Gobron: Reducing budget by 1% would result in loss of up to 11 teachers

by susan on December 16, 2011

At the request of town officials, Superintendent Charles Gobron this week outlined how a 1% budget cut would impact Southborough schools. In a presentation to the K-8 School Committee, Gobron said the reduction could mean the loss of as many as 11 teaching positions.

In his presentation, Gobron acknowledged the “real fiscal constraints” facing the town. “The schools realize everything we want to have is not possible,” he said.

Last year voters approved a K-8 budget that was a 2% increase over the previous year. Assuming operational costs increase at a similar rate this year, and factoring in a 1% across-the-board cut, Gobron said the school system would have to eliminate more than $500K from its budget, or the equivalent of about ten teachers.

The district also faces the loss of more than $200K in federal stimulus money that currently funds one special education teacher and five support positions. Gobron said he is hopeful some or all of the one-time money would be covered by an anticipated increase in state circuit breaker funding, but he said it was too soon to know for sure.

Gobron told the school committee his calculations represent a “worst-case scenario,” and that if teaching positions were lost, they would not necessarily be classroom teachers.

“We can look to cut pencils and books, but we would need to cut a lot of pencils to cut ($500K) from our budget,” School Committee Chairperson Marybeth Strickland said. “We’re predominately a resource-based budget.”

School committee members said eliminating teachers would increase class sizes and threaten programming like art and physical education. It would also be a morale hit, they said.

“Teachers find it difficult to work in an environment where the community doesn’t support education,” School Committee member Susan Dargan said.

The Advisory Committee and Board of Selectmen asked all town departments, including the schools, to prepare a -1% budget, a level that approximates no increase for taxpayers.

“It doesn’t mean (the 1% reduced budget) is the budget you’re going to end up with,” Advisory Committee member John Butler told the school committee last month. “We are asking you to tell us what the impact would be.”

A preliminary budget will be presented at next month’s school committee meeting. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for March.

1 Southside Gadsden Flyer December 16, 2011 at 2:55 PM

Really now? 1% would amount to 11 jobs? Call me skeptical…

2 susan December 16, 2011 at 3:06 PM

Gobron was assuming an operational increase of 2% over last year’s budget. Eliminate that 2% increase ($337K), and then reduce by another 1% ($168K), and you have the equivalent of 10 teachers, according to his numbers. The eleventh position comes from the loss of $213K in one-time stimulus money, which may or may not be covered by a projected increase in state funding.

3 trying to make sense December 16, 2011 at 3:14 PM

If we go with the figures that say the K-8 average teacher salary is $71,258, that would be approx 7 teachers, not 10. However, the truth is that if there are any cuts to teachers, it would be the newer teachers who make less than the average $71K, not the ones who make more and are not necessarily better.

4 Status Quo December 16, 2011 at 4:26 PM

Must be using the new math. It comes with a book full of scare tactics.

5 John Boiardi December 16, 2011 at 6:43 PM

1 percent equals 11 teachers, 10 percent would equal 110 teachers. How many teachers do we have? Higher than 10 percent would require us to start laying of students. Whenever you talk about cutting the school budget the first thing that the SC and the administration offers is to “cut” teachers. Apparently the entire school budget is 100 % teacher salaries.

6 Frank Crowell December 16, 2011 at 4:43 PM

“Teachers find it difficult to work in an environment where the community doesn’t support education,” School Committee member Susan Dargan said.



This tax payer finds it increasingly difficult to fully trust what the BOE is saying and doing in particular when a respected member off the community and an elected member of the BOS is treated they way he was at the meeting the other night. As I read the comments on this board, I am not alone. Maybe Ms. Dargan can be the leader we are looking for and bridge the gap.


7 John December 17, 2011 at 4:56 PM

Frank,

Susan misses the point. The town doesn’t support the school committee.

8 Townie December 16, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Im seeing it COULD mean the loss of 11 teachers and it is the EQUIVALENT of about ten teachers. Mr. Gobron keeps talking about loss of teachers….no one ever said to cut teachers. Find somewhere else to cut money. Taking a lot from a little is the EQUIVALENT of taking a little from a lot.

9 C. Nicholas Ellis December 16, 2011 at 6:29 PM

My biggest question is what is the difference between a “teacher” and a “classroom teacher?” Along that line, could this account for the discrepancy between the state’s numbers and the school committee’s?

One last comment:
Mrs. Dargan needs to learn the difference between not supporting education, and not supporting an unsustainable business model. These types of comments cloud the issues, and have no relevance to the matters being discussed. It’s called a “red herring,” for those unfamiliar with the tactic. Teacher (and student, for that matter) morale is one thing, and I’ve no doubt it would be affected negatively if the schools were forced to lay off teachers. However, that has nothing to do with this town’s support – or lack thereof – of education. I think you’d be hard pressed to find even a dozen people in this town that don’t support education.

All that aside, I must commend Dr. Gobron for taking the necessary time and effort to do as was requested by our town officials – i.e. draft a budget with a 1% reduction, and report on the effects. It’s nice to know there are those in the school system who understand our plight, take our concerns seriously, and respond appropriately. Personally, I’m deeply curious as to what precisely would be affected. I wonder if this draft budget is (or can be made) public? It would be worth looking over, if only for curiosity’s sake (what can I say, I love to read.)

10 John Boiardi December 17, 2011 at 7:18 AM

Mr Ellis ,

The difference between”classroom teachers” and “teachers” is that art,gym and music teachers aren’t assigned a classroom but float between rooms and schools. Using classroom teachers (rater than the total number of teachers) inflates the student teacher ratio.

11 JC December 16, 2011 at 8:09 PM

No cuts to the school budget PERIOD. Times are tough, but not tough enough to take it out on our kids. We will stop this.

12 Karen December 16, 2011 at 9:20 PM

I find these kinds of comments disturbing. Residents expecting fiscal responsibility from our school system should not be made feel that they are being unreasonable, or are anti-education. And just who are “we”?

13 Karen December 16, 2011 at 9:32 PM

“made to feel”

14 Frank Crowell December 17, 2011 at 11:17 AM

Who are the “we?” That would be the rah-rah section that showed up to TM last spring.

15 Let's all Make Smart Choices December 16, 2011 at 9:51 PM

Please JC, lets get the answers to the questions before we draw a line in the sand. It is SMART to know that throwing money at something is not the equivalent of value.
It is STUPID to do the opposite.
There are statistics that show that other communities get the same or better return on their investment than we do. That bears investigation. Let’s do that and see what the results are, remaining ever hopeful that everyone is honest and forthcoming as to real budgetary needs and forecasts.

16 John Butler December 16, 2011 at 10:00 PM

JC
While I always like to see people getting organized to get their voices heard at Town Meeting, to be clear, there is nothing to stop, at this point. Advisory Committee took the position that we need to understand in detail the justification to be presented to voters for any proposed tax increases. We didn’t feel that it was fair to voters who might ask, “Why are we being asked to raise our taxes?” that we reply “We don’t know, because we didn’t ask.” Minus 1% across the board, schools and town, is approximately the “no tax increase” level and was the basis of our request for information. Dr. Gobron’s reply the other night was the beginning of an answer, but more review will be needed. At this point no group has any recommendation, neither the School Committee, nor any other Committee We are just gathering information and are at the beginning of the process.

Mr. Ellis
I too was pleased to see that Dr. Gobron had quickly begun to assess the impact as we asked. I think he would agree that the information he gave us was of a very preliminary nature. It was not based on a draft budget, at least not yet, but rather on an assumption that the same increase that was needed last year would be needed this year, and that no cuts could come from non-salary areas. That’s a place to start. There will be a lot more work to do. If you are interested in tracking it in detail over the next few months, there will develop a lot of information on the Advisory Committee web site which can be found at http://www.southboroughadvisory.com

17 Neil Rossen December 16, 2011 at 10:31 PM

Simply reduce pay and keep teachers. Businesses are faced with this all the time. If the unseemly increases previously were rolled back would it make a difference?
Oh, I forgot, we can always soak the taxpayers?
Give us a break please. JC’s comments are unhelpful. What about those on fixed incomes. Just suffer? No sacrifice from teachers? Please!

18 JD December 17, 2011 at 9:43 PM

What are other school districts similar to ours doing? Are they reducing teacher salaries? Cutting teachers? Cutting classroom teachers? Finding other areas to cut?

My initial fear about reducing teacher salaries is if no other district is taking that step, our best teachers will flee for other districts. My company froze raises for a year or two – I know others did, also. Also stopped using as many contractors/freelancers, etc. But I don’t know of any companies (only speaking for the ones that my relatives and friends work at) that have actually cut salaried workers’ pay.

19 Kelly Roney December 19, 2011 at 3:43 PM

I assume that Mr. Rossen values legally enforced contracts and therefore wants to start renegotiation with the teachers and their union, looking for give-backs. Failing that, these salaries are contracted and cannot legally be reduced by the schools or the town.

That might well have the effect you fear, JD.

20 John Kendall December 17, 2011 at 8:53 AM

I always remind myself that I attended Southborough schools, as did my wife and children. Sometimes the classrooms were crowded, other times not. I think we all came out of the system well educated because of teachers such as Mr. McGinn, Mr. Chernewski, Mr. Langelier, and Mr. Gobron. The strength was in the ability of the teacher as an educator. While I respect Mr. Gobron’s efforts to preserve what the school system has, I am, quite frankly, tired of hearing “the sky is falling”. I understand the needs of a good education, but at the same time, the rest of the town suffers at the expense of our school system. The near autonomy of our schools has put all other departments in a stranglehold. While I don’t fully understand all of the education reform rules and regulations, it really has come time to give the taxpayers some clout as to how they spend their tax dollars. We have other departments that run at bare bones and truly can’t afford to be cut anymore. What funds we have to run the town are limited, and it is time ALL departments are forced to live within the means of the budget. While I am positive that my words will stir the ire of some, we need to get back to fiscal reality.

21 John Butler December 17, 2011 at 12:01 PM

John,
Taxpayers can have 100% “clout” as you describe, if they become Town Meeting voters. That’s all it takes. Show up and vote. If your views have a majority or nearly so, do not fear that you will be shouted down. Your views will prevail if you are the majority at Town Meeting.
Within any range that the Town could sensibly adopt, there are no regulations that would restrict the action of Town Meeting. Last year, for example, the Selectmen’s proposal for the K8 schools was about $550,000 lower than the School Committees request. Had Town Meeting voted for that that would be the budget today.
JC implies she wants to organize to support an, as yet undeveloped, school request. If you want to organize to project your views, more power to you. Even though I have been a strong supporter of the schools, I think the Town would be better governed overall if the debates here were reflected in an approximate balance at Town Meeting and with much more participation by all viewpoints.

22 John Rooney December 17, 2011 at 12:53 PM

JC,

Maintaining high quality education for our children is the objective. Goading others with such comments could likely cause opposition to school funding for reasons wholly unrelated and ignorant of that objective.

Think before you speak. Look both ways before you cross the street. Haste makes waste. Measure twice, cut once. Countless maxims underscore a simple truth: action which precedes deliberation is both dangerous and potentially catastrophic.

23 Mark December 17, 2011 at 9:11 PM

He said it was ‘worst case scenario’ but I don’t understand why we’d put our children’s education in any scenario that risks their quality of education in the least. After the uprising the Shrewsbury comparison created, I’m surprised anyone would even consider weakening our education system. I’m not sure if its irony or ignorance or indifference but its definately perplexing.

24 Neil Rossen December 18, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Mark, why does spending less necessarily mean weakening our education system?We don’t know what more money is buying. Is it better education-and if so how is it measured- or is it simply caving to teachers and their union demands.? That’s what this is about. I contend that the school committee appears to act on behalf of the teachers and unions and not on behalf of the taxpayers. I wait to be disabused of that notion.

25 Mark December 18, 2011 at 9:28 AM

Spending less on education is not likely to narrow the gap between shrewsbury and southborough. That’s all I’m saying. Pick your battle; should we focus on narrowing that gap or worry about it down the road. Spending less is not a catalyst to narrow it but could widen it so why the risk at such a critical time?

26 Neil Rossen December 18, 2011 at 2:49 PM

Mark, it’s simple. We are tired of higher taxes and no objective measures of what we get for it. No doubt, at Town Meeting, we will have Gobron shouting (as he does) for more money or the roof will fall in. His cheering gallery will drown others out. I’m tired of it and so are others. More money needs justification not just supporters who believe everything he and the school committe say.

27 Good December 18, 2011 at 4:28 PM

Mark, I think you are missing the point, which is that Shrewsbury’s numbers appear to prove that better education can be provided for less than we, the taxpayers of Southborough, are currently paying. So why do we keep increasing spending on our schools each and every year? You’re presuming that the system stays as it is and, yes, it would then follow that decreasing spending cannot improve our educational system. But many of us, including Mr. Rooney, are suggesting that we, as a town, need to take a look at where the money is going and see if we can do MORE with the same or less, as it appears Shrewsbury has been able to do. In this way it might actually be possible to “close the gap,” as you put it, AND spend less or, at the very least, not continue to spend more year after year. The potential is a win-win; BETTER education for our children AND lower costs for the taxpayers.
Why would anyone – beside those who don’t want to be held accountable, maybe change their management strategy or rock the financial boat – object to that? This doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Why is the School Board making it one? I think a solid taxpayer showing at the next school board meeting is in order.

28 John Boiardi December 18, 2011 at 8:21 PM

Mark,
Spending more than Shrewsbury certainly didn’t narrow the gap.

29 Mark December 19, 2011 at 6:30 AM

Do more with less sounds like a great strategy. Just think the risk is too high and the subject too important. I don’t think there’s a button to switch to make any school system more efficient overnight and to cut or alienate teachers at this point has more downside risks than upside if you have children in the system. First you need to prove that you can be efficient with what you have, then maybe cuts make sense. But now? Seems a bit too delicate, but I don’t even have kids in system so I’d greatly appreciate the tax relief.

30 Carl December 19, 2011 at 8:11 AM

My children are no longer in the system either but this attack really needs to calm down. Really, is it the teachers or is it the union many of you can’t see past? It’s a shame that it has become an ‘if I can’t have (insert item), then you shouldn’t either.’ It makes me sad that we’ve become such a contentious society.

31 Frank Crowell December 19, 2011 at 10:18 AM

Call it what you will, but the calming down occurs when the good questions by Mr Rooney are answered and he is treated with the respect he deserves by the BOE. Right now all we have are negotiation tactics and “please do not surprise us with the facts.”

32 SB Resident December 19, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Carl, I don’t think I saw a single post about the teachers that people “can’t see past”. Everyone here loves and respects most of the teachers in the district.

You are right that ultimately this is 100% about the union and the school committee who always seems to cave to their demands. Try getting a teaching job, you can’t. Everyone wants to be one. Its a great job; you get to work with kids and make a difference in lives, you get to work on your kids’ schedule, you get a work year that is 85% of a normal work year, you can’t get fired, so you have job security even during recessions, you get guaranteed pay raises, the list goes on. When there is such an imbalance in supply and demand you know you can financially do better.

Budget aside, what gets me is that it doesn’t make sense that the school committee just caves to the teachers. I get the always wanting more money for the schools, but to then just throw it at pay raises is a waste. The schools would be better off if the school committee always fought the union and pushed for more teachers and better supplies. The past couple years were especially conducive to this tactic. The rah-rah school people would have still succeeded and up’d the budget and the union would have easily conceded more considering the times. Getting the most for our money is the goal, not just freely throwing the money to Gobron.

33 Annie December 20, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Carl,
I agree 100% people need to take a breathe and calm down. We are a good town for a reason, our schools and our exceptional community residents. Its sad that people because yes I have seen it in this post and many others the countless attacks on teachers and its just sad. Cant we all just step back for a moment and enjoy our lives and our towns privileges?

34 Al Hamilton December 19, 2011 at 1:06 PM

The underlying reality of our school budget is summarized in 2 sets of data.

1. Our K-8 school population is declining. It reached its peak in 2006 and we are about 200 students below that peak now. We are now seeing our K-8 school population decline on the order of 50 students per year. This is a population decline of about 3% per year. The most recent census data indicates that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

2. From FY 04 to FY 10 average teacher salaries increased from $51,848 to $71,258. That is a compound annual growth rate of 5.4% per year. More recently (FY 06 to FY 10) that rate has increased to 7.4%. http://finance1.doe.mass.edu/schfin/statistics/salary.aspx?ID=276

School labor costs are the single biggest expense in the town budget. They dwarf all other costs. School Salaries (k-8 and Algonquin) account for about 1/2 of the total budget.

So, all other things being equal we might reasonably expect that our K-8 budget should decline by 3% per year given that we are educating few children in our K-8 system. However, due to some very bad labor negotiations on the part of several superintendents, we will be asked to pay more and more for less and less.

35 earl December 19, 2011 at 1:35 PM

Are MCAS results the best way to measure results?

Boston Magazine which ranks schools annually in the greater Boston area must be including more than MCAS results in their studies in which our schools have placed very highly (8th in 2011).

http://www.bostonmagazine.com/best-schools-in-boston/index.html

We spend 10% less ($1,551) per pupil ($13,695) than the average of the schools ranked in the top 15 ($15,246).

And, we spend only 4% more ($585) per pupil than Acton-Boxborough at #15, which spends the least at $13,110).

Top 15:
#1 Dover-Sherborn ($15,901 per pupil));
#2 Concord-Carlisle, ($18,872 per pupil);
#3 Weston, ($18,591 per pupil);
#4 Lincoln-Sudbury, ($16,324 per pupil);
#5 Lexington, ($15,862 per pupil);
#6 Manchester Essex, ($13,582 per pupil);
#7 Wayland, ($15,219 per pupil);
#8 Northborough-Southborough, ($13,695 per pupil);
#9 Hamilton-Wenham, ($14,283 per pupil);
#10 Sharon, ($13,932 per pupil);
#11 Wellesley, ($15,392 per pupil);
#12 Newton, ($16,597 per pupil);
#13 Cohasset, ($13,520 per pupil);
#14 Westwood, ($13,814 per pupil);
#15 Acton-Boxborough, ($13,110 per pupil).

36 C. Nicholas Ellis December 19, 2011 at 4:01 PM

If you feel MCAS scores are not a valid measurement, how about SAT scores? From that same article, we lose out to Acton-Boxborough in Reading (610 vs. 556, or -54), Writing (610 vs. 562, or 48), and Math (642 vs. 576, or -66). In fact, we lose out to every school in the top 15 – in every SAT category – except Cohasset (547, 556, 561). If we’re not achieving in MCAS scores, and we’re not achieving in SAT scores, just where are we achieving to give us the dubious honor of being #8 in Boston’s Best Public Schools? I honestly have to wonder what criteria were used to create this list, as they don’t give any details on what data was collected (except for what is directly presented in the tables), nor how it was used to ranked the schools – if at all. I have to further wonder where Shrewsbury would fall, being that they are absent this list (I guess they’re too far away from Boston to make the cut). For that matter, do we even want a magazine article to be the deciding judgment on how well our schools are performing, especially in comparison to things that actually matter in real life (MCAS and SAT scores, for example?)

37 John Boiardi December 19, 2011 at 6:51 PM

Mr Ellis ,

Excellent point re SAT scores. Let’s see if someone demeans SAT along with MCAS.
Apparently, the school budget is the only budget that can not be trimmed. We can reduce thr fire department staffing from 4 to 3, we can cut the number of police per shift or patrol, we can stop trimming trees and only plow or maintain roads leading to schools. Let’s give all the money to the schools and sing “cumbya”.

38 C. Nicholas Ellis December 20, 2011 at 12:57 AM

I should note that I do not hold standardized test scores as the ultimate qualification of a proper education. However, unless something drastic has changed in the last decade or so, I believe they are both used as a measuring tool – among other factors – for college entrance. Granted, high school itself does little to prepare one for the unique environments and challenges found in college (both education-related and otherwise), let alone life itself, but that’s a different matter entirely. Frankly, while it’s all well and good to argue the merits of test scores, or what actually constitutes an “education” in today’s society, it really is a wholly different tangent than the one we need to be focusing on for the moment – in my humble opinion. Of course, I’m sure it would no doubt be a fascinating debate, filled with just as varied viewpoints as any other topic, but for the moment I’m content to find answers to the questions Mr. Rooney posed and work outward from there. I merely presented the point to those who insist that more = more, and less = less. The truth of the matter, I’m sure we’ll find, is far more complex than kindergarten-level arithmetic.

39 Kelly Roney December 19, 2011 at 4:51 PM

Scores are compared on the Boston Magazine site.

The rankings appear to be cumulative across the two pages, as they’re the same on both. I’m not sure of the methodology – “weighted average” hides essentially everything other than what the inputs were. The magazine only defends it by an argument from authority, “our expert is so-and-so”.

Shrewsbury is not on the list. Maybe it’s not close enough to Boston.

One observation: Since our schools are rated very highly, I’d ask whether Shrewsbury happens to be the most successful less expensive district. Have we picked the cherry in the data to talk about? What’s the mean performance of reasonably comparable school districts that spend at Shrewsbury’s rough level, say plus or minus 5%?

40 earl December 19, 2011 at 5:43 PM

32 schools on the Boston Magazine list spend between $10,036 and $11,092 per pupil (+- 5% from the $10,564 that Shrewsbury spends).

For the 32 systems spending in that range:

o The highest ranking school in was Medfield at #17 spending $10,741.
o 25% of the list was ranked between #49 and #17
o 25% of the list ranked between #68 and #52
o 25% of the list ranked between #100 and #74
o 25% of the list ranked between #126 and #102

The 32 towns spending plus or minus Shrewsbury’s $10,564:

#17 Medfield ($10,741 per pupil)
#26 Westford ($10,697 per pupil)
#27 Duxbury ($11,084 per pupil)
#33 Medway ($10,964 per pupil)
#34 Lynnfield ($11,033 per pupil)
#39 Hingham ($10,982 per pupil)
#41 Ipswich ($10,902 per pupil)
#49 Hanover ($10,561 per pupil)
#52 Reading Memorial ($10,749 per pupil)
#58 Freetown-Lakeville ($10,920 per pupil)
#60 Scituate ($10,992 per pupil)
#62 Pentucket ($10,751 per pupil)
#65 Marshfield ($10,054 per pupil)
#66 Franklin ($10,326 per pupil)
#67 Easton ($10,201 per pupil)
#68 Millis ($10,391 per pupil)
#74 Braintree ($10,927 per pupil)
#77 Chelmsford ($10,550 per pupil)
#78 Dartmouth ($10,703 per pupil)
#86 Norton ($10,932 per pupil)
#88 Winthrop ($11,089 per pupil)
#94 Melrose ($10,493 per pupil)
#97 Whitman-Hanson Regional ($10,204 per pupil)
#100 Swansea ($10,586 per pupil)
#102 Dighton-Rehoboth ($10,416 per pupil)
#103 Abington ($10,247 per pupil)
#104 Tewksbury ($10,926 per pupil)
#109 Westport ($10,594 per pupil)
#114 Bellingham ($10,656 per pupil)
#116 Methuen ($10,912 per pupil)
#124 Bridgewater-Raynham ($10,525 per pupil)
#126 Taunton ($10,828 per pupil)

41 Kelly Roney December 19, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Thank you!

So, in this sample, Shrewsbury would be an outlier and thus a poor argument that lower spending is associated with better outcomes.

42 C. Nicholas Ellis December 20, 2011 at 12:44 AM

It would be naive for anyone to take a hardline stance that spending less = better education, as much as it is to say spending more = better education. Many of us here seek answers to the questions Mr. Rooney has posed – and, perhaps more, depending on the answers given. From there we seek to find a balance between the school’s budget and the town’s budget, without sacrificing the education of the town’s children – despite what some might have you believe. Anyone who thinks this is about cutting education doesn’t understand the argument nor the issues, plain and simple.

If anything, Kelly, we’ve provided multiple examples that prove – if nothing else – that spending more on education does NOT correlate directly to getting a better education. Conversely, there is nothing to say that cutting back (within reason) will have an adverse affect. Like all things in life, there must be balance, and many people have come to the conclusion that balance has been lost, tipped too far to one side to the detriment of others. I, having gone through the Southborough and Northborough-Southborough (Algonquin) school system, shared a vested interest in the continued quality education we’ve all come to expect. That does not preclude me from wanting to take a harder look at the school’s budget that has increasingly been encroaching upon the rest of the town’s overall finances. If you are married, am I to say that it’s not right for you to be upset if your spouse goes off and spends more than your budget allows, simply because it’s “for the sake of the children?” Expensive clothes, the greatest toys, the most luxurious furnishings – these things may make your children happier, but at what cost? What good will it do if you cease to have a roof over your head, or food to put on your table? I’m not trying to play Chicken Little here, so please take my hypothetical hyperbole as just that – but do not dismiss the underlying message, and do not misunderstand my position nor the position of others who feel the same.

This absolutely should not be an “us versus them” situation (just as it should not have been during the discussions regarding the fate of Algonquin years ago – don’t even get me started on that). Anyone who tries to make it into such – regardless of which side they fall on, if they fall on any one side or multiple sides – is doing a disservice to everyone involved. I’m not trying to single you out, so please don’t misinterpret. You just presented a good stepping stone for me to voice my feelings, and you’ve also presented yourself with a level head, regardless of whether we may agree or disagree on certain things.

One thing we should all keep in mind – we are all members of this town, we all care a great deal about the well being of it, and we should all remember that we are neighbors, brothers and sisters in spirit. We should act accordingly, no matter how deeply our emotions run about the issues we face, nor how divided we may be in our opinions of them. A person’s viewpoints on one particular matter are not the sum of the person, and we’d all do well to remember that.

43 John Butler December 19, 2011 at 4:15 PM

MCAS may be useful internally for schools, but it can make almost no contribution to budget questions. There are two reasons. First, generally speaking, statewide, there is no correlation that says per pupil spending drives MCAS scores. Shrewsbury and Southborough are not some peculiar case of inversion, nor is this lack of correlation a recent development. Those who advocate for less spending on education sometimes say that since lower spending can’t be predicted to produce lower MCAS scores, we should spend less. This fails to consider the second point that there is no known predictive value of MCAS scores for anything of real social value. We don’t pay for public education to produce MCAS scores, which are quite worthless, apart from being a not very stringent high school graduation requirement. For 150 years before MCAS, we supported public education to foster various social goals. This was, and remains, justifiable by the well established fact that educational attainment, as measured by degrees and years of schooling, correlates with a wide range of social values, and higher incomes. Education is of proven value to societies and to individuals. This is why we support it. During the 150 years before MCAS, our society, the one that pioneered free public education, was arguably the most successful on earth. MCAS, on the other hand, is just a 13 year old invention by the State that is not known to improve the predictive value of any of the traditional measures of educational success, the reasons why we spend the money. Colleges don’t even look at it, and if you personally decide to spend big money by placing you child in a private school, there is no MCAS there at all. If it had intrinsic value, why would anyone do that. I am not saying that is bad for schools to have arbitrary measures for themselves, much as they have track meets and football games. I’d be happy to find that one school system studies another that has better MCAS to see if they can improve in some way. However, given the big picture that 1. MCAS doesn’t correlate with educational spending and that 2. No one knows that it has any unique predictive value for the social outcomes that actually justify the spending, I think it is pretty useless as part of a budget discussion. Just because some people at the Dept of Ed constructed a false idol doesn’t mean we, who make budget decisions, have to bow down before it. For all we may wish that the circumstances were different, that we had a hard measure that correlates with social outcomes and is responsive to spending, we don’t have that. As a result we have to make budget decisions that are largely qualitative.

44 Al Hamilton December 19, 2011 at 7:20 PM

If there is no correlation between spending and the output of a school system, however measured, then the logical inference is that we could make substantial cuts without any measurable impact. That would meet the Pareto condition. It would seem to me that the burden of proof of measurable performance improvement for increases in spending ought to be on the school committee.

45 earl December 19, 2011 at 7:39 PM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_optimal

Pareto efficiency is a minimal notion of efficiency and does not necessarily result in a socially desirable distribution of resources: it makes no statement about equality, or the overall well-being of a society.[1][2]

Notes

[1] Barr, N. (2004). Economics of the welfare state. New York, Oxford University Press (USA).
[2] Sen, A. (1993). Markets and freedom: Achievements and limitations of the market mechanism in promoting individual freedoms. Oxford Economic Papers, 45(4), 519–541.

46 John December 19, 2011 at 10:17 PM

Al,

Logical

47 John Butler December 20, 2011 at 12:25 AM

Al,
Your phrase “output of a school system however measured” is too strong in that context. I only said that MCAS at this stage doesn’t seem to be such a measure correlating with spending. What the correlation is between spending and the socially calibrated educational measures, such as graduation rates and the qualities that lead to advanced degrees (grades, SATs) I have not tried to assess. To some extent I agree however with your conclusion that there is a burden for justifying spending increases that rests with the school committee. However, the idea that tests administered in the K8 grades are going to be developed that both correlate with spending and are distinctively correlated with social outcomes measured among adults beginning at 2x the average age of test administration seems difficult, and an unlikely path for budgetary justification.

(I have to add that it has been a few years since I personally looked systematically at the MCAS spending connection, and before writing this I merely did some research to see if anyone had recently found any different results. That’s not the same as doing it again myself. If someone has better data, I’d be happy to know of it. The factors that did correlate with MCAS results were the family characteristics you would expect: median family income, parent educational attainment, etc.)

Behind all of this technical talk I suspect that parents in Southborough are good judges of educational quality for their children. Beyond that we need to listen to our educators and judge as best we can whether their requests seem reasonable, being willing to say both yes and no.

48 Kelly Roney December 20, 2011 at 1:32 AM

Al, you say “if”. Are you asserting there’s no correlation or not?

It’s all well and good to wish we were Shrewsbury (which looks more and more like an outlier, not representative of average results at their expense point), but what are the changes from where we are that would make us better or at least keep us at level? Especially in times like these, cost-free or cost-saving reforms would be most welcome.

Now, about the correlation of money and outcomes…

If you simply do a scatter plot of money against outcomes, correlations appear weak or actually inverse. I’m not going to say that’s impossible to imagine. Unlikely, not impossible. More likely at the rarefied compensation levels of CEOs, but that’s another issue.

In fact, there’s a long history of more money leading to better outcomes. Here’s one, though I haven’t found the text of the actual study.

When the percentage of each state s high school graduating class taking the exams is factored in, however, the authors find a strong positive connection between spending and SAT scores. On the ACT, there is a clear relationship between spending and exam results even before any adjustment for participation rates.

49 Neil Rossen December 19, 2011 at 5:06 PM

Kelly, see Al Hamilton’s post. I do respect contracts. If there are no give backs, lose heads. How do families and companies survive? They cut back!

50 Kelly Roney December 19, 2011 at 5:07 PM

Is anyone seriously proposing that our schools would perform better with less money? I’d be interested to hear whether anyone has a single case where reform by budget cut has actually improved public school outcomes.

Or will we hear in April 2013 that our schools did worse and therefore need a further cut?

That said, Al Hamilton’s enrollment numbers suggest some staffing changes may be inevitable in K-8 and then eventually in the high school.

By the way, one feature of school budgets that everyone should be aware of: Teaching is labor-intensive, and teacher salaries and benefits usually make up 70 to 80% of a public school district’s budget. So, anytime you make substantial cuts, you’re cutting teachers.

51 Neil Rossen December 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM

Kelly, because the reluctance to take on the unions no relevant cuts can be made. Think pensions, think lifetime employment. Think of our cities going bankrupt or coming close. In red states they seem to be figuring that out. Guess what? They spend less, tax less, have a business friendly environment and have lower overall unemployment.
Maybe we don’t want that.

52 Kelly Roney December 19, 2011 at 9:28 PM

So, Neil, you want to abrogate the contract? Because it’s with a union?

No, red states don’t have it figured out. They spend less on education, true, but their outcomes are far worse, as is unemployment, except in Texas, which has created many jobs with a blue remedy – government jobs.

You want to live in Alabama? Go for it. I predict you’ll be back.

53 Kelly Roney December 19, 2011 at 9:35 PM

Oops, I missed this comment, since you didn’t use the Reply button.

I’ll respond to Al’s comment. I assume you mean this one, since you didn’t specify.

54 carrie alpert December 20, 2011 at 7:25 AM

this was my daughter’s choice for the person who lights up her life, the assignment was to choose someone who does so as the 3rd grade is currently studying electricity.
she chose her teacher.

Mrs. Kelleher lights up my life in a gazillion ways. One way she is a conductor is she helps me when I’m stuck on work. Another way she’s a conductor is she always makes me laugh. Mrs. Kelleher is a wonderful circuit and is never an insulator.

you are one lucky parent and your child is truly blessed if they have Mrs. Kelleher for 3rd grade and there is a reason that we fight for the teachers we have and we appreciate them everyday.

Happy Holidays!

55 John December 20, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Kelly,

Are you inferring that if it necessary to reduce the number of teachers that the reaming teachers will perform at a lower level? If class sizes go from 18 to 20 does that mean that the quality of education/teaching drops off a cliff. We would expect that the quality of education in Southborough would remain the same even if the budget had to be brought in line with economic reality. There are areas of the budget that deserve review such as the regional office budget, administrative aides, library expense etc. remember that it was the optimistic student projections that caused Southborough to go on a building/classroom expansion. We now have empty classrooms with room to house the regional offices. However, we have about ten more years with school building debt burden. We have enough empty classrooms that we can even consider going from four schools to three. Ask Al Hamilton for his analysis of the three versus four schools.

56 Kelly Roney December 20, 2011 at 2:43 PM

Are you inferring that if it necessary to reduce the number of teachers that the reaming teachers will perform at a lower level? If class sizes go from 18 to 20 does that mean that the quality of education/teaching drops off a cliff.

No and no (and I’m not sure how anything I’ve written could lead you the wrong conclusion that I meant either of those things). Quality of education and teacher quality are different. Even the best teacher can’t deliver a quality education in all circumstances.

Larger class sizes could well lead to lesser performance by the students, since they inevitably would get less attention. We know that class size affects student performance. The change might not be easily measured from 18 to 20, but it would be visible from 18 to 27, say.

About those student population projections, I remember the high projections not as optimistic but as pessimistic. Even so, we added onto Trottier after it was “complete” because we did not anticipate all the vagaries of population growth. In retrospect, maybe we should not have.

I’d certainly be willing to consider reconfiguration of schools, although only if it could span enough years and recoup enough money to be worthwhile.

57 John December 20, 2011 at 2:59 PM

Kelly,

What led me that conclusion was your comment “is anyone proposing that our schools will perform better with less money?”. Since teachers represent 70% of the budget, I assume any serious cuts would be teachers, ipso facto, performance.
If that isn’t what you meant, my apologies .

58 Al Hamilton December 21, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Kelly

The reality is that we are down about 200 students from our peak and are loosing about 50 a year. In rough numbers, assuming a 20:1 student/teacher ratio we should be down 10 teachers now (we are not) and should be planning on average to shrink our teacher population but 2-3 per year for the foreseeable future.

In that light, Dr. Gobron’s “dire” warning about losing 11 teachers looks more like a long overdue “rightsizing” of the institution rather than an apocalyptic event.

My best estimate is that by the end of this decade we will have a K-8 population that is on the order of 1000 to 1100. Well below the 1444 we now have the peak of 1633 in 2006.

We owe each of these children a quality education but we also owe the taxpayers of our community effective and efficient delivery of that education. We do not own any school employee a job tomorrow just because they have a job today.

59 earl December 21, 2011 at 2:34 PM

Al,

I’m struggling with the “assuming a 20:1 student teacher ratio” part of your post.

20:1 as a target is where we are now based on the calculations below for FY2012 from the data dated September 6, 2011 from the link posted earlier (http://www.mysouthborough.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/20110920-school-enrollment.pdf).

o Full-day K – 109 pupils divided by 6 teachers equals an average per teacher of 18.2
o 1st grade – 115 pupils divided by 6 teachers equals an average per teacher of 19.2
o 2nd grade – 160 pupils divided by 8 teachers equals an average per teacher of 20.
o 3rd grade – 150 pupils divided by 8 teachers equals an average per teacher of 18.8
o 4th grade – 157 pupils divided by 8 teachers equals an average per teacher of 19.6
o 5th grade – 185 pupils divided by 9 teachers equals an average per teacher of 20.6
o 6th grade – 188 pupils divided by 9 teachers equals an average per teacher of 20.9
o 7th grade – 165 pupils divided by 8 teachers equals an average per teacher of 20.6
o 8th grade – 159 pupils divided by 7 teachers equals an average per teacher of 22.72

If you average the averages by grade the average is 20.07 pupils per teacher.

The overall average is 20.16 (1,388 pupils from full day K to 8th grade divided by 69 teachers for the same grades).

Yes, I have excluded the 20 ½ day kindergarten students which have ½ of a teacher as the math on that makes no sense to me (40 kids per teacher).

Would you post the data you are referencing that indicates something other than what the School Committee has posted?

No wonder there’s as much angst over this as there is if we can’t even come to a common understanding of what the student to teacher ratio is.

60 C. Nicholas Ellis December 21, 2011 at 4:11 PM

I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me the School Committee does not count art, music, physical education, etc. teachers as “teachers.” The state, on the other hand, appears to count them all the same. Thus, the number of “teachers” the School Committee reports (and thus the student:teacher ratio) is drastically different than the state’s numbers – hence the repeated discrepancy. (See the links in my earlier posts details.)

It essentially is comparing apples to oranges at this point, and it raises a great deal of FUD in the process – which only exacerbates the problem. I believe that the numbers Shrewsbury provides match those found in the state’s DoE website – thus giving a more accurate representation as compared to Southborough. In other words, Southborough’s student:teacher ratio, as reported by the School Committee, is the real “outlier” – at least as far as I have been able to tell. Without hearing where, exactly, the SC gets its numbers from it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty, but I’m willing to trust the state’s publicly searchable database over anything the SC has provided to date (ironic as that may be). At the very least, it provides uniformity for comparison’s sake – which isn’t the case if you choose the School Committee’s numbers (which make a direct comparison to area towns impossible).

61 Al Hamilton December 21, 2011 at 4:38 PM

Earl:
I think we are just looking at the issue from 2 different perspectives.

1. By the School Committe calculation we have 69 teachers. The most recent data from the state that I have http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/teacher.aspx?orgcode=02760000&orgtypecode=5&leftNavId=814&&fycode=2011 is from FY 2011 and it says that we have 108.7 teachers and a student teacher ratio of 13.8:1. I suspect that the school committee numbers do not include special ed, gym, music, and art teachers. I can assure you that all 108.7 were licensed teachers and on the payroll. On the same basis in FY 2006 we have 114.6 teachers. The state data is collected on a uniform and consistent basis across the state.

2. Using the state provided 2006 ratio of 14.0:1 and a reduction in population as of FY 2011 of 131 students then our teacher head count should have been 105.2 not 108.7. Add to that another 56 student loss this year and the teacher head count should be 101.2 or 7.5 below the FY 11 number and next year assuming we lose another 50 students the number should be 97.7 teachers or another 3.2 teachers.

I was making a very rough estimate of the total change in the teacher population using 20:1 as a first approximation. The more detailed analysis suggests that the number is bigger since this only covers licensed teachers and there are also admin, clerical, aides, and maintenance staff which also should be subject to this calculus.

62 Paul Gaffney December 21, 2011 at 5:21 PM

Al – the pure average is a red-herring. There is a bi-modal distribution in the student:teacher ratios. To assess what is actually happening in the classroom, I think it is helpful to look at trends in special-education spend separate from trends in all-other (for lack of a better term call it regular-education) spend. Over the time horizon you are exploring there has been an increase in the % of students with individual accommodations (to which they are entitled by law). The student:teacher ratio in the special-ed portion of the spend tends to be close much lower. In a zero-sum game (let’s assume teacher headcount has been relatively flat) that drives up the other ratio. There is a point, open to debate of course, at which classroom quality drops off as that ratio increases. As a former Southborough school committee member myself I felt it was my obligation to find a way to keep that second ratio reasonable (the local school committee has close to zero control over the special-ed part of the spend) without realistic access to a standard management tool: lowering salaries.

63 Al Hamilton December 22, 2011 at 10:58 AM

Paul

At the risk of diving down the what is the real student teacher ratio rathole, I think that only counting classroom teachers is a very conservative way of looking at the issue. On any given day an elementary class will receive the services of a “regular” teacher and some part of a gym/art/music/reading teachers time. So there is more than one, full time, non special ed, teacher that is assigned to the class.

This is an endless conversation the real point is that our student populations are dropping and our teacher headcount, however measured, and other associated staff headcounts have to decline as well.

64 Frank Crowell December 20, 2011 at 6:56 AM

Let’s see if I have this right.



Cannot compare Southborough to Shrewsbury – that other school system is an aberration.



MCAS is not a good metric – neither are SAT scores. 



Declining Southborough student population does not mean the school budget declines.



Blue states have a better answer to unemployment since red states have reduced their unemployment by creating more government jobs. Extrapolating out this logic: We need higher taxes to further this recovery (California, and Illinois are perfect examples).



I live in an alternate reality.


65 Kelly Roney December 20, 2011 at 10:49 AM

Comments…

Cannot compare Southborough to Shrewsbury – that other school system is an aberration.



Of course you can. But you can’t rationally judge cause and effect of spending if Shrewsbury has been cherry-picked because it’s a statistical outlier. Or then I could choose the worst cherry, but that wouldn’t be a rational rebuttal either, hence my desire to look at an average, which earl admirably analyzed.

MCAS is not a good metric – neither are SAT scores.

John Butler is welcome to defend his comments here. I haven’t said this. However, the SAT is a bad metric unless you account for different participation rates. In Massachusetts including at Algonquin, practically every kid takes the SAT. In many states, particularly in the South, a far smaller number do, and they tend to be some of the best students, since they’re generally taking the SAT to go to college out of state. (In case you might think I’m being a snob, yes, there are excellent students who only take the ACT and stay near home, but there are very few poor or average students who go out of state where they need the SAT.)

The MCAS is a far harder test than most states administer to their students – and it’s not that hard (though I wonder how many of us could still pass it after all these years). I think it’s a useful diagnostic, although it has led to teaching to the test, which is not the best education for a lifetime.

NAEP is a comparable test, administered in a comparable way to representative populations. It doesn’t predict success in life, but it’s a valid metric of school mastery.

Declining Southborough student population does not mean the school budget declines.

Eventually, it has to. Good enough? Probably not, since eventually may or may not be this year, depending on the particular mix of students. Example: If every grade loses one student, there may be no responsible way to lose a position, since teachers don’t come in 20ths of an FTE.

Blue states have a better answer to unemployment since red states have reduced their unemployment by creating more government jobs. Extrapolating out this logic: We need higher taxes to further this recovery (California, and Illinois are perfect examples).

I don’t think this is logic. Massachusetts has a relatively positive economy – and it has throughout the great recession. Texas does too at this point though not initially, but if you compare employment gains, ours are in the private sector, and Texas’s are in the public sector. And Texas has the non-ideological advantage of oil reserves in a global market of rising prices. I’d think you’d prefer our model.

What we need to spread the recovery to everyone and not just to bankers is economic demand – taxes on the wealthy and debt (money’s dirt cheap). A combination of public and private employment would be the best pump-priming. We have a lot of decrepit infrastructure that could use repairs it hasn’t had for decades.



I live in an alternate reality.


Only if you get your news from Fox…

66 Neil Rossen December 20, 2011 at 11:07 AM

Oh, you wear your colors on your msnbc sleeve. That’s fine so long as we all know where we stand and the futility of trying to change minds. But I’m not prepared tp pay up and shut up.

67 Kelly Roney December 20, 2011 at 2:25 PM

Not guilty. Occasionally, I watch Rachel Maddow, who, despite her obvious leanings, is far, far more rational and even-handed than any of the Fox headliners – or for that matter, Ed Schultz or Keith Olbermann. But mostly I get information by reading.

It’s clear you’re not prepared to shut up – and more power to you. You shouldn’t shut up.

But you should try harder to find real facts rather than superficial 1%-comforting propaganda.

68 Frank Crowell December 20, 2011 at 1:17 PM

I was not addressing you specifically and if you read my comments without the word sarcasm coming to mind then you might want to read them again.



WSJ here – Globe for sports

I was hoping that you took my summer reading list seriously. 


69 John December 24, 2011 at 10:04 AM

Kelly,

I would suggest googling MCAS correlation and SAT correlation.

70 SB Resident December 20, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Lets just sum this whole thing up with some obvious points.

– At this time there is no good metric to measure educational quality. There are way too many factors that can play into the results of the data that we have. We can bicker until we turn blue but neither side can win by trying to quantitatively measure anything with the current data.

– Clearly under our current contracts, spending less won’t get more and spending more won’t get less. These arguments are just ridiculous and just invalidate the credibility of the commenter. However, the points are that we can try to spend our money more wisely, and we as a town need to find where we want to draw our line in the sand. Where are the cost/benefit maximums. These answers are as much opinion as fact, and the ballot box, ugh I mean town meeting, is the only place that the town can answer that question.

However, there are two quantifiable points that need to be driven home (especially to the members of the school committee)
– Enrollment will be declining, the school committee needs to know this and do the right thing. The school committees charter NEEDS TO CHANGE, from getting the most money out of the town, to getting the most for the town’s money.
– The teacher salary increases over the past 5-7 years are way out of line with reality. I’m still not sure how this happened, I’m hopeful that its as much “contract lag” as it is a school committee with misguided objectives. Hopefully, this current contract and THE NEXT ONE will make up for it, assuming the private sector economy really starts to improve over the next few years.

71 Paul Gaffney December 20, 2011 at 5:32 PM

It should be no mystery about the source of teacher salary increases over the past 5-7 years; they have nothing to do with Southborough. Look up any public teachers union contract. Every employee under those contracts other than the folks at the very top of the tenure and qualification bands gets a multi-part salary increase: first an individual gets a “step” increase each year (going for example from step 3 to step 4 in their fourth year of service), they may also get a “lane” increase for increasing their educational credentials (for example moving from the “Masters” lane to the “Masters+30” lane, and finally the whole salary schedule is increased by the “base” increase. That last number is often the only one talked about in public but all of the other numbers are available and are public record. It is the number referred to at contract negotiation time in phrases like “they settled for a 2% increase.” On average, it is my experience that the typical “step+lane+base” increase ends up in the 5%-7% range. This is absolutely normal in all public school settings. As was mentioned in a much earlier post on this blog it would seem that Southborough, with a much higher average income than most of the state, will be a very unlikely place to foster support for a fundamental overhaul to teacher compensation. I personally do not think teachers are paid very much. I do, however, think this structure, with its inexorable increases of 5%-7%, leaving a governing body with lay-offs as the only management tool for cost reduction, is finally being exposed as folly. In other settings more rationale settings involving the employment of professionals, there would be discussions about salary reductions to keep the level of service providers steady. But, in my experience, it is impossible to have that discussion in other than the most extraordinary of circumstances, with a profession-employees union.

72 Neil Rossen December 20, 2011 at 6:27 PM

Thank you, Mr Gaffney for your illuminating post. Sooner or later the nation as whole will need to face up to the public service union problem. In Wisconsin and elsewhere there has even been violence as those unions have few qualms about protecting the “birthrights” bestowed upon them by politicians at taxpayers expense. Sooner or later we will have to address it.

73 Paul Gaffney December 20, 2011 at 7:29 PM

I don’t think you can blame the unions. We kept voting in politicians who gave away these deals. We now have a societal problem that is the cumulative effect of decades of politicians deferring problems until further down the road. Unfortunately we have no leadership who is willing to be honest about the problems and actually to solve it. I think we don’t have that leadership because we still have many many voters who want someone to tell them they don’t have to experience any pain or inconvenience.

74 John December 22, 2011 at 7:23 AM

Mr Gaffney,

Could you review the contract that was in effect or the contract negotiated during your tenure on the school committee?

75 John Butler December 20, 2011 at 7:06 PM

Paul has this exactly right.
The larger problem however is that we can predict with high probability that these 5-7% cost increases are going to collide with Prop 2.5, maybe in the not too distant future. For the past 5 or six years we have been sustaining cost increases using excess funds collected during the 90’s. Those funds are now substantially drained, or, in an alternative formulation “returned to the taxpayers” in the form of lower tax increases than otherwise would have prevailed. It is likely that if expenses continue to track as they have, they will be unfundable without a Prop. 2.5 override, or perhaps even a series of them. This is a risky way to proceed because it triggers abrupt reductions rather than smoother plans. The last Prop 2.5 override here in Town failed. Those fiscal risks should at least be acknowledged and debated by the School Committee. Although it may be the case that the School Committee really could not have had a showdown with the union over last years’s contract, as Paul says, I for one, cannot excuse their utter silence about this larger financial problem. The consequences of their ignoring the issue have a good chance of hurting education here. Under this circumstance a frank public discussion of the fiscal realities by the School Committee would have been appropriate. We never got that.

76 John Rooney December 20, 2011 at 4:24 PM

One may argue about the validity or veracity of standardized tests as a measuring tool. There are arguments pro and con as to whether it is an accurate indicator of future performance. That said, we fund our schools so as to provide our children with the best possible opportunities in life, and one of those opportunities is college admission. There is no dispute that the SAT remains a prominent criterion in college admissions because of its unique capacity to provide a standardized yardstick for comparing high school students across the nation. The SAT also offsets inconsistent high school grading concerns. The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) plays a similar role in law school admissions.

If you want to throw out comparisons based upon standardized testing, perhaps a valid measuring tool to evaluate the relationship between funding and performance is to look at the list of college acceptances. While this in no way is to suggest that a formal college education is a prerequisite to a successful and productive life, we need to agree on some objective criteria to evaluate how increasing (or decreasing) our town’s spending on public education will have an impact on the quality of education.

Using the same example of Shrewsbury, a list of the Class of 2010 Shrewsbury College Acceptances can be found at http://www.shrewsbury-ma.gov/egov/docs/1302277398_888366.pdf (begins on p. 222). Quite impressive (at least to me). If we make the assumption that our high school seniors achieve a similar impressive college list of acceptances, this begs (again, to me) the question how does Shrewsbury achieve this parallel success while spending less per pupil?

While I certainly understand the intimation that Shrewsbury was “cherry-picked” as a means to support an end, that is not the case at all. I came across the Shrewsbury School Department Report while searching the manner in which surrounding towns were funding public education during these economic times. The Shrewsbury School Committee in conjunction with their Superintendant put pen to paper and evaluated how their kids have been doing historically, and then went further and did a comparative analysis of schools in the area. That comparison included our town. That prompted me to ask what Shrewsbury spends on public education, which from all the data I have seen, is about $3,000 less per pupil. I did not, nor am I, holding Shrewsbury out as a model to emulate; rather, the Shrewsbury model was simply the genesis of my questions.

If there is a reason we spend more, what is it and why? This is not a red state/blue state debate, but simply a search for answers so that informed decisions to very important questions can be made by every resident.

77 Frank Crowell December 21, 2011 at 9:09 AM

Many good posts in the last 24 hours. I hope most of the tax payers in town are following this discussion

.

The only point I disagree with Mr Gaffney on is not blaming the unions. They must share the blame. Union reps must have been in the room when the negotiations occurred. They most certainly knew the town was going to be saddled with future tax increases to cover the labor costs. Their calculus was probably along the lines of 1) the town can afford it and 2) there is a strong pro-education/give them what they ask for bias in Southborough.



I am sure that last statement offends some. For those who are, please tell me what this town turned down in educational requests in the last ten years. As far as I can tell, BOE got everything they asked for including a very expensive and inflexible school configuration. Students, parents and all of our property values benefitted. We all know that times have changed

.

Silence from the BOE is not good. If they are doing their homework, this is fine. For this tax payer, I hope they decide to answer the questions posed by Mr Rooney on this board. As Mr Ellis points out, we do not need another high school debate on our hands.


78 Al Hamilton December 21, 2011 at 11:37 AM

Frank:

I do not think it is fair to blame the Unions. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, extract the maximum economic benefit for their members. I regret that the Superintendent and School Committees did not do the opposite, Extract the maximum amount of service for the least number of dollars.

Instead what we got was a secret negotiation that was for all intents and purposes approved in secret and is very bad for the education of our children.

79 Frank Crowell December 21, 2011 at 6:56 PM

Al,



I do understand your point. In my business negotiations, I always search for a win/win. That does presuppose that both sides have an idea on what win/win looks like with the interests of all parties taken into account. 
An op-ed that makes both our points from last spring is below.



http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/opinion/x1664571732/Dowd-Bargaining-behind-closed-doors

80 John December 22, 2011 at 7:11 AM

Frank,

The article in your link should be read by all.

81 John December 22, 2011 at 7:37 AM

Frank,

Do we know if the union negotiators for the the last union contract were Southborough residents? If they weren’t residents I wonder if they were the least concerned about Southborough taxes.

82 Frank Crowell December 22, 2011 at 4:53 PM

Looking at a pdf of the contract, it looks like Katharine Howard was at least one of the teacher’s negotiators. I am not sure if she lives in town. She certainly was not representing the tax payers nor would any union rep.

http://educatorcontracts.doemass.org/file.aspx?fieldno=1&filename=R%3A%5CMass+DOE%5CWebsearch%5CT-SOUTHBOROUGH-14.pdf


83 Resident December 21, 2011 at 4:19 PM

Earl, I think we need to be careful relying on the numbers given to us by the school committee and we need to understand what Mr. Gobron means when he says “lay off eleven teachers.”

If you look at the individual school websites, you find the following:

Finn, 13 teachers + 18 teachers aids (not including special ed teachers/aids)
http://finn.nsboro.k12.ma.us/files/_WcBwB_/016a03add43e870a3745a49013852ec4/Faculty_list-1-1_Sheet1.pdf

Woodward, 16 teachers + 12 teacher’s aids (not including special ed teachers and
aids)http://woodward.nsboro.k12.ma.us/pages/Woodward/Contact_Us/Woodward_Staff

Neary, 17 teachers + 31 “support professionals” (appears to include special ed)
http://neary.nsboro.k12.ma.us/pages/Neary/Contact_Us/Neary_Faculty___Staff

Trottier, 60 teachers and support professionals (appears to include special ed).
http://trottier.nsboro.k12.ma.us/pages/Trottier/Contact_Us/FacultyDirectory

I assume residents are paying for all of these class room teacher’s aids and
support professionals. If every class room has teacher aids and/or support professionals, shouldn’t the ratio be even lower? And, if the eleven “lay offs” encompass the population of teacher’s aids or support professionals, the student: teacher ratio may not be impacted at all.

Why is this just now coming out?

84 John Boiardi December 22, 2011 at 5:03 PM

Resident,

I was told by the former school superintendent that he would prefer laying of teachers before aides. I don’t know where Dr Gobron stands on this.

85 Neil Rossen December 21, 2011 at 4:37 PM

I would like MySouthborough (Susan) to archive this thread and have it readily available on the site so that voters have an opportunity to review it nearer to Town Meeting. You could edit out any snide comments (including my own that had the objective of stirring debate).  There are quite a few factual and detailed postings by contributors far better informed than myself.

86 John December 22, 2011 at 2:50 PM

Danger,danger,danger:
If the combined town departments and school department budgets require a 21/2 override and the override fails, the school department budget remains whole ( by law) which means all other departments suffer the brunt of the budget cuts due to the failed override. That can be overcome if the overrides were separately identified; however, the town has always chosen to lump everything into one override. By separating and identifying separate overrides (school and other departments) it would give the VOTERS a chance to identify how they want their tax dollars spent.

87 John Butler December 22, 2011 at 4:06 PM

To my knowledge this is not the situation. First of all, our practice, when we have needed an override, has been to to have Town Meeting vote specific budgetary amounts “contingent on Prop 2.5 approval”. These contingent amounts have been a fraction of the operating budget of a particular department. If the override fails, then that money is not part of that budget, regardless of how the ballot question is divided. The other method, which we have not used but could, is to approve an appropriation at Town Meeting which, in total, exceeds the Prop 2.5 cap without specifying the recourse if it fails. If a subsequent override fails, Town Meeting must reconvene and vote a set of budgets that fit within the cap, but there is no priority for K8 schools. Such a Town Meeting could do whatever it wanted. The situation for the Region is somewhat different, but since this thread has not been about regional school funding, I’ll omit that.

88 John Boiardi December 22, 2011 at 5:22 PM

John,

Can the town meeting cut or reduce a budget approved by the School Committee?
My recollection that departmental budgets requiring an override were lumped into one override.

89 Al Hamilton December 23, 2011 at 7:58 AM

One clarification

If several budgets are approved with sums subject to a Prop 2.5 override then how those individual excess sums are packaged for approval by the voters is the sole discretion of the Selectmen. They can choose to lump them all together in a single vote or offer them separately or in other combinations at the ballot box

90 John December 24, 2011 at 8:17 AM

Al,

To your recollection did we not lump a few overrides together including schools and the override passed?

91 Al Hamilton December 24, 2011 at 1:46 PM

In the past the Selectmen have chosen to bundle operational overrides together, combining municipal and school overrides. I believe the logic was that the support for the schools would carry the day.

I believe that the last override we tried about 5 or 6 years ago failed at the ballot

92 Al Hamilton December 22, 2011 at 4:08 PM

John

The state mandates a minimum level of spending on schools. We and most other communities in Ma are far above that min. School budgets are often subject to prop 2.5 override risk. In part it depends on how the override is structured.

93 John Boiardi December 26, 2011 at 8:55 AM

Al,
My recollection of the bundled override that failed, which included the school budget, was that when the override failed the departments all had to revert back to the non override level except for the school budget. i.e. the schools still received the budget level they desired and the other departments did not. ( hence my danger,danger,danger comment).

94 John Butler December 22, 2011 at 3:02 PM

FYI
For Advisory Committee, Brian Shea and I are working on the K8 school budget this year. We have chosen to dig into two issues: 1. resources vs. student population, particularly as regards operation of 3 vs. 4 schools, but that will also entail the student teacher ratio topic discussed here, and 2. comparative costs of what was formerly called “regular education”, focusing on the comparison with Northborough K8. We chose Northborough for now because we may be able to get better access to more uniform data in that comparison. We’ll see. The State seems to have made “regular ed” comparisons intentionally difficult, presumably because spending on special ed is politically charged and sometimes emotional.
The data request we have made of the school system, and something of our plans, can be found here: http://southboroughadvisory.shutterfly.com/26/675. If any of you have any comments on it, we’d be happy to receive them. We are hoping the schools will comply with our request promptly. To this end Brian and I met with MaryBeth Strickland and Kathleen Harrigan of the K8 Committee on Tuesday to answer questions they had about what we wanted.
One thing that weaves its way through these posts that we will not be doing is considering educational quality as measured by test scores. I think a focus by others on this is fine, but given the difficulty of connecting budget to test scores and the complexity of the data on the budget subjects alone, subjects that clearly do fall within our oversight, we are going to stick to budget issues.

95 John December 22, 2011 at 3:32 PM

John and Brian ,

Complements on the through request for information from the school committee. I suspect the SC is scurrying around to gather the information. Once the information is gathered and analyzed by you and Brian I will feel more comfortable with the eventual school budget. It could also be a model for future budgets.

96 John Butler February 9, 2012 at 11:32 AM

I am sorry to provide this disappointing and late update but I have suspended my efforts as Advisory liaison to the Schools, for reasons detailed in a letter to Advisory Committee which you can find here: http://southboroughadvisory.shutterfly.com/26/697

Essentially, after nearly two months, we have not been provided the data we requested and the School Committee is not cooperating, declining to engage in dialog with us, or any member of the public at their meetings, and after suggesting that we should request agenda time, refusing to grant such a request once made. A complete description of the events leading to my decision to focus on other matters can be found here: http://xrl.us/bmrhwx

97 John Butler February 9, 2012 at 12:39 PM

I think it should be obvious to any reader here that Advisory Committee per se does not post to mysouthborough and that all posts of mine are from me, not reflecting any position of the Committee unless explicitly stating otherwise.

98 John Kendall February 9, 2012 at 1:10 PM

I guess my question is: can they legally stonewall these requests? I asked before and I submit again, perhaps it is time for the office of the Attorney general to be involved. Yes, these folks are our neighbors and work for a pittance, however, everyone in Southborough is entitled to some answers.

99 Karen February 9, 2012 at 1:16 PM

John,
As a resident with children soon to be entering the Southborough Public School System, I want to thank you for your ongoing work with the Advisory Committee, especially with respect to communication with the School Committee. I am sorry that your efforts for obtaining budgetary information from the School Committee have been met with such resistance.

After reading all the documents you have posted, I am troubled by the attitude of the School Committee. Were you given a reason why you were not granted a standing agenda item at their meetings?

100 John Butler February 9, 2012 at 1:53 PM

Karen,
No. I have posted everything. No reason was given and no reply was ever made other than the non-reply that is in the document. When speaking to Marybeth, the Chair, she said exactly “I don’t have to answer your request until 48 hours before the meeting.” This was a true statement referring the minimum agenda posting time under State open meeting law. I learned of the refusal to grant the request only by reading the posted agenda on the Town’s web site. At that point I decided, finally, that I had better things to do than this.

I don’t think that they have done anything illegal, by the way. Nor on the other hand do I think that the voting public should be kept in the dark about why we are not producing the analyses we have publicly promised.

Lastly as any member of Advisory Committee will tell you, I have been a long time supporter of the School budget, not always in all the details, but fundamentally so. I don’t expect that to change, although the public is entitled to scrutiny of that budget which it has not yet received.

101 SouthboroDave February 9, 2012 at 2:04 PM

Thank you for your efforts John. I find it quite discouraging that the School Committee is so unwilling to participate in an open and honest discussion.

102 John Boiardi February 10, 2012 at 8:07 AM

We have recourse regarding stonewalling by the SC. Two of them are up for re-election. They should be voted out of office.

103 John Rooney February 10, 2012 at 8:16 AM

As an elected town official, I am both troubled and saddened by Mr. Butler’s suspension of his efforts as Advisory liaison to the schools.

I am troubled by the numerous examples of the school committee’s desire to keep information out of the public domain because “the public distorts information in public discussion,” and their reluctance to email Mr. Butler for fear that the information would become available on the Advisory website. Town government committee doors should never be closed; government should not operate in the darkness. How else can residents make up their minds independently of town officials and advise elected officials of the wisest course of action? I do not believe the school committee sits in a special spot in our democratic system. The withholding of information results in the inability of residents to organize and seek changes in government policy or to use democratic procedures to change policies or elected representatives. Nothing is more inimical to the essence of democracy than the notion that government can be left to elected officials. The current state of the schools is the result of a multitude of policy choices made by elected officials concerning a seemingly infinite array of subjects. Those choices should reflect the input of all aspects of the community, but can only be made if the community is allowed the information and allowed to participate in the discussion..

I am further troubled by their apparent lack of respect for Mr. Butler. I can understand their non responsiveness to my questions; I am “new” to town government discourse. Perhaps they can convince others that my relative inexperience in town politics dictates charges of “irresponsibility” and my concerns fail to rise to the level of import that require response. Mr. Butler, on the other hand, has served this town for decades. He has provided objective fiscal guidance and analysis on some of the most complex topics, and has then taken the time to make sure Town Meeting has a full understanding of the issues before a single vote is cast. His knowledge of the workings of our town government is unparalleled, and his constant objective has been focused on the best interests of all residents.

I am saddened because the answers to my questions about the comparative analysis of neighboring towns and Mr. Butler’s questions about consolidation apparently will remain just that, questions. Mr. Hamilton’s comprehensive research on the declining school population has ushered no response from the school committee, other than they disagree with him. The school committee has been amazingly successful in garnering support at Town Meeting. I have a difficult time understanding how this recent treatment of requests for information advances the interests of a single student.

104 Al Hamilton February 10, 2012 at 8:29 AM

The annual budget review process conducted by the Advisory Committee is far more involved than simply looking at columns of numbers. There have been many instances of the committee trying to do a deeper dive to understand the management and operational issues that drive the proposed expenditures. A good example is the Recreation Department over several years the Advisory Committee encouraged “Rec” to become more financially independent. Thanks to its’ board and current Director, they did just that and now requires very little support from the taxpayers and offers a broader set of programs than ever before. Another example is the mutual aid imbalance. For years we had given significantly more mutual aid to neighboring towns than we received which costs us money. Advisory asked questions about this and the former Chief began tracking the issue. There has been steady progress ever since though we still run a deficit albeit smaller.

For many departments this is the only independent operational review they receive all year. It is not always fun to have long established ways of doing business challenged or to have proposals opposed because the Citizens on Advisory think there is a better, more cost effective way to achieve the same goal or even question if the goal is appropriate. Some department heads would rather spend time in the Dentist’s chair without the aid of Novocain than go through the process. Others like the Senior Center or Library use the process far more productively. This independent review process is important work that is absolutely critical to an effective budget process.

One lament that has been heard at Advisory meetings is that they count the paper clips in the Town Clerks office but give almost no attention to the two largest budgets in town K-8 Schools and Algonquin (some 65+% of our budget). This has been true for at least a decade and I was as guilty as any of this neglect during my tenure. That is why I was particularly pleased when Advisory assigned John Butler and Brian Shea to work with the K-8 School Committee to do a deeper dive into school operations to gain a better understanding of the budget.

Frankly, the K-8 schools should have been delighted. I have worked with John Butler for over 10 years. I do not always agree with him, he is far more liberal than I am. However, I have developed tremendous respect for John. He is fair minded and devotes countless hours to doing his homework before advancing a proposal. He is a numbers guy and is willing to draw conclusions in an open way based on what the numbers tell him. The greatest complement I can give him is that the weight of his arguments, supported by data and analysis has caused me to change my mind on a number of occasions. Anyone who can render that block of granite permeable is a force to be dealt with.

John is also one of our community’s greatest advocates for our schools and for the taxes required to provide a quality education for the children in our town. He is also fierce advocate of governmental transparency and the quaint form of democracy we have enjoyed for some 285 years.

The K-8 School Committee could have used this occasion to welcome John and Brian with open arms. A clean bill of health from these Advisory members would have gone a long way towards assuring many in the community that are concerned about the ever rising costs of education. Instead, they reacted with what can charitably be described as paranoia.

This is a sad day for Southborough. A well respected member of our community, with an impeccable record of public service and support for our schools, has been frustrated at every turn in trying to do his fiducial duty. Instead of transparency we get opacity, instead of openness we see information withheld, instead of healthy public debate we get meetings design to eliminate meaningful interchange. Instead of open discussion we get back door pressure to silence Mr. Butler.

The town of Southborough, its citizens and taxpayers have been very poorly served by this process and should demand better from both the Advisory Committee and particularly the K-8 School Committee.

As a citizen I want to apologize to Mr. Butler and Mr. Shea for the shabby way they have been treated and to thank them for their efforts. I hope they will not give up in frustration.

105 John Boiardi February 10, 2012 at 9:40 AM

Al and John Roony,

Two great posts regarding the lack of transparency by our school committee.
Regarding John Butler, I have been on the Advisory Committee with him. I can attest to Al’s comments about John’s understanding of town government and the service he has provided the town for years.

As an unsolicited comment that neither Al nor John would appreciate; should the town adopt a five member BofS the two of them would be great candidates.

106 Chuck December 26, 2011 at 11:27 PM

Give the schools a little less money and they’ll make do with what they get. There’s so much waste (unnecessary spending/financing), especially when you get to the middle school level. We’re paying way too much in taxes and too much of it goes to the schools. I’m all for educating our youth, but not at the expense of the residents, enough of whom have no children in school and are just trying to stay in our (formerly) nice town.

107 Laura January 15, 2012 at 6:30 PM

I don’t have children in the school system, so please excuse my question. Do parents currently pay any busing or extra-curricular fees for their children to participate? I ask because I know a neighboring town has adopted busing and extra-curricular fees, and I have friends in another state that pay for their child’s band participation. (I also know in both cases there is scholarship money available for families with limited means.) I know tacking on user fees would in no way close the gap, but I would still like to know. Also are teacher’s salaries really 70% of the budget or does this include administrative salaries as well? Thanks!

108 Neil Rossen February 10, 2012 at 9:54 AM

The posts by Messrs Rooney and Hamilon portray the sad state of affairs at the schools. Those who follow the news will see the enormous power the unions are prepared to wield against those who they perceive infringe upon their right to corral as much as possible of the public purse. See what happened and is happening in Wisconsin and Ohio.They are abetted by voters without knowledge of the prevailing unjustifiable sate of affairs.

I have previously suggested that the Advisory Committee through the town acquire the email addresses of voters. This would allow communication before Town Meeting and give voters time to reflect. The simplicity of Al Hamilton’s charts on declining enrolment can be understood by all. Then perhaps the emotional appeals from Gobron and the intimidating behavior of his supporters may be counterbalanced.

Unfortunately my predictions have come to pass. The School Committee represents the teachers uniions who wish to avoid accountability. They resist merit reviews and the like.

My only hope is that the budget request is so outrageous that an override is forced. To that end, no more reserves should be used to mitigate the expense. Let the Town as a whole vote.

109 SB Resident February 10, 2012 at 10:33 AM

Can anyone explain why the school committee represents the teachers union? Yielding to their salary demands means less teachers, supplies, services, etc., which obviously leads to a worse schools, I just don’t get it. Naturally there is an inflection point where we won’t be able to attract quality teachers, but it seems obvious too me under the current conditions this is far from being a concern. When dealing with unions, if they aren’t constantly threatening to strike, your getting ripped off.

110 Neil Rossen February 10, 2012 at 2:21 PM

SB, it SEEMS AS IF the School Committee acts for the unions. Officially, it is supposed to act for taxpayers. Their behavior belies their purported mission. And it doesn’t lead to worse schools. They simply do what most publuic employeee unions do : Milk the taxpayer, who is too busy to understand what is going on.

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