School committee wants to add a teacher, town faces $1M budget shortfall

by susan on January 26, 2011

I did a bit of meeting-hopping last night. First it was the K-8 School Committee meeting where members unanimously voted to add $50K to the proposed $17M K-8 budget in the hopes of restoring one of the teaching positions lost last year.

The initial budget Superintendent Charles Gobron presented last night did not call for restoring any of the positions, but the school committee voted to move more aggressively to combat concerns about class size.

“I don’t see things getting that much better next year. We’re looking at two to three years of not getting those teachers back. Why not this year?” committee member Kathleen Polutchko said. “If we go into town meeting assuming we’re not going to restore teaching positions, then when are we going to do it?”

Next it was on to the Board of Selectmen who, along with the Advisory Committee, heard from Finance Director Brian Ballantine that the town is $1.1M short on its budget for next year. “That’s $1.1M that departments have asked for that we don’t have,” Ballantine said.

The town will need to trim the excess to achieve a balanced budget, but that would still mean a property tax increase for next year. If town meeting voters wanted to avoid a property tax increase, a total of $2.5M would need to be trimmed from the current requests.

Most departments have submitted a level-services budget for next year, so cuts would represent a reduction or elimination of current services provided by the town.

“If I was in private business, I would be concerned about the viability of the business,” Selectman John Rooney said of the budget situation.

The town could choose to use all or a portion of the $1.3M that was released after pending telecommunications lawsuits were settled earlier this year, but Ballantine warned that using one-time money to offset the operational deficit would create an “insurmountable issue next year.”

“For the last three years this board has recognized that the well was getting dry. Now we’re there,” Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said.

The K-8 School Committee, Board of Selectmen, and Advisory Committee plan to meet jointly next week to review the school budget. The schools — including K-8, Algonquin, and Assabet — make up more than 65% of Southborough’s total budget.

You can read a more detailed account of both the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen meeting in the Metrowest Daily News.

Southborough school board adds $50K to 2012 budget
Southborough facing $1 million deficit for fiscal 2012

http://www.mysouthborough.com/2010/06/09/lawsuit-settlement-frees-up-serious-cash-for-southborough/
1 Mark January 26, 2011 at 9:35 AM

Can anybody/everybody give me the actual current student:teacher ratio in K-8? I feel like that ratio is a fuzzy number and I’m curious to hear from actual parents of students (ie my 4th grade daughter is in a class of x with y teachers)? Thanks and love the blog.

2 susan January 26, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Mark, at last night’s meeting, Dr. Gobron said the current 4th and 5th grades have the highest class sizes. From the MWDN article, “Neary School Principal Linda Murdock said there are six classes with 24 children and three classes with 23 children in fifth grade.”

Not sure about the other grades.

3 Pat Q January 26, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Susan, the meeting you reference above for next week (joint meeting of School Comm., Advisory and BOS), is that open to public? If so, could you post the date, time and place.

Thanks!

4 susan January 26, 2011 at 2:50 PM

It will be open to the public. I believe it’s going to be Monday at 7:30 at Trottier, but that hasn’t been confirmed. I’ll post the definitive info once I have it.

5 Gail Jenks January 26, 2011 at 4:23 PM

The agenda has just been posted. You are correct – Monday, the 31st, 7:30 pm at Trottier Middle School Library.

6 Mark January 26, 2011 at 10:34 AM

Thank you! That seems like a big number? But it also insinuates that 8th grade is likely closer to 20:1 which seems pretty decent. Anyone know about K? Is that in mid/high teens?

7 What do they do? January 28, 2011 at 7:11 PM

Last year, K seemed to be 20 kids in each class. Our first grader has 20 in his class again this year, so according to my tiny data set, that seems to be holding steady for Class of 2022.

8 djd66 January 26, 2011 at 10:42 AM

Call me crazy,… but what is wrong with 24 kids in a class??? Yeah it would be great to have half that number, but plain and simple – we can not afford it. If there is a budget shortfall – why the heck would they be adding another teacher? People in this town, State and Country must get used to the idea that we can not keep up this insane spending.

9 John Kendall January 26, 2011 at 11:57 AM

If I remember correctly, way back in the day when fire chief John Mauro and I were students at Woodward, classes were larger and I don’t think we suffered because of it. Of course back then we had teachers.

10 Bill January 27, 2011 at 8:49 AM

John – Can you please clarify what you mean when you say “back then we had teachers”? As a parent with children in the town schools, I know that their teachers are some of the hardest working professionals in any industry. Also, with all due respect to you and him, what does Fire Chief John Mauro have to do with this discussion? Thank you.

11 sbodad January 26, 2011 at 4:50 PM

djd66 – I am guessing you’ve never been a teacher or seen what it takes for one person to make sure that 24 9-year-olds are all learning, engaged, and having their individual needs met at one time. It’s very difficult and what happens is that the squeaky wheels get the oil, the middle kids coast and get ignored, and the smart/hyper kids get bored and act out. Not a good scene.

12 Lily S. January 26, 2011 at 9:49 PM

i 100% agree with you sbodad. It is much MUCH easier for not only the students but the teachers when you have a smaller class to focus on each and every kids individual needs, this is why lots of parents would rather have their kids in private school, because they can have more individual teaching

13 Mark January 26, 2011 at 12:42 PM

DJ – As I don’t currently have kids in school system, I’m just trying to get a handle on how to gauge this ‘debate’? So 25:1 is a great ratio, you’re saying? Thank you for your insight; an A for response speed, but a C for tone.

14 Michele January 26, 2011 at 2:03 PM

My oldest son is in kindergarten at Finn and has 20 children in his class. The class also has a full time aide, bringing the ratio to 10:1. I think it’s fabulous and his teacher and aide are both wonderful. I’m not sure why everyone is always so down on teachers these days. There ARE a lot of good educators out there and they don’t get any credit for it.

15 Al Hamilton January 26, 2011 at 6:35 PM

Here is a link so you can compare student teacher ratios with other communities:

http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/Rankings.aspx?state=MA&ind=1624

I believe the standard comparison includes gym, music and special ed teachers in denominator (which I think is fair).

My mom was a teacher (7th grade which I think is the working definition of hell) and she regularly had more than 25 students in class and kept good order. (keeping 4 sons in line was good practice). We need to start thinking differently about class size. Some teachers can do a great job with large classes and some cant manage 15. Those that handle large classes well are more valuable and should be paid better. Those that do a mediocre job with 15 should be shown the door.

We all have teachers we remember who made an impact on our lives, hopefully for good. I certainly do, 40+ years since public school I remember their names. A great teacher is an invaluable asset. Unfortunately union and tenure rules prevent us from properly rewarding these dedicated public servants so we can protect the mediocre.

16 djd66 January 26, 2011 at 11:35 PM

No I’m not a teacher, but I am married to one and my mom was a teacher and I have kids in the schools. Back in my mother’s day – they regularly had 30+ kids in the class. Again, I would love it if my kids had a smaller ratio in the classroom. The simple fact is – WE CAN NOT AFFORD IT! This town (and our country) does not have a revenue problem – we have a spending problem. Not sure how we got here with the public employee unions, but a huge part of our town’s budget is paying for the retirement benefits. I never really understood why a public employee should be able to collect benefits after 20 years of working. (and collect for years and years) The fact of the matter,… I work in the dreaded private sector, I’m going to be working my ass off paying taxes til I’m 70+ so someone can retire at 55 – there is something wrong with that.

The town has a million dollar deficit for 2012 – where is the money going to come from??? We can’t print it, the state is broke too – and we should anticipate less money in local aid from the state – so yeah – we should raise the taxes on the people that are already stretched. NO, the right decision is to be conservative and don’t go spend money we do not have.

17 Neil Rossen January 27, 2011 at 6:35 AM

Until we fix the unions we are going to have this problem. Not confronting these unions which continue to bleed the town (and for that matter, the country) is a mistake. I’m prepared for a propery tax increase to fund legal expenses to do just that. In the absence of that confrontation count me against ANY property tax increase.I agree too with other contributors – we cannot afford smaller class sizes. If you want them, send your kids to a privateschool rather than expect the community to fund your preferences.

18 Mark January 27, 2011 at 12:01 PM

It sounds as if class sizes have been growing recently? ‘Send your kids to private school’ and ‘we can’t afford smaller classes’ sounds like education in Southborough is not a priority. I surely hope that isn’t the case.

19 Al Hamilton January 27, 2011 at 1:13 PM

Lets be clear, our K-8 school population has been steadily declining since a peak in 2004. The best data I have seen suggests that it will continue to decline.

One problem that declining enrollments pose is quantization. You cant divide a teacher so we will continue to see a bigger range of class sizes depending on how many students there are in a class. In the limit you might have 26 students in a class (for example) with 1 teacher it is 26:1 with 2 it is 13:1. Obviously in a world where teachers were free we would all prefer 13:1 but teachers are not free they are quite expensive and becoming more expensive all the time.

We have an unsustainable business model. We simply cannot afford the status quo where public sector employees get job security, 2-4% raises every year, great benefits, and the ability to retire after 20 years with a pension and health care. It is fiscal insanity. We have a lot of fine people working for us and we need to find a way to tell them the truth before we are forced do what GM, Delphi, and Chrysler did to their retirees. The parallels are not that different.

20 Kelly Roney January 29, 2011 at 1:25 AM

I assume by fix you mean destroy.

It mystifies me that so many people hate unions, when large corporations, especially those in financial services, have much more to do with actually bleeding us. There’s much more corporate crime too.

Conservatives usually think that a contract with a business – even a mortgage that the business has serviced fraudulently – is sacrosanct. Yet give them a chance to breach a freely negotiated contract with a union, and they’ll spend money on lawyers to do that.

You’d think people would have enough balance to at least hate both big labor and big business. But no, all that lovely 30-second self-beautification we see on TV has us all loving the Koch brothers and the Scaifes, et al, no matter what Bernie Madoff did. Not including me, of course…

21 wow January 29, 2011 at 1:47 PM

Kelly,

First, if we eliminated the food fight between the left in this discussion (“there’s no problem, we haven’t hit the iceberg yet, and besides our ship is unsinkable because it’s never sunk before”), and the right (we’re screwed and it’s all because of the liberal agenda and unions), I’d be a lot more optimistic about our collectively solving the problems that our town, state, and country are facing.

Second, I think many of us find being taken advantage of by big business or unions to be equally offensive.

Third, there is an unpleasant reality that we all need to deal with. Health care for our town employees as well as funding retirement packages at levels well in excess of what most of us in the private sector can expect is driving most of the increase in our budget.

Two examples:

1. Retiring with a full pension at age 54 may have made some sense when our life expectancy was 65, but today it’s offensive to many of us – no matter how much we like those taking advantage of it.

2. How much do our town employees pay for their health insurance – as employees and in retirement? I don’t know the exact numbers, but have been told it is something well less than the 50 to 75% (with high deductibles) that many of us are paying in the private sector.

Yes, some employees may leave if we address these inequalities and that’s a chance many of us are willing to take. Do you think that we can’t find replacements and that the town won’t be better off even if we have to pay them more today with less deferred compensation that we can conveniently pretend doesn’t cost us anything today?

At the risk of offering something positive (No good deed goes unpunished – right?):

If there is the possibility of closing one of our elementary schools, is there an opportunity to allow a charter school to use it? How great would it be to create an opportunity in town for something like the Advanced Math & Science Academy in Marlborough, and save some money in the process?

Is there a “path” forward to paying our best teachers more, and attracting more of the same, while eliminating those without the ability or motivation? Naïve question I am sure, but unless we understand the path forward to achieve something like that no matter how unlikely it may be, how can we ever achieve it?

If class sizes per “official” teacher are going to increase, is there an opportunity to add assistants/interns at a lower cost to maintain a positive learning environment?
How do we go about bringing our compensation packages more in line with the private sector? Again, if we don’t understand how to do it, how can we ever get it done?

What happens if we don’t address these issues? Does the school committee approve a contract we can’t afford? Will the only alternative be keeping those teachers with the most seniority if we as a community stand up and say we’ll pay no more than last year, or even reduce the school budget?

Peace.

22 Kelly Roney January 30, 2011 at 12:19 AM

many of us find being taken advantage of by big business or unions to be equally offensive.

Glad you agree. That was my point. However, in public discourse, I hardly ever see the attacks on corporations that I see constantly on unions, especially public employee unions. And I don’t try to “balance” the attacks I do see because, frankly, I think it’s wrong to blame organizations that aren’t taking advantage because there are other similar organizations that are.

There’s constant budgetary pressure to increase class sizes because 75% or more of the operating budget for the schools is personnel. That’s where the money goes. Can we acknowledge that retreating to the good old days – my first grade class had 32 kids in it – is not a good idea? Then we can look for the sweet spot.

There are ways to move teachers along to more suitable careers, short of dumping labor contracts for employment at will. I’ve seen it (although in another state). It happens, and it should.

I look back at my own 1-12 schooling (K and pre-K weren’t public waaay back then), and there were clearly some teachers who were better than others. But I don’t actually remember having any who were burnouts, though one flagrantly humiliated little boys (not me). There are some – my sister had one, whose burnout was caused by her son serving in Vietnam – but not nearly as many as the cheap school advocates would lead us to imagine. Mainly the worst teachers were some the coaches, and ironically many of them moved into administration. Anyway, more than enough of my bio…

Merit pay for teachers is contentious. Merit is hard to measure (though that’s not so different from the private sector, where favoritism is just as rife as it would be in the public sector). But even so, the Massachusetts Teachers Association has taken steps toward support of merit pay.

As you can see, I’m not interested in any food fights!

23 John Boiardi February 18, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Kelly,

I don’t understand why you hate large companies that pay employees (sans health & retirement). These are the people that provide the money which we bleed to support the 60% plus portion of the town budget that is gold plating certain services.

24 Kelly Roney February 19, 2011 at 1:33 PM

John, my point was that people despise unions for the misbehavior of other unrelated unions and that they don’t apply that mistaken logic to corporations, even though corruption in corporations is much more common and expensive than corruption in unions.

Is there anything in that point that you could fairly mistake for hatred?

You want to get rid of alleged gold-plating. Show me. Or do you claim that a class size of 20 or 22 is gold-plating?

25 John Boiardi February 19, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Kelly,
Apparently you’ve never heard of Jimmy Hoffa,or the Coal Miners Union, Which corporations do you feel are corrupt? GE, GM, Microsoft, Dell ????? which ones? If you are talking about Madoff like hedge funds that have been robbing us blind I agree.
No, your statement does not qualify as hateful. Hostile or abhorrant might be more appropriate.

26 Kelly Roney February 20, 2011 at 12:31 PM

John, how long ago were those examples of labor corruption? One of them is not even corruption. The United Mine Workers faced incredibly vicious and violent attacks and enforced penury from mining companies. Sometimes they responded in kind to the violence. I blame them for that, but I understand it. The Teamsters under Hoffa – and not just under Hoffa – I won’t defend. But Hoffa’s been dead for 35 years!

What corporations are corrupt? Are you kidding me!? Look around you!

I even mentioned financial services corporations explicitly in my earlier comment. The whole mortgage industry is rife with corruption – Countryside and most other originators, nearly all mortgage servicing companies (since nearly all have used perjury as a foreclosure tool), Wall Street investment banks (many of which falsely sold investments they knew to be junk as AAA), financial rating organizations. This cost the economy trillions of dollars, not to mention the government, which we pay for, even if Goldman Sachs runs it no matter which party is in power.

Remember Enron and Arthur Andersen? The people of California never recovered the billions Enron made from manipulating price and supply of electricity. No one even went to jail over that (and, now again, Angelo Mozilo won’t be charged).

Remember the S&L bailout? Another saga of foolish deregulation gone wrong… That cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars.

All these scandals and many more happened after Jimmy Hoffa was dead.

Your lack of perspective perfectly illustrates what I’m saying.

27 Neil Rossen January 27, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Some here believe the class sizes are just fine and could perhaps be larger. If we thought they were too large obviously we would agree that something should be done. Given our belief that nothing needs to be done in that regard, the option is for the concerned parent to send their child to a private school. Or do you prefer the prospect of raising the property taxes on an unemployed neighbor or someone on fixed income in a tough economy? Clearly if you are comfortable with the latter, and you have a child for which you want them to pay, then your path is clear.

28 Mark January 27, 2011 at 2:13 PM

Smaller class sizes has been proven to increase students’ academic achievement, Why would anyone in their right mind think class sizes could afford to increase from these levels? To appease the retired or unemployed? I’d think most of them would be better off knowing their children or grandchildren were succeeding in a more desirable school system.

29 Al Hamilton January 27, 2011 at 2:53 PM

Mark

I am certain you are right all things being equal smaller class sizes probably lead to improved academic achievement. Lots of other things do too.

Call me old fashion but I think education is too important to be left to educators. I think it is the parents responsibility to see to it that their children are well educated. That means things like:

Turning the TV and Video game off during homework hours
Reading at home
Checking Homework
Having high expectations
Family trips to historic or cultural attractions
Not taking vacations during school
Consequences for poor performance
Making sure your child gets a good nights sleep and breakfast.
Insisting that teachers be shown respect by their children
Meeting with teachers to understand what is going on and nip any problems in the bud.
Backing teachers when they insist on high expectations, challenging them when they don’t.

I would humbly suggest that focusing on these issues will yield better academic performance that a small change in student teacher ratios.

We have a million dollar gap in our budget. Schools are over 70% of our budget. If you want to increase the number of teachers then you clearly are in favor of a pretty substantial tax increase unless you are lobbying for a big cut in teacher salaries and benefits. Nothing wrong with advocating a tax increase, I encourage you to lobby your friends and neighbors towards that end. But, I think you are being cavalier in your attitude towards a significant part of our population that will endure real hardship if you have your way.

30 John Kendall January 27, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Thank you Al!

31 djd66 January 27, 2011 at 3:38 PM

Mark –

All you keep saying is we need to throw more money at our schools. Hell, I think we should have a ratio of 3/1; lets rebuild all of our schools and triple the budget. Its easy to just say spend more, more, more,… But, you have not once come up with anyway to pay for this or how we are going to make up a million dollar budget shortfall.

In my original post, I never said we should cut teachers, I was joust pointing out that we should not be hiring new ones – as this is what the school committee wants to do.

32 John Boiardi February 18, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Mark,

All generalities are false (including this one). Home schooling of 1,2,3….. is better than public school so why not abolish public schools. An education at Fay/St. Marks is the finest so why don’t we each pony up $30,000 per student and abolish public schools. Education does not depend on class size. It depends on the quality of the teachers. Some of my best classes in college had 200 plus. I know the retort to this is,college is not k-12. lets increase the class size and pay the teachers more.
Maybe you could convince me if there were a study not written or paid for by teachers or their unions.

Love your posts Mark

33 Mark February 18, 2011 at 11:39 AM

As I mentioned before things are likely to get worse financially before they get better so I don’t think increasing teachers’ salaries is in the cards anytime soon, but you’ll get your wish of larger class sizes. I’m all for quality, but class size doesn’t mean a thing in early education? Every teacher I know would disagree with that. But let’s not take their word for it. Let’s ask lawyers, doctors and barbers for their input.

34 Al Hamilton February 18, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Mark

Why would you believe that increases in teacher salaries will not happen. Dr. Gobron is in negotiations with the union about the next contract which starts next FY. There is no reason to believe that Dr. Gobron even put a salary freeze on the table let alone is trying to negotiate one. Quite the contrary, he indicated just the opposite that proposing a freeze would not be negotiating in good faith. Even if there were a “freeze” teachers would still get raises due to longevity and what are called steps and lanes.

I like Dr. Gobron but the message that what we give in terms of raises will be taken away from our children in terms of instruction has not sunk in and the School Committees will rubber stamp whatever he negotiates.

Teacher salaries and benefits accounts for about 1/2 of our total budget. There is no way around a reasonable budget that does not include controlling labor costs. This means either no raises or layoffs.

35 Mark February 18, 2011 at 2:40 PM

I believe those are cost of living ‘raises’ right? Or are those performace based raises? It would be great to reward the best teachers and lose the weakest, but I’m not sure if that possible is it?

Anyway, here’s an interesting ny times article about a recent study conducted by a few Harvard, UC Berkeley and Northwestern economists which supports both size of class and quality of teacher.
“Some classes did far better than others. The differences were too big to be explained by randomness. Class size …evidently played some role. Classes with 13 to 17 students did better than classes with 22 to 25”.
“So another cause seemed to be the explanation (of outperformance): teachers. Some are highly effective. Some are not. And the differences can affect students for years to come”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/business/economy/28leonhardt.html?_r=1

Figures 2a, 2b, and 2c in the team’s findings are interesting:

http://obs.rc.fas.harvard.edu/chetty/STAR_slides.pdf

So how about a scaled system while we’re in this downward spiral. Teachers with seniority/success take on a larger class size while the less experienced teachers get the smaller class size – hedging the student’s risk of getting a less-than-desirable teacher as well as a large class. Is this already done?

I feel like getting the best teacher for each grade is like hitting the lottery every year (ie ‘thank goodness, junior got Mrs. X and not Mrs. Y!!! or ‘Oh no you got Mrs Y, my condolences, better luck next year) and maybe if there was some way to balance them out, I’d be willing to roll the dice with my kids’ education year in year out.

36 John Boiardi February 18, 2011 at 2:20 PM

Mark,
Really! The trachers you know wouldn’t agree on increased class size.
I’m shocked!

37 Al Hamilton February 18, 2011 at 3:27 PM

Mark

What is a cost of living raise? How do I get one? Inflation has been so low the last few years that Senior Citizens have not gotten cost of living adjustments. The average private sector wage earner has not gotten a raise in the last 2 years. (Incomes are down which led the Governor to cut (actually reduce) the pay of the legislator by the % that incomes declined in Mass.

There is no such thing as a cost of living raise. There are just raises. Cost of living is just a convenient fig leaf that makes it sound innocuous. By the way Federal workers are not getting cost of living raises this year or next.

A pay freeze means that the gross amount of your pay check does not change or your hourly rate does not change period!

We have a choice, we can pay our teacher more and have fewer teachers or we can pay them the same and preserve our eduction or we can dig a lot deeper into our pockets.

I for one would be more than willing to pay an excellent teacher more to handle a larger class. On the other end we need to help those who are not good teachers find alternative employment.

38 John Boiardi February 19, 2011 at 5:40 PM

Mark,
Again I’m shocked. The comment from the study you quote regarding class size of 13-17 did better was followed by the next sentance “but neither approach came close to explaining the variation in class performance. So another cause seemed to be the explanation-teachers” QED.

39 Mark February 20, 2011 at 7:53 AM

JB – the study shows there are three variable that contributed to students’ future success: 1. Class size, 2. Teacher ‘quality’ and 3. Peer group. SHOCKING conclusions, I know, but some people on this seem to think class size does not matter because of the bogus attitude of ‘when I was I a kid, we had x kids and I turned out fantastic” or ‘my best class was at Ringling Bros University and I had 100s of classmates’. It just sounds so ignorant. Class size matters in early education. And class size is the only current, quantifiable variable we can apparently control unless you have a top secret idea in which we can measure or control teacher quality and peer group? I know which one I can vote for and it will always be smaller classes versus larger early ed classes, no matter what the scale, without a single child currently in the system AND when I’m retired. Trends matter and I don’t know if this chaos about REPLACING one pitiful teaching position is going to attract top teachers or impressive peers but I sense its the beginning of a trend when looking out over the stormy financial horizon. I do know its not going to help class size. I don’t think children are going to suffer if a class size goes from 23 to 25, but its the tip of the iceberg and not a trend I’d support in mitigating the lone risk we can control. if you can explain to me how citizens can control any of these 3 variables, I’m all ears (or eyes). Repeat after me: class size matters…c’mon JB…class size matters.

40 Neil Rossen January 27, 2011 at 3:03 PM

I guess Al that folks will simply vote for more money for THEIR children at everyone’s expense. I’m not sure that rational argument will sway them. Unlike other countries the USA spends more per pupil and gets less. Even that does not sway them. Heavens knows what will. Maybe if they became unemployed, or were on fixed income, or just became acquainted with the facts it would help.

41 Mary Hynes January 27, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Previous generations have always had to fund education for the next generation. I don’t recall such negative discussion about funding for education (particularly by those without children currently in schools) when I was growing up, but perhaps it was there & I was not aware of it.

While my sons are already out of school, I realize my obligation to contribute to the school budget as part of the legacy of my parents and their forebears. Much of the wealth of residents of this town and their ability to fund town services can be directly attributed to their education levels and resulting career income. Although budgets always need to be looked at with an eye toward economy, I believe that the need for sufficiently funding our schools is critical.

42 Al Hamilton January 27, 2011 at 4:50 PM

Mary:

I don’t think anyone on this page is trying to shirk their responsibility for providing a quality education for the children of our community. But what constitutes a quality education and how much we should reasonably pay for it are very legitimate topics. This discussion been going on for as long as there have been public schools.

I grew up in a prosperous suburb of Rochester, NY in the 60’s with a very good public school system. In NY there is a completely separate school administration and completely separate school tax. The school budget was voted on each year by the voters and I recall at least 2 occasions where the voters in my town said no to the school budget and the School Board had to go back to the drawing board and present a reduced budget to the voters where it passed. I don’t recall being denied a good public education because the voters said no. A few things got trimmed but I got good instruction in math, science, English, social studies, and Latin. Most of my classes were on the order of 25+. Of course my parents expected and insisted that I do well.

The taxpayers are being squeezed. Incomes in Mass have fallen in the last 2 years. I think that is part of the source of the aggravation that you hear. Those that just want to continue to operate our government on a status quo basis with ever increasing budgets seem to be insensitive to the economic reality that is being felt by a large part of our community.

For those that want to increase the student teacher ratio, how about spending some time presenting novel and interesting approaches to reducing the unit cost of education. Think about how we can get more education with less money. That is a problem everyone who is working in the private sector has to deal with every day. If we don’t we lose our jobs to our relentless competitors.

43 Mark Ford January 27, 2011 at 4:28 PM

This is a great discussion, and cuts to the heart of the budget debate. And while it is true that the schools will necessarily bear the brunt of budget woes, the points above which cite all municipal employees–with benefits, pension, and health care that bear no resemblance to the private sector–must be addressed. We simply cannot afford this any longer, and we must charge our elected and appointed officials with making significant inroads with upcoming contract negotiations.

I’ve got kids in the school system. My daughter is in one of the larger classrooms (4th grade), and her education is compromised because of it. And we already undertake many of Al’s suggestions…so what’s left? We moved to Southborough principally because it’s a community that has traditionally supported its school system.

Small class sizes lead to better performance. There is no better predictor for real estate value than perceived quality of schools. It’s a fine needle we’ll thread…

Neil comments somewhere in this blog that Detroit has a 62:1 student:teacher ratio. Detroit also has an average property value of $7,500 (I didn’t forget a zero). Our decisions in the upcoming months have ramifications to our lifestyle, quality of town services, and investment in the town. I hope that we can approach our different opinions with respect, and do what’s best for Southborough.

44 Lily s. January 27, 2011 at 5:46 PM

To every who is complaining and whining about the taxes being a bit higher what would you rather have a bit higher taxes and a MUCH better education for our children or a town full of morons?

45 John Kendall January 27, 2011 at 7:21 PM

So what you are saying Lily is that if we pay teachers more, kids become smarter? C’mon…..as for a town full of morons, that’s a pretty rude statement.

46 Lily S. January 27, 2011 at 8:40 PM

john i belive that you miss read my comment i was NOT calling the people of southborough morons. i was saying that if we contributed more we could have smaller classes and more individual teaching for our children. and also were not paying our teachers more we are getting ANOTHER teach.

47 Al Hamilton January 27, 2011 at 7:55 PM

If I believed for a second that a difference in my tax bill of a few hundred dollars was the difference between producing a Rhodes Scholars and a blubbering fools I would happily pay. Clearly I don’t.

I like many others I want us to have a quality school system. I am prepared to pay for that system provided that I believe I am getting value for my money and a fair deal. I regret that I don’t think that is the case.

Like many of my generation who have worked in the private sector I am facing the reality that 70 is the new 65 when it comes to retirement. When I retire the plan I have is how much have you saved, that is what you have. Health care is Medicare and a supplemental plan I pay for.

By contrast public sector workers receive health care for life, a defined benefit pension and a pension that can start at 55.

I am sorry but I don’t think that public sector workers are giving the tax payers a fair deal. They are not sharing in the burdens of globalization and the painful transition that many of us are required to deal with. I don’t see our political leaders dealing with the problem and that is leaving a real bad taste in a lot of peoples mouth including me.

I have a lot of respect for teachers it is hard work. So is being a carpenter, plumber, pharmacist, engineer or microbiologist.

48 Resident January 27, 2011 at 7:48 PM

The reality is that there are residents of this town who can afford and would approve higher taxes to keep or increase the quality of our schools and other services; not just because they have children in the school system, but because they wish to maintain the quality of our community and/or the value of our homes and properties. There are also those residents in our town who simply CANNOT afford an increase in taxes – who are already being forced to choose between paying their taxes and feeding their families. You can and should call the Town House and ask with whom you should speak to get information on how much the defaulting on taxes has increased the past two years. It is shocking.

This is what I think should happen. The schools and town services should be maintained and taxes raised an additional factor to cover a townwide program to aid those who qualify in paying their property taxes. This way those with the means and desire to maintain the quality of our town put their money where their mouths are and maintain the quality of our ENTIRE town, not just the schools. Those with adequate means but who simply begrudge paying their taxes every year learn a lesson in community since they would not be eligible for assistance. Lastly, and most importantly, those without the means apply disreetly for tax aid, perhaps taking on certain evening/weekend “assignments” for the town, thus lowering some of our town’s labor costs and enjoy a short time of relief from high property taxes in an economy that is strangling them.

Why can’t this work?

49 Whoa January 28, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Umm, Resident, I believe that’s called Communism. Seriously.

Let’s not lose our heads here. ;-)

50 Resident February 18, 2011 at 11:40 AM

I think the term “socialism” would be more accurate. But if proposed and accepted at a town meeting I think it would be called “democracy.” :)

51 Pat Q January 27, 2011 at 8:09 PM

A “bit” this year, a “bit” last year, a “bit” next year, a “bit” the year after…….it adds up. It continues to add up while we admittedly have an unsustainable budget in this town. It adds up quickly to people who have lost their jobs, who are taking lesser paying jobs or those doing the work of 2,3, or more people due to private sector job slashing.

I really don’t think that maintaining the current student/teacher ratio is going to produce a town full of morons. I give our teachers more credit than that. I give our
students more credit than that.

I am all for maintaining the high standards of education in this town as I had one
child go through the system and still have one in the system. It is a big reason why
we moved to this town. But, I also don’t think it is all going to fall apart if we don’t add a new teacher and perhaps instead come to the table (like every other department in this town should) with a level-services budget.

Al is right, there seems to be an insensitivity to the economic realities all around us. It’s all right there in the news every day and it isn’t looking to get better any time soon. I really doubt that not adding a teacher at this point in time (not forever, mind you) is going to mean the demise of our long standing excellent school system here in town.

52 John Kendall January 28, 2011 at 1:56 PM

My sentiments exactly. The national debt is at a figure the average person cannot even comprehend, jobs are still being lost, and the economy has been in the toilet since 2008. The last time I checked, there weren’t any money trees at the town hall. Spending has to be controlled now!

53 Mark January 27, 2011 at 8:35 PM

Sounds like a slippery slope here..ignore school’s unanimous vote to simply restore one teaching position, compromise children’s education, deter the more talented teachers from joining the system, depress property values, decreasing assessments with increased housing inventory turnover (read: lost revenue) and then we become a town full of morons. I wonder if I’m already a moron for not understanding why restoring the one position creates such an uproar. Seems like a reasonable request to me.

54 DLD January 28, 2011 at 7:39 AM

There is a slippery slope here, but we’re already near the bottom of it because for years we have been spending money that we don’t have. I agree that supporting our schools has to be a top priority – I have children in our school system too – but we can’t be blind to the financial mess we are in. We have already made commitments to our public employees that we can’t keep and we have many members of our community who are unemployed or living on fixed incomes and simply cannot afford to pay more. Sure it’s just ONE teacher. What’s the big deal? But it’s always just one more thing. We have a $1M shortfall. It has to stop. Southborough has always supported it’s schools. Not ADDING one more teacher this year won’t change that.

55 Al Hamilton January 28, 2011 at 8:01 AM

Mark:

Pat is right. The way that budgeting works in our community is that a 2.5% tax increase is automatically assumed to be passed by Town Meeting. This is the maximum permitted by Prop 2.5. Town Meeting, for better or worse, has never said no so it is a fair assumption.

After the 2.5% tax increase right now we are $1,000,000 sort of funding the requested projects and budgets. Since schools are about 70%+ of our budget that means we are roughly $700,000 short of the money we need to pay for the teachers and staff we already have.

If you want to add a teacher first you have to find the money to pay for the teachers we have (and police, firefighters, librarians etc). $1,000,000 is roughly 3% to 4% tax increase above and beyond the 2.5% permitted under Prop 2.5%

Why is this happening now? It is no secret, State aide will be down. The Stimulus is done. The Fed’s are broke, The State is laboring under a billion dollar short fall. Our labor costs are rising 3-5% per year (wages, benefits and retirement).

The business model is broken. We must address our labor costs (by far the largest component of the budget) and make some hard decisions about what we really want our local government to do.

Like you I want a strong school system in town. If we merrily proceed down the path we are on we fail our children and our community. Hard decisions await. Bonny Phaneuf is right “The well is dry”

56 Pat Q January 28, 2011 at 6:56 AM

Because, Mark, we have a $1M budget shortfall! That’s why it is causing an uproar.
Because we need to cut, not add. Because we should “maintain”, not add. The “well is dry” as Bonnie Phaneuf put it and she is right.

57 Jim Tobin January 28, 2011 at 8:26 AM

Most of us Southborough voters came here in large part due to the educational opportunities for our children. Also, re class size, keep in mind that today’s classes are NOT the same as the ones I attended in the 60s and 70s. Today there are special needs children in the classes, sometime with aides, but nonetheless, this outs a lot more strain on teachers than when I was a child. So, in my opinion, the size of the classes really does matter a great deal. I leave the exact size decision up to the excellent people who run our schools. However, those same wonderful people also have the opportunity to fund the proposed extra position by re-allocating resources in their budget. I recall a discussion last year where someone on a town board or the school committee said that, in effect, the voters are subsidizing after school programs such as flag football at an annual cost of somewhere around $50,000. Now, if the school charged users the actual cost of that non-essential activity (but clearly a good one), the schools could reprogram that $50,000 towards the cost of an additional teacher. That’s a judgment call for the school administrators but voters should tell the school administrators their opinion on this.

Perhaps this is an opportune time to review Southborough’s participation in the Community Preservation Act system that AUTOMATICALLY adds to your tax bill. It seems to me that school class size is far more important than repairing the windows at the Arts Center or spending almost $200,000 for the small triangle of land near the T station. The CPA adds money to our taxes each year.

If we as taxpayers want to fund a project, it should come to town meeting with the full scrutiny that all other warrant articles get. It seems that we don’t pay much attention to CPA articles because the state reimburses a small piece. We could still vote to spend $200,000 for the triangle if the town meeting so decided. Personally, I would like to think we would vote against spending $200,000 for such a project.

Also, this is an excellent time to look at how much town employees and school employees contribute towards their health costs. Governor Patrick has just announced changes at the state level that may save millions and he is suggesting that towns could save money by participating in this. That seems like a good idea.

We should also look at the rate that retirees contribute to their health benefits. ALL town retirees should pay the same rate.

Finally, I hope the Selectmen and the School Committee members are watching these comments because its pretty clear that we do not want to hear about ANY raises you are negotiating in the current negotiations.

58 Mark January 28, 2011 at 2:01 PM

Understood. Restoring one teaching position sounds a bit more like sensible “maintenance” to me, but I guess that’s why we have the meetings.

59 carrie alpert January 28, 2011 at 9:35 PM

I agree with what you have to say Jim and really Mark you have cohesive valid statements that are in the best interests of the entire process of educating our kids. The undercurrent of blood thirst and anger that is being taken out on the kids is offensive–yes, they are the ones who bear the brunt of the horrendous decision making made by adults without their knowledge but they are the ones who will in a few years time be the decision makers.
I just want to ask this, “how many of you who have so many acidic, blood thirsty comments to make in regards to what you think and feel the teachers should be doing and what class size should be have been in your child’s school recently? and i do not mean to pick up or drop off–and when was the last time you just chatted with your child’s teacher with no hidden agenda or motive?”

fine, make the class size 27–keep adding to it make the kids pay off the debt and try and fill up that dry well they did not create. Then, do you know what will happen? All the kids you crammed into the classrooms are going to need mental health services–amazing thing is that we should have more psychologists on hand than we have so they will have to wait even longer to get *those services. Those in the know, know. If you keep taking it out on the educational system, it will come back to haunt you one way or the other.

China is outpacing us at an amazing rate, this year will be the first time they develop more patents than us; they outpace us because they make educating their population job number one. We don’t even make it a job–we argue about it.

60 Al Hamilton January 29, 2011 at 12:07 PM

Carrie:

It looks like a Chinese elementary school teacher makes about $2.00 per hour. http://www.payscale.com/research/CN/Country=China/Hourly_Rate

We could afford a very low student teacher ratio if we could outsource teaching to China. Of course many of us have been dealing with this for the last 2 decades in the private sector.

No, I am not advocating paying our teachers $2.00 per hour but you site Chinese advances and this is in part due to the fact that education cost far less in China. The US spends more per pupil than any other country and, sadly, we are not getting as much productivity as others who spend less and get more.

61 John Boiardi February 19, 2011 at 8:08 AM

Carrie,
You totally miss the point regarding China. Their success is related to parent involvement in education. Go back an read Al Hamiltons post about parental involvement such as no TV,no nintindo etc. Childrens success in school depends on parental involvement. Have you heard about tigar moms? You believe that class size leads to full employment for school psychologists.

62 Kelly Roney February 19, 2011 at 1:48 PM

China isn’t going to work as our educational model. In any case, we seem to argue from our respective imaginations about how Chinese public education works. There’s a long Wikipedia article here. It’s not very cogent, but there are some facts in it that don’t apply to us: China only mandates 9 years of public education, and China runs nearly all of it centrally from Beijing.

I suppose we could solve our town budget problem by pleading with the state to lower compulsory education requirements – hey, freshmen, you’re done! Good luck at McDonald’s. But I don’t think we’re going there.

How best to educate our kids is not a simple matter of picking the place with the best test scores (Hong Kong, Singapore) and doing what they do (although Massachusetts consistently has the best scores or close in America). We also need to make sure to sustain our comparative advantages in innovation and creativity. India has recently tried to move its education away from rote learning, as we did decades ago.

We know that lower class sizes help. How can I say that!? We know that one-on-one tutoring works to remediate learning deficits. But it’s also too expensive.

We also know that learning happens at much higher ratios. We may not like the curriculum, but TV teaches millions. It may teach them falsehoods, but it conveys information at very low expense.

Where’s the sweet spot where learning is best accomplished? I don’t know for sure. I suspect that it’s in lower class sizes, especially in the early grades. I’m pretty sure it varies by topic and student level, too. You can’t workshop writing with 30 students at once. But I sure don’t want a teacher spending half of class time keeping order – that doesn’t help anyone.

Money matters in education as in most activities. If you compare apples to apples (unlike the Heritage Foundation), you’ll almost always find that spending more on education provides better outcomes. Of course, you can’t buy everyone laptops the way Lowell did some years ago and expect magic. You have to have a pedagogical purpose in your expenditure.

At least teachers always have a clear pedagogical purpose.

63 Al Hamilton February 20, 2011 at 1:59 PM

Kelly

I am willing to believe that, all other things being equal, smaller classes lead to more effective teaching. But, all things are not equal.

First, when you compare to China the Chinese get a lot more education for a dollar than we do. (Welcome to globalization). When you pay an elementary teacher $3.00/hr in China you can afford a lot more teachers than when you pay roughly $30-$40/hr. In order to be equivalent a US teacher needs to create 10X the value of his/her Chinese counterpart or the Mantra that Education is the path to a new tomorrow is a lie. I believe that we do a better job of teaching critical and creative thinking but I am skeptical that we do this 10X better than the Chinese. I know we don’t do as good a job at math.

I continue to believe that what happens at home is more important than what happens in class in terms of academic outcomes.

64 Kelly Roney February 20, 2011 at 10:10 PM

Al, what conclusion do you want to draw from lower Chinese wage rates? That we shouldn’t hire more teachers unless their “profit margin” is greater than a Chinese teacher’s? Should we then fire teachers until we reach your asserted 10x factor? That doesn’t make sense.

Actually, Massachusetts does very well at math – no, not 10 times better, whatever that might mean. The United States at large doesn’t, but Massachusetts is a public school success story. We’re getting what we pay for – even if we still want more.

The strongest correlation between demographics and test scores is family income. It is hard for a school to do much about that. Studies of reading habits in the home have had disappointing results. Educators hoped to replicate that in poorer communities – since it’s free – but it didn’t help much.

Parents are free (to the taxpayers). Teachers are not. We have to decide how to supplement home life with teachers, not throw up our hands and just assign the task of education back to mom and dad.

65 Al Hamilton February 21, 2011 at 8:53 AM

I am merely pointing out that the Chinese get more education out of a dollar than we do. Yes, Ma. has a relatively good public school system. I think this is correlated more to socio economic factors than the dollars we spend on public education. Please note that I agreed that all other things being equal lower student teacher ratios probably produce better results.

The challenge is how to pay for a quality education. This is particularly challenging in an environment where the tax base is stagnant or shrinking. This is the case for the real tax base which is the disposable incomes of taxpayers which are shrinking particularly if you recognize that our state taxes have increased significantly.

There are only 2 ways that I can think of that will permit us to maintain a quality schools in the long run. Improving productivity and controlling labor costs. Yes, money is the lifeblood of education and we have to get more for our dollar plain and simple or we will lose the global race. This is as clear as 1+1=2.

66 Pat Q January 29, 2011 at 9:16 AM

Carrie, that is WAY over the top. “Acidic, blood thirsty comments”? Really? Are we
reading the same posts? I really don’t think “we” are taking it out on the education system. I think we are trying to make the town accountable for all the spending and trying to get a handle on a budget that doesn’t work.

“undercurrent of blood thirst and anger” ….really? There is nothing wrong or acidic about the comments or views in this thread. We all pay taxes and most of us have children in the system and yes, I have spent many hours IN the classroom not just picking up and dropping off. And, whenever I chat with my child’s teacher the only “hidden agenda or motive” I have is my child.

67 Pat Q January 29, 2011 at 9:23 AM

need to add: If you mean Carrie that I should chat with the teacher about other
things, I do that to. I am not socially inept. But, let’s not be silly here. When we get our 10 minute slot for parent/teacher conferences….it’s all about my kid, you know, my agenda.

68 Neil Rossen January 29, 2011 at 3:07 PM

Compounding the lack of transparency is what I can make of the initial budget papers. There is no breakdown of teachers pay or benefits on a per capita basis with trend lines and headcounts, etc. So for an ordinary citizen to show up and dissect the budget is a hopeless task. And to what avail in the time that might be allotted for an individual? The numbers should be provided in a meaningful, business oriented format. Together with student/teacher ratios AND performance of students related to those ratios. And how about teacher performance using appropriate metrics?
Or is all this information somewhere else?
Oh, and just in case you’re interested, the initial draft is for a property tax increase of around 8%!! How many businesses in the COUNTRY are suggesting that? Only where there are unions do you have such proposals. Just stick it to the taxpayer.
Same as every year I guess, when the same folks will vote yes to any increase for the schools where THEIR children go irrespective of the requirements of those who are unemployed and those on fixed incomes.

69 Kelly Roney January 29, 2011 at 11:41 PM

Your property taxes are not going to go up by 8%. It would take a Prop 2 1/2 override to make that possible.

The 8% increase is an increase in the tax rate, not in the out-of-pocket amount taxpayers will find on their bills. When valuations go down, the rate goes up to compensate.

70 John Rooney January 29, 2011 at 4:16 PM

There is a common misperception that the way to improve our public schools is to spend more money on them. Study after study after study have firmly established that simply increasing funding for public elementary and secondary education has not led to corresponding improvement in academic achievement. For example, the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Report Card on American Education, a State-by-State Analysis” concluded that “If we continue to spend more money on the existing educational system in an attempt to buy our way to better student achievement, we will condemn another generation of students to mediocrity.” The study showed no correlation between conventional measures of educational inputs (such as expenditures per pupil and teacher salaries) and educational outputs (such as scores on standardized tests). Simply stated, increased funding does not translate into improved achievement.

As further evidence is a report that examines the per-pupil expenditure levels for 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report notes that the highest spending state, Vermont, is rated 30th in SAT scores nationwide. The lowest spending state, Utah, gets higher SAT scores from their students and is ranked 20th above Vermont. Far less money, higher score. The Best State (highest) SAT score comes from Iowa yet their spending of $9,977 per student is right in the middle at 25th and right at the national average of spending. The Worst State SAT score comes from Maine yet it spends the 5th most money in the nation.

The issue of clas size is a red herring and one that organized unions want the town to focus on. The evidence is that there is no correlation between the quality of education and class size. Every state that has studied the question has reached the same conclusion.

So, by way of illustration, if the University of Massachusetts can provide quality education with class sizes of 100-200, why can’t high schools? Is there a distinct difference between the learning ability of a high school senior and a college freshman? Think about it. Teachers and administrators are complaining about class sizes of 30-40 kids. But in virtually any subject, there is introductory and factual material which can be delivered in lecture format and then there is the more difficult and subtle material that requires personal involvement of a teacher and class discussion. So, say a school has a group of 120 students taking a subject and three teachers to teach it – 40 kids per class. Might it not make sense for one teacher to provide introductory material to 100 students in a lecture setting while each of the other two teachers facilitated a discussion group of 10 students?

However, the current thinking of the education elite is to hire three more teachers to bring down class size to 20 students – and that is for just this one group of students in one school. Multiply that situation across the entire state and we’re talking millions of additional tax dollars with little or no improved outcome for students. Reducing class sizes is by far THE most expensive school reform we can engage in, and it might be worth it if it produced results. But the evidence suggests just the opposite. Teacher quality, not quantity, is a better predictor of student performance, and yet the education establishment fights every attempt to reward better teachers.

There is little chance that this type of discussion about education reform will never take place in our town because there is less political risk in continuing to dump more and more money into a broken funding system that rewards the status quo rather than change the system to improve outcomes for students. Yet, as a community, we need to really drill down to the reality and understand the undisputable data. Instead of simply increasing funding for education, we need to have school leaders implement education reforms that improve resource allocation. Resources need to be allocated differently rather than simply increased. The present teacher pay system provides no way to distinguish between a good teacher and a bad teacher. Both can expect the same salary and promotion pattern, regardless of the performance of their students.

Talk and complain all we want about class size and by doing so we widen the smile on the union at the expense of our children. We need to focus on quality and not quantity of education. Financial incentives for teachers result in quality education; adding teachers to reduce class size does not.

71 Mark January 29, 2011 at 7:32 PM

You seem to have done some fine research, but ‘no correlation between quality of education and class size’? I’m not buying that in the least. You mean to tell me that you actually believe an average student today would do the same in a class with 40 students as with 20 students given the same teacher?

72 Kelly Roney January 29, 2011 at 11:54 PM

The SAT is a terrible way to compare state performance in public education. For one thing, taking it is a matter of choice, so the different state cohorts are not easily comparable.

The NAEP and the MCAS are far better measures, and those show Massachusetts as number one in American public education, challenged mostly by other New England states that also spend heavily on education.

Many of those studies you refer to are ideologically tilted and don’t actually measure the effects of marginal expenditures. They arrive at the conclusion they want by lumping large and poor urban districts in with successful suburban districts. Money does in fact help, especially to raise the achievement of middling students who otherwise don’t get enough attention in a classroom.

There are challenges here too – our urban districts, the disproportionate increase in SPED funding, etc. – but Massachusetts is a success story, and Ed Reform – including its funding – has been a big and goal-oriented part of that success, teacher unions and all.

Class sizes of 40? There’s no indication that you’re kidding, but you should be.

73 A note regarding teacher pensions January 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Massachusetts teachers do not pay into the Social Security system. Instead they are required by law to contribute, from their pay, into the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System:
http://www.mass.gov/mtrs/4about/4benefitfund.htm
This is their “pension.” The town of Southborough does not contribute.

74 John Rooney January 29, 2011 at 11:32 PM
75 Mark January 30, 2011 at 10:13 AM

I have access to google thanks. Try ‘Class size matters’ and ‘Early Education is critical’. My fear is that things are only going to get worse before they get better financially here and the future debates will be how many teaching positions should be cut.

76 wow January 30, 2011 at 8:41 PM

The common theme in these articles seems to be not that class size does not matter, but that “teacher quality and instruction methods are far more important.”

My understanding is that as the non SPED piece of the budget is reduced and we need to reduce the number of teachers, we won’t lose the least effective ones, only those with the least seniority.

The end result here seems to be that we will likely lose some of the teachers with the best ability to deal with larger class sizes.

Maybe smaller class sizes in the perfect world in which we can hire and retain the most effective teachers is not a problem. That, unfortunately is not the world we live in.

77 Andrew Zaterka January 30, 2011 at 9:28 AM

A few thoughts on this issue from 22 years of public and private education.
1. A great teacher will produce great results with 20 or 40 kids in a class. They command respect, are always prepared, and push the students with lots of homework and exams. Since we cannot reward the good teachers, or fire the bad ones, our efforts must be on hiring the best that we can.
2. Ask any top student in any grade if they watch Jersey Shore. They don’t. Einstein didn’t need to figure this out: Less TV=better grades. He thought everyone knew this and tackled more difficult subjects.
3.Why do large lecture classes (100 to 200 students) always break up into smaller (10 to 12 students) study units? Smaller classes mean that every student gets involved, more questions are asked, and a better environment is achieved. However, changing from 23 down to 20 students should have no measurable result.
4.China produces great results, in business and education, but wow—not through a system or method that I want for me or my family.

78 Neil Rossen January 30, 2011 at 10:04 AM

Thank you John and Kelly for your informed input. Unfortunately many are not prepared to be swayed by facts or rational argument. The union and leftist propaganda has been effective, and MA and other blue states remain in thrall to those interests. I admit a great degree of discouragement particularly at the counter-trend demonstrated at the mid-term elections. The states that preferred solvency or were on their way to solvency all turned red. Many of the declining remainder turned a deeper blue. Enough said.
As for the 8% potential tax increase, below is copied directly from the Advisory Spreadsheet. Tell me that the draft tax increase is NOT 8%, please.

Value of Average House 2011/2012 $509,800 $509,800
Average tax bill $7,943 $8,564

79 Kelly Roney January 31, 2011 at 12:27 AM

Neil, thanks, I stand corrected. But let me predict that such a budget will never be presented to Town Meeting, much less passed. This is the time of year when Advisory is constantly pushing departments to rationalize their budgets. The departments – like business units in the private sector – all know better than to show up already lean, lest their early efforts lead to more draconian cuts in their budgets.

There’s also the effect of recent draw-downs of the stabilization fund, positive last year but leaving a hole this year. I’m sure stabilization will come up again this year, though this would probably be the last year we could draw it down since it only has $400,000 left in it (I think).

The Nexo site is closed, by the way. Has Advisory found another place to post its documents?

80 Dick Chase January 30, 2011 at 1:47 PM

“if the University of Massachusetts can provide quality education with class sizes of 100-200, why can’t high schools?”

You can’t compare high school with university level education – they are very different beasts. And it’s an even more irrelevant comparison for K-8 education.

The Class Size Debate link is an excellent (and long!) read from a very respectable source. But did you look at the source for that last link? I’m afraid I can’t trust anything that comes from birthers. It’s almost comical that anyone would take that one seriously, so I’ll just assume that you didn’t follow the links through from the PR page on that one. The Heritage foundation and Center for Educational Reform are also pretty agenda driven sources too, but at least they don’t generally make things up. Again that first one is great, thanks for the link!

81 Kelly Roney January 31, 2011 at 12:29 AM

Can’t say I’ve ever read anything from the Heritage Foundation or Edwin Feulner on the subject of education that wasn’t polemic dressed up as a study.

82 John Rooney January 30, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Kelly, You make a number of valid points about the research data, but one thing I think we find universal agreement on is what goes on in the classroom is more important than how many children are involved. I tend to come out on the side that resists the inertia in thinking that class size correlates to academic achievement; instead, I think the focus should be on using our limited resources focusing on improving teacher quality.

You also make valid points concerning the utility of unions. On that I agree. That said, when unions use their power to get covenants and restrictive rules written into collective bargaining agreements, more often than not these restrictions are not focused on the promotion of academic excellence. When contractual provisions make it difficult or impossible to effectively deal with mediocre teachers, they undermine the most important character of student learning: teacher quality.

I think we all agree that we cannot keep pouring money year after year into the school budget abyss. We need a creative model that rewards excellence in teaching while at the same time provides an incentive for our teachers to excel. By expanding the number of teachers to minimize class size seems, at least to me, to increase our spending without regard to teacher quality.

83 Al Hamilton January 30, 2011 at 7:57 PM

I think the bottom line is that we can’t just continue to operate our schools or other parts of our government based on what we have done in the past, that path leads to failure.

Teachers unions are not interested in education, they are interested in protecting the economic status of their members, and they should be that is what they are about. If you think teachers unions care a fig about eduction try bringing in Teach for America teachers or a charter school or fire an incompetent teacher and you will find out.

I don’t fault the teachers unions or other unions for trying to extract the maximum value for their members but even our Democratic President and Democratic Governor are finding it necessary to stand up to the public sector unions. Even they know that maintaining the status quo with every increasing pay packets, and benefits will lead to disaster.

84 John Kendall February 1, 2011 at 8:47 AM

I just read in the Metro West Daily News that the School Department is budgeting for a 4.24% teacher pay increase in the 2012 budget. In light of the current economy, how could anyone even consider this? I’m sure that if you check the private sector, wages are frozen with no increases in sight. The Town has projected a 1.1 million dollar deficit in the upcoming fiscal year. I think the teachers need to step up to the plate this year and give us a break.

85 JIm Tobin January 31, 2011 at 12:37 AM

Its interesting that nobody has asked how much money we could save of we followed the example of other towns in Massachusetts and used a private ambulance company to provide ambulance service instead of the fire department. I’ll bet we could save several hundred thousand dollars per year.

Nobody wants change but maybe its tie we started looking for solutions to the budget problems that will be with us for the rest of my lifetime! Even when the economy rebounds, this is not going to get any better.

Mr Rooney – you seem to be the only Selectman willing to think outside the box and express your opinions on this blog. Have you looked into this?

86 John Mauro, Jr January 31, 2011 at 8:35 AM

That issue is explored every year. Whether you run a private or public ambulance service, there are fixed costs. Those costs are offset by billing each patient for services provided. In order to break even each ambulance has to transport a fixed number of “billable patients”. Private ambulance companies are in business to make money, and no longer provide the service out of the goodness of their heart. Southborough does not have nearly enough billable patient transports to break even. Communities that contract with private ambulance companies that do not provide the break-even number of patient transports are assessed by the contracting service to make up the difference. In larger communities with higher population bases, nursing homes, etc. which provide a large number of patient transports (such as Framingham and Marlborough), this is not an issue, and generally there are $0 bid contracts.

When the ambulance service is run in-house, the on-duty staff is cross-trained – they are both firefighters and EMTs. When a fire call comes in, they respond in an engine, when a call is for the ambulance, they respond in an ambulance. This provides for more effective use of personnel. Private ambulance personnel can only respond to the ambulance calls.

These are the reasons why you see most of the smaller communities providing the ambulance service in-house. The cost difference can be quite dramatic.

87 Al Hamilton January 31, 2011 at 2:03 PM

Kelly et al.

The Advisory website has moved

http://www.southboroughadvisory.com.

88 Kelly Roney January 31, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Thanks, Al.

BTW, the email threads have defective links to embedded documents, at least when I looked, but you can find the files on the resources page.

89 Al Hamilton January 31, 2011 at 9:44 PM

There was a problem with shutterfly a few days ago that did not permit downloading files. That might have been the problem.

90 John Boiardi February 21, 2011 at 2:44 PM

Kelly,

You are correct about corruption. There was/is with business and ther was/is with unions, however old the references are..

91 Kelly Roney February 21, 2011 at 8:10 PM

Indeed. I think we can both be for accountability for the guilty.

92 John Boiardi February 21, 2011 at 3:08 PM

Mark,
I guess anyone who doesn’t agree with your position is either a moron or ignorant. Class size is a factor but the study you cherry picked concluded that the determanent of education success is the teacher, not class size. Now on a a real world level lets talk about the school budget. The police,fire,and DPW budgets are being cut again. They were cut last year also while the school budget increased. We will be receiving less town services. The Police chief can’t accomodate requests for coverage because of budget restraints. The fire chief can not provide important training because of the budget. When the snow leaves the DPW will be limited on road necessary road repairs. The town of Northboro spends 60 % of their total budget on schools while Southboro spends 68 %. Northboro does receive more state aid but it does not cover or explain the significant difference. Northboro presents a school budget were they cut the budget. Southboro on the other hand raises the school budget. We in Southboro end up subsidizind Northboro. What are we talking about? A class size of 20 versus a class size of 25 which will keep expenses in line. Will education fall off a cliff if we go to a slightly larger class siz?
Mark, repeat after me “no new taxes”

93 Mark February 22, 2011 at 10:29 AM

JB – are you saying class size does matter? Sorry thought you were saying class size didn’t matter.

94 John Boiardi February 22, 2011 at 1:29 PM

Mark The teacher is more important than the class size.

95 Mark February 23, 2011 at 7:12 PM

And how should we measure a teacher’s ability?

96 carrie alpert February 23, 2011 at 8:43 PM

John, repeat after me–“if you raise class size to 25 there will be an uprising and a mass exodus”

97 Mark February 23, 2011 at 9:59 PM

Brilliant!!! Then you’d have more desirable classrooms by shrinking the size!! I like your thinking! Now the question is private school or moving to another town. How do you prefer your exodus?

98 carrie alpert February 24, 2011 at 9:57 AM

Mark,
my house would not last on the market a week, so that is not of a concern to me– where i reside is not as much of a focus as my kids education. You go around once and with my token i am going on all the rides. If we cannot come up with a solution other than raising class size then the cards will fall where they may and things will spiral from there.

99 carrie alpert February 23, 2011 at 9:30 AM

i think what is missing from the entire discussion is parental involvement-where is everyone? of course everyone is working, trying to keep afloat but if the schools are going to survive we are going to have to get creative, how many posts have i said *that? Perhaps what should change is that in the K-5 grades parental involvement in the classrooms is mandatory–you can choose from a list of what interests you: perhaps your specialty is carpentry or you are an artist–great! If on the other hand you are a whizz with math then you can apply your skills in that area. Fantastic! JUST DO IT
with the “new economy” mainstream has to start thinking like, well, they have to start thinking like i think–more of a co-op attitude towards education. It is OUR SYSTEM not some other persons it is ours.

before you reply give it some thought: if you have a child who is in K-5 (i only said K-5 as a baseline) do you really not have 8-10 hours per calendar year for the school? is that so much of a sacrifice to make our school system better?

be the change you want to be

Previous post:

Next post: