
less than 50k no pay cut

This will SAVE jobs while we are in this economic crisis.

This is not a hit on town employees. We have high property values because of our great schools, police, fire and municipal employees. I urge the board of selectmen to lead on this issue and save our employees.

The alternative is who are you going to lay off for your raise?

17 Neil Rossen January 14, 2010 at 7:50 AM

In response to Marnie:

Perhaps I’m an odd case but we had class sizes of 40+ students. Teachers and students managed adequately.

Your comment about ‘Wall Street Executives” suggests you may have a party political bias. Your comment that they add no value is ill-informed. The still free economic system, while imperfect, is still the best distributor of resources.

The fact is that there are a number of people who cannot pay higher taxes because of the economy. We cannot have any tax increase in Southborough this year. EVERYONE must make sacrifices.

18 Marnie January 14, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Neil-

I am not sure how “Wall Street Executives and providing little value” implies party political bias nor am I sure why this even matters. Were you around in 2008 when the peak of the greed of our financial systems nearly eroded the country and bankrupted several Nations? This was not one party’s fault but a culmination of what human greed can evolve to given legislation and funding. Why are we even in discussions of budget…

The discussion I was referring to is about the budget in our town and the implications that budget cuts (without a 2 1/2 override/ tax increase) will have on our school system. The school budget has attempted to comply and by meeting the requests they will need to eliminate ~10 full time teachers.

The facts need to be transparent and people and parents of school-aged children in the Town of Sothborough need to speak with their feet at Town Meeting on April 12th.

19 Mimi22 January 14, 2010 at 8:13 AM

First, you cannot compare class sizes when we were children to the demands of our current school system — apples and oranges. Not that I necessarily agree that the current system would seriously suffer with some increase of class size. I would have to see the facts.

Second, why does an opinion on the compensation of Wall Street executives suggest a “party political bias?” I know Republicans and and Democrats alike who see inequity in that situation. I won’t debate the issue here. That is for another time. Not all Republicans agree with each other about EVERYTHING. Likewise for Democrats. Generalization like that are rarely useful in healthy debate.

20 John January 14, 2010 at 8:16 AM

When I was in the Southborough schools, we had well over 30 students per class. I don’t think anyone, including myself, the Fire Chief, and so many more, are any worse because of it. Southborough schools have enjoyed smaller classes for several years. I think that larger classes will do just as well for a few as well.

21 John Boiardi January 14, 2010 at 2:01 PM

A living example that class size does not hurt education.
Great point Chief!

John

22 John Mauro, Jr January 14, 2010 at 4:23 PM

John B.

I did not post the comment which you applied to. If and/or when I reply to posts on such forums, I use my full name.

John Mauro, Jr.

23 Neil Rossen January 14, 2010 at 12:30 PM

Marnie:
Maybe its time to give thought to breaking contracts as I understand other towns have, and taking pay cuts as people in the private sector have had to do. This approach may even save jobs.

Oh, and if “Wall Street Executives” don’t really matter, why did you raise it in the first place?

24 Marnie January 14, 2010 at 7:05 PM

Neil-
The point of raising “wall st” was to draw a comparison to the salaries/bonuses of Wall Street Executives as compared to what we pay teachers. The point was not to make any political statement.

Al does raise interesting points on what we can consider in these budget discussions. I need to collect more information but what I did know is that the k-8 budget has been requested to reduce -3% from last year’s approved budget. What they submitted was a bit over 3% and because of the circuit breaker on SPED and the contracted 3rd year salary increase negoitiated in 2007-8, they would need to eliminate ~10 positions. The question to pose to our town is can we subsidize their request to get them to their 3% (somehow) and a engage in a supplemental discussion with the teacher union to evaluate if they would forgo salary increases to save their colleagues from budget cuts?

Again lots to consider but the bottom line is AN EDUCATED ATTENDANCE AT TOWN MEETING ON APRIL 12th!

25 Mom January 14, 2010 at 1:41 PM

@Neil Rossen: Perhaps I’m an odd case but we had class sizes of 40+ students. Teachers and students managed adequately.
@John: When I was in the Southborough schools, we had well over 30 students per class. I don’t think anyone, including myself, the Fire Chief, and so many more, are any worse because of it.

My husband and I are paying a fortune in taxes to live in Southborough. And it’s not so our kids can receive an average, adequate, or okay education in a classroom of 30+ kids.

Huge class sizes do not work nowadays. Whether it’s because kids are raised differently now, standards are much higher, teachers must teach to the standardized test, a combo of all this and more … who knows, but I’d be willing to bet that my family and many others would move out of Southborough if class sizes swelled. I’d rather live in a town with not-so-great schools and lower taxes/home prices and send my kids to private school with a 12:1 student-teacher ratio.

26 Al Hamilton January 14, 2010 at 3:47 PM

Mom

We are all paying a fortune in taxes and I think that is the point. It was tolerable in good times but now there is real economic hardship that has hit real families in our community.

I have lived in town about 14 years and over that time my taxes have risen about 2.5X and I assure you that I have not gotten 2.5X more service from our govenment.

Part of the reason why we carry a heavy burden is that we have one of the highest debt service ratio’s in the Commonwealth and will for the next 4-5 years. This is primarily the result of our school building programs, which were built for a population that has not materialized.

There are also a lot of wasteful and inefficient practices to be found far and wide in our government. These too have survived in good times and now need hard reexamination.

I don’t want you to move, I want you to participate so we can get some new thinking that will shake up our “business as usual” approach to government.

27 John Boiardi January 14, 2010 at 2:08 PM

We must live in a parallel universe. My advice— move to Weston,Sudbury or Wayland. You can double your taxes and still maintain class size ,which according to the latest statistic, Southborough’s ratio is HIGHER than the state average.
In the meantime seniors have to live within their means.

28 Neil Rossen January 14, 2010 at 2:35 PM

Could not agree more with John. In this country we spend more than most other DEVELOPED countries and get less return for that investment – by far.

29 Neil Rossen January 15, 2010 at 6:43 AM

All posters here should be aware that there is a google group which acts as a Southborough Town discussion forum at at http://groups.google.com/group/southboroughtax?hl=en where town taxpayers exchange ideas. Feel free to join through the site by sending an email via http://groups.google.com/group/southboroughtax/post?hl=en&sendowner=1&_done=%2Fgroup%2Fsouthboroughtax%2Fabout%3Fhl%3Den%26& or directly to me at nmrossen@gmail.com.

30 mike fuce January 28, 2010 at 7:47 PM

Hey, no one mentioned school vouchers so I can send my kids to a private school and the money follows them.

Thanks. Mike

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