School committee trims K-8 budget request by $420K

It wasn’t the $2M in cuts the selectmen had asked for, but the K-8 School Committee last night approved a budget that was $420K lower than what they requested earlier in the budget season.

“We’re trying to listen to the town and their needs,” Gobron said of the latest budget. “We’re also listening to the students and their needs, and trying to find a balance.”

The $16.7M operating budget approved by the school committee last night represents a 2.01% increase over last year’s budget. The schools will also ask for an additional $107K to fund technology, but it has not been determined whether that will be added to the operational budget or handled as a separate warrant article.

A new contract for teachers has not yet been ratified, but Gobron said he does not expect any increases or decreases to the budget as a result of the contract.

While Gobron said most of the $420K in reductions come from lower than expected personnel costs, the latest budget does not call for any current teaching positions to be eliminated.

Back in January the school committee voted to add $50K to the then $17.1M budget to restore one of the teaching positions eliminated last year. The revised budget approved last night eliminated funding for that position.

Gobron said an unexpectedly high number of retirements, resignations, and leaves of absence allowed them to trim $161K from various salary accounts. The savings comes as higher-paid senior staff members leave and are replaced by lower-paid junior members.

One of those retiring will be Finn principal Mary Ryan (more on that in a post later today). Instead of replacing her with another full-time principal, Gobron said Woodward principal James Randell will become principal of both schools next year, which will save the district $89K.

The latest budget also cut $119K in special education services which Gobron said they were able to do because of “shifting student needs.”

Selectman Bill Boland, who attended the meeting last night, said the reductions were a step in the right direction. “We have more work to do to balance the budget, but thank you for your efforts,” he said.

Gobron said the schools are still feeling the effects of cuts made last year when the state eliminated $450K in special education funding, which forced the district to cut six teaching positions.

“I think everybody needs to understand the bare bones situation we’re in,” School Committee member Kathleen Harragan Polutchko said. “If you ask us for any more cuts, it really is going to have to come out of personnel, and I just think that is not where we want to go.”

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John Butler
11 years ago

Some may be wondering where this leaves us overall with respect to some of the usual budget yardsticks.
With the new reduced request from K8 included as the Advisory Committee planning number (unvoted but carried for calculation only) we are $244,000 over the tax cap as a whole and at a 5.3% tax increase, which would, if approached in this way, require an override.
If the gap to the tax cap were closed with further reductions to the controllable spending, a 1.1% further reduction would be required across the board. For reference, in the K8 system this represents another $180,000 in cuts.
The gap could also be closed by using more of the one time cash in the overlay account. While it is difficult to justify having the Town keep all of the money in that account, instead of returning some of it to taxpayers in the form of a reduced tax increase, it is also clear that as a solution to inadequate revenue, it is a temporary fix only.
All of the foregoing presumes a large tax increase, since it merely gets us down to the tax cap level which is a 4.6% tax increase, a $361 increase for the average residential property.
The details of this can be found at the Advisory Committee web site: southboroughadvisory.com in the Files section as a downloadable spreadsheet.

John Rooney
11 years ago

Since I suspect a large majority in town obtain their information from the newspaper and the tremendous service provided by this website, from time to time I feel it important to let residents know where I stand on some of the important issues facing the town. This is one of those times. Since we rarely sell standing-room-only seats at our BOS meetings, this medium is a viable means of keeping the public informed. My intention is not to engage in rhetoric or incite emotions; my objective is simply to inform. As an elected official you all have a right to know where I stand on issues, and your feedback is invaluable.

I appreciate the dedication and commitment of the school committee. Dr. Gobron’s track record for maintaining the highest quality of education in town is perhaps unparalleled and we are all indebted to him for his passion. I am an ardent supporter of quality education and ascribe to the comment that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

The Superintendent and school committee reduced their budget last night by approximately $420,000. They did that by eliminating approximately $250,000 in salaries because of retirements, and by reducing $120,000 from the special education budget because of “shifting student needs.” As a result of these reductions, it is said that the school budget operates at a “bare bone” level.

We are languishing in the worst recession since the Great Depression. According to the Mass Dept of Education, “The FY 2012 state budget is likely to be the most challenging that both the state and local school districts will have faced.” Our schools have dealt with this fiscal crisis by reducing their budget by retirements and shifting of student needs. Some may believe this is a challenging budget reduction and that they have done all that they can. With all due respect, based upon what other communities are doing, I do not.

Communities all around us are dealng with this quite differently: Simply by way of illustraton, in Medway, the Superintendent has proposed 2 budgets: One eliminates 7.7 full-time positions, the other 13.3. Class size in Medway’s eighth grade are forecast to be going from 25 to 27. In Wellesley, the Superintendent has outlined two sets of potential budget cuts that would sharply reduce library, art, music and physical education in the elementary schools and eliminate the Humanities class and five academic labs at the high school, among other things. The Wellesley Superintendent also proposed increases to activity and athletic fees at the middle and high schools, privatizing the food service operation and decreasing the amount being set aside to pay for new contracts to all the school unions. In Reading, the Superintendent’s recommended budget represents a cut of 3.6 percent or $1,360,000 from the FY2011 school budget. This recommendation in Reading comes on the heels of 28 people being let go during the past two years. The list of communities goes on.

I do not suggest that these towns have the patent on budgeting. I would suggest, however, that the reality of our fiscal crisis is reflected in their decision-making process.

While the school committee rightfully views the school budget in a microcosm and endeavors to get funding for the best education possible for our students, I view the town as a whole. As Mr. Butler has accurately noted, we are heading toward a substantial tax increase and the only way to lessen the amount of that tax increase is for every department to share in the pain.

Some in town have aimed toward getting the budgets down to obviate the possibility of an override. I do not. I believe it is time for the town to go to the ballot boax and either agree to a substantial tax increase in excess of what Proposition 2 1/2 allows, or reject the way we operate. The ballot box is the primary means by which the will of the people affects the behavior of the government in a democracy. Given that we are about to impose a substantial tax increase, I am in favor of proposing a budget in excess of the cap so as to let all of the residents vote. No one, including the Board of Selectmen, sit as a group of philosopher kings with the purpose of second-guessing the will of the people. The people govern themselves and we need to always keep in mind all of the people.

I am sure I will cause a fire-storm for honestly expressing my views. Yet, I owe it to those who voted for me and to those that did not, to make sure there is no misunderstanding or mixed signals concerning my position on this important issue facing our great town.

John Boiardi
11 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

The problem is if the over ride fails ths schools will still receive their approved budget and the amount that failed the overide would have to be absorbed by other departments.

John Butler
11 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

I was not sure exactly what John meant by this but it was discussed this evening at the Advisory Meeting and it is now clear that this is not the case.

If Town Meeting appropriates above the level of the tax cap it can either create conditional budget values that will apply if a proposed override should fail, or it can choose to reconvene in the event of a failed override and create a set of budgets at that time that fit within the cap. No budget, neither schools nor any other, has any legal priority for funding in such cases of a failed override.

mike
11 years ago

In Reply to John Rooneys’ post. I think Wellesleys and Medaway approach is correct. Unfortunately for teachers, you have got to largesse (Liberality in bestowing gifts, especially in a lofty or condescending manner). Costs of ownership (COO) of teahcers across the nation has increased to a non sustainable level. I highly recommend letting go the highest paid teachers first (can someone tell me who negotiates for our town with the teachers on salary and benefits paid – what group). The second opine is that any services other than reading, writing and arithmatic (fundametal repeatable science is not taught in our schools and history is subjective to the teacher and the state which is catagorically leftist and liberal and hence untrue) should be cut and outsourced by “parents” who want and can afford those services i.e. sports, arts, and special ed (over and above the average cost of educating each child). We have busses picking up children with special needs and carting them around to high priced outsourced, but state related, facilities (which comes out of our shcool budget – your taxes). Very high cost of education. I draw an anology only here. In a few years when I am looking for the first of three colleges for my children I will have to make an assessment. Are my retruns on investment (ROI) in my child warranting of a $60,000 a year school for music (will she get a spot on the Boston Symphony) Or is it more a love, passion and hobby? Or is it more profitable on the ROI to have her go to a state school for $20,0000 ( I am a state school undergad doing ok). On the other hand, if she decides to attend MIT, RIT, or WPI at $55,000 a year for Chemical Engineering, that may be worth the investment (average starting salary is now $82,000 and mid career is $163,000. These type of assessments have to be done now folks. And I know Carrier will go off the wall but if you want a library, a senior center, and arts center, a kiddie pool, a skate board park, and 15 to 1 kids ratios in the class (all very good and nice to aspire to) it is just not feasible anymore. It has to be paid out of your pocket not the collectivist system now in place. It was not feasabble for the past 50 years as America lived on borrowed money and borrowed time. Like the government, our town, out state, they can not borrow anymore. So the fiscal and finacial model your home, our shcools, our state, our federal government has brought to bare, is simly no longer sustainable (not even short term). I dont know if all the emotional folks out there understand that. You have to simply take the emotions out of your arguments. They do not help at all. There is no money tree as my dad once said. And you/we/I have spent what we have and what we have borrowed and there is no “piper” to borrow from any longer. Even a $400 increase will make more folks say this is just too much for too little and we are out of here. Do you understand we are loosing a member of our federal reps because the flight out of Taxachuseets has becaome overwhelmeing? We have not even discussed the out of control, democrat budgets in Massachusetts. And yes, I do spend and have spent much time in the schools, on school boards and panels, and assisting with sports in Southboro for 15 years so you cant say I dont know or dont care. If you have all that time to be in the schools God bless you and thank you. Many do not but you dont have the right to tell anyone opening theri wallet they do not have a say. I/we care deeply but the emotioins have to be removed from the equation. And, just to comment to the snide person who sniped in and posted that we bloggers do nothing. I work 10-14 hour days and weekends and I take brakes for 10 minutes to read the info here and respond for this reason. Because $7700 of my $22,000 check went to taxes yeasterday. Who gives you, the government or anyone the right to take my money. You reached into my pocket and stole from me. I earned that money not you. I care too and there is something very large brewing in the country that I hope will put an end to the track we have been on for years.

Bill
11 years ago
Reply to  mike

Let me see if I understand you Mike: the history being taught in our school system is untrue, art and music should be cut from the school day and we should fire the teachers that have the highest salaries. Please let us know where you fall in your pay structure. Are you at the top? Perhaps you have been there too long. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? let’s all stop sniping at the teachers. Please.

Senior
11 years ago

Selectman Rooney. Thank you on behalf of my wife, my dear friends and neighbors for hopefully giving us an opportunity to vote in a meaningful way. We have always attended town meeting, but the special interests overwhelm us. For years now this has been brewing, and I am distressed at the financial situation we are in. There are many of us in town that cannot afford any more increases in our tax bill. We live check to check and have to save money each month just to buy our grandchildren christmas presents.

I hope advisory examines the school budget like they do other town budgets. I have always suspected a double standard existed, and this will be the proof in the pudding. They spend hours on the family services and recreaction budget, so they should be spending triple that on this school one. The school committee should be ashamed of not caring about the rest of the town. I cannot imagine that advisory will recommend this school budget to the town. That will be an important step in getting us back to where we need to be. And I hope more than Mr. Butler and Mr. Biondi have voices and see what is going on here.

John Boiardi
11 years ago
Reply to  Senior

Senior,
You are correct. Both John Butler and myself have advocated keeping taxes from burdening seniors. The Advisory committee can only make recommendations to town meeting atendees. It will be important for the seniors to attend town meeting if they want to be heard and to vote.

John Boiardi

Al Hamilton
11 years ago

Can I Really Vote No?

A fair number of people over the years have expressed the opinion that “The Fix Is In” before the annual town meeting starts; the budgets are a done deal between the Selectmen, Advisory and the School Committees and there is no real choice except to go along with the deal.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The world will not come to an end if a single budget or the entire budget is voted down by town meeting. Here is my understanding of what would happen.

Suppose, for the sake of argument that the DPW budget (sorry Karen) was voted down. There are 3 things that could possibly happen.

1. A person who was on the winning side (No) could move to reconsider. If the motion to reconsider passed then a new, presumably smaller, amount could be motioned and voted on.

2. If the motion to reconsider failed then the ATM would end without an approved DPW budget for the next fiscal year. The DPW, Advisory, and Selectmen would then meet and develop an alternative budget, Schedule a new Town meeting and we would meet, debate and approve or disapprove as free people should.

3. It is possible that for some departments that are not considered critical or mandated the relevant executive would decide not to offer the service if the citizens decided they did not want to fund it. But rest assured that if a School/DPW/Police/Fire budget was defeated it would be reoffered.

At the end of the budgets, there is a “wrap up” motion that incorporates all of the approved budgets. If for some reason Town Meeting got a case of sticker shock and voted no then, after reconsideration, then all the budgets would redeveloped and reoffered at a new town meeting.

Isn’t voting NO going to cause a real mess?

Yes, democracy is not always neat and tidy but a no vote will not lead to disaster. It will be no fun to have to come back for a second round of Town Meetings. However, this should not cloud our thinking. It is a minor inconvenience and a trivial expense when you consider the price people in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Bahrain are paying for these simple but powerful privileges and of course nothing compare to the price paid by those who “gave their last full measure” to secure these privileges for us.

So, in short, there is nothing wrong with voting NO if you are not happy with the state of government or the size of your tax bill. Quite the opposite, it is your vote to use as you see fit.

Carol
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al,
I appreciate your thorough and well organized answers, even when I may, at times, disagree with you. You have given much time to educate the rest of us on these town issues.

This is a possible reaction to a budget, but what is the approximate cost of an additional town meeting? I think that should be known up front before such a vote is taken.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Carol

I believe the cost of the meeting is on the order of $5k, a warrant has to be printed, police officers paid in case we get unruly. Town Counsel while reasonably priced will expect to get paid and there may be some overtime for other employees. There is a pool of money (Reserve Fund) overseen by the Advisory Committee that is for unexpected expenses that could readily be used to fund a second meeting.

If an election were required I believe those cost are on the order of 10k. Both expenses are very modest and in the great scheme of things we should be willing to pay far more in order to fully exercise our right to govern ourselves.

John Butler
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

While everything Al says is true, it is also unnecessary to vote No and then come back to vote Yes, later, on a lower number. You can just stand up and Hold any budget for discussion, then “Move to Amend” any budget to a lower number, if you want. You can also amend to a higher number if a higher number is printed but not read in the original motion, or if the higher number you want to propose is not so much higher that the Moderator judges it to be outside the scope of the printed warrant. So, you can get pretty much whatever you want, (if there are the voters to support you) in a single meeting.

For several years I have offered to help anyone that wants to have prepared a set of numbers that are different from those recommended by Advisory. I recognize that having the information necessary to make such floor proposals can seem difficult and I haven’t wanted anyone to feel as if they have to go along with the proposals of Advisory or Selectmen because they lacked the needed information. I don’t really care if you want more services at higher taxes or lower taxes. However, I would note that no one has actually taken me up on my offer. If you want to do so this year, my email address is on the Advisory web site: southboroughadvisory.com under Members.

Carrie Alpert
11 years ago

To those that are angry, which if you are not then you are either not paying attention, living in the upper 3%, still in heavy credit card debt (watch Susie Orman) or are just riding the coattails of those like us which will only get you so far because decisions will be made that you do not care for.
With that said, The New Deal seems to be this: we seem to have to be telling the kids that the teachers, fire fighters, police officers and other hard working people are having to take a pay cut or get laid off so that the corporations can get tax breaks in order to lay off their parents.
This corporation tax break affects everyone– Bank of America just filed their 2010 return and they are getting a $666 million dollar refund in terms of their taxes, how about protesting *that and not ranting to get rid of a teacher?

Too big to fail is bigger than ever, just covered up better.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Carrie Alpert

Carrie –

I mostly agree with you that nowhere near enough bankers went to jail for financial debacle that they caused. In fact I believe the number is 0. Why is that do you think, Could it be that Wall Street, according to NPR, is the largest contributor to the Democratic Party (second to the unions), and the Republicans don’t eat their own. Combine that with the Treasury/SEC/FED/Goldman revolving door that leads the Clueless Feds to think that Wall Street is the voice of business when in fact it is the voice of Crony Capitalism.

Don’t blame Bank of America, blame your Senator and Rep who are in their pockets. By the way US Corporate tax rates, for companies that pay taxes, is the second highest in the industrial world and the even the President wants to reduce them to enhance global competitiveness. (I agree with this by the way).

All of this is interesting to talk about but the decisions facing us boil down to whether we want to raise our taxes in order to give raises to town workers. No one is talking about cutting the pay packets of town workers, some are talking about freezing salaries and wages and some are talking about asking for town workers, particularly teacher to contribute more towards the cost of their benefits.

So this talk about cutting public workers pay is a bit like some department heads who complain about budget cuts when in fact all that has been cut is the rate of budget increase.

The ugly truth is that we have an unsustainable business model, if we continue to fund endless raises and unsustainable benefits packages then we will have fewer and fewer teachers, firefighters and police officers. Most of the middle class in this country has experienced pay and benefits reductions in the last decade in the name of global competitivess (or if you want corporate greed it does not matter). The only exempted sector has been public sector employees and those chickens are now coming home to roost.

Carrie Alpert
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

So change the business model and I do blame B.O.A and loved what Wikileaks discovered today. I am more for holding those accountable instead of doling out forgiveness and then starting the cycle all over again. I am not backing down in my backing of the teachers and if they need to contribute more so be it but asking to cut so much from the school budget because the country and the people running it went for a joyride and *continue to do* so at the expense of the kids is a travesty.
Middle class America is being destroyed by corporate Amercia–by it’s wonton lust for it all–total and utter control in the financial sector as well as the political arena.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Carrie Alpert

Carrie

A big part of the broken business model, has at its root source, the teachers you want to protect. The vast majority of our budget goes to labor costs. Teacher are the single biggest category of labor costs. The solution is more than just changing the % of the health care bill paid by public workers.

From 2006 to 2010 the cost of our government rose 16.3% during the same period personal income (the source of the vast majority of tax revenue) in Mass rose 10.8% meaning that local government was taking an ever increasing bite of the taxpayers disposable income. This is obviously not sustainable. That is part of the ugly reality. The other part is unfunded liability in particular retirement benefits.

It is all fine and good to talk about backing teachers but the painful reality is that the we are going to have to choose between changing the economic conditions of work for teachers (and others) or accept a diminished level of service while we maintain the status quo.

Carrie Alpert
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

A very concise way to put it, easily digestible and the crisp reality.
I am just not one to sit idly by why big biz continues to morph everyday people– and my kids are young, not close to entering the quote “workforce” to me the system is corrupt and breeds more corruption.
I completely agree with that the model is extinct/broken what we need is new vision–if anyone follows Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark NJ., we need a force like him.

Barbara
11 years ago

Could some body clarify why exactly is the the schools asking for an additional $107K to fund technology. I do believe all the schools have computer rooms with Macs.

John Boiardi
11 years ago
Reply to  Barbara

Barbara,

Good question. The school administration wants to put the technology budget in with the operational budget. Keeping it in the capital budget identifies the specific usage which we can then vote on. Melding it into the operating budget results in a lose of transparency. The money can be spent for anything by the superentendant once the budget is approved. I would rather keep it in the capital budget where I could see if it were for software, hardware, or whatever. It would have to be separately justified for inclusion in the capital budget. In the operational budget ,once the budget is approved, the money can be spent for anything. I have yet to hear what the $170k is going to be used for.

John Boiardi
11 years ago
Reply to  susan

Susan,
You are correct, it is $107k. My feeling is the same. Technology requests should remain in the capital budget.

Barbara
11 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

Thank you John for the response. Now how makes the decision for the money to be put into the operating budget rather than the capital budget. I agree I would rather know how the money is being spent and what on. Not to take away from the students of Southborough but to compare their technology to other towns we are doing well. Each school has a computer lab filled with Apple computers as well as the teachers have laptops. Please correct me if I am wrong but isn’t this an area where we could look at cutting the budget.

John Boiardi
11 years ago
Reply to  Barbara

Barbara,
I believe that the school committee makes all the decisions regarding what goes into the school budget. Keep in mind they control 70% of the town budget. From my personal observation of the school committee I feal that they are a complete rubber stamp for the school administration. The SC took offence of my depiction of them as a rubber stamp. I am not aware of the SC refusing any program, or quetioning any budget line item. Perhaps a SC member can point out on this blog where they differed from the administration on any budget item. The SC says that the budget effort is a “collaborative” effort as opposed to a line by lne examination that other budgets are subject to. The so called collaborative method results in increased taxes every year.
Don’t take my word for it. Steel yourself and watch a SC meeting on channel 27. Tell me if it doesn’t seem to be a love in.

John Boiardi
11 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

Excuse me. Southborough local channel is 37

Betty LaRoche
11 years ago

As a concearned tax payer of Southborough, is there a way to see what department heads and salaries municipal employees are making before the final budget is presented ? In today’s economic conditions , all taxpayers should know where their tax dollars are being spent.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Betty LaRoche

Betty

Yes, the wages of all public employees are in the public record. You could send an email to the town administrator requesting the information. If you get stonewalled, which I doubt will happen, you can make it a formal freedom of information request but I do not think that will be necessary.

Jean Kitchen’s email address is jkitchen@southboroughma.com

It is your government and you the books really are open.

Betty LaRoche
11 years ago

Mr. Hamilton- How many municipal employees have been granted a raise this year ? Maybe the public record needs to be made more public !

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Betty LaRoche

The answer, with one exception, is nearly all town employees would have received wage increases. The vast majority of our employees on both the school and municipal levels are union members and work under a union contract that calls for regular increase. These take the form of annual increases and increases for things like length of service and credentials. The few employees that are not covered by union agreements have their pay raised on an annual basis by the relevant executive in conjunction with the Personnel Board (sub committee of Town Meeting) which tends to mirror the union agreements.

The one exception last year is the Police. While Police Officers received wage increases their “Quinn Stipends” were cut. The Quinn Bill provides for additional wages to be paid based on an officers educational attainment. (It may surprise many that a College Degree is not required to be a police officer.) The additional wages were to be paid 50/50 by the local government adopting the terms of the bill and the State. Last year the state did not fund its share. The town did honor its part of the obligation. But I believe that Police officers may have seen their pay packets shrink last year.

By the way, all of this is public information. The wages of every employee in town and the union contracts are part of the public record and available to anyone who wants to know.

Betty LaRoche
11 years ago
Reply to  Betty LaRoche

If that is the case then what was the average increase of the municipal emplyees of the town library because from what I understand that would be “0” .

Betty LaRoche
11 years ago
Reply to  Betty LaRoche

Mr Hamilton, I am waiting for the specifics on the increases to the municipal emplyees at the Southborough library. I personally feel that they work tirelessly at meeting the taxpayers needs and always with the utmost professionalism but it is my understanding that they have not been awarded an increase but some emplyees of the town have made sure that they will. How fair is this ?

Dave
11 years ago

Mr. Hamilton is correct. Southborough Police Officers with a graduate degree in either Criminal Justice or a Law Degree had their educational incentive cut. This represents a 25% cut in annual compensation. Thats a quarter of their annual compensation while we struggle to find a way to fund a salary increase for teachers.

carrie alpert
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave

and there was a HUGE outcry at the town meeting and it carried over in discussions after in regards to the Quinn Bill and how it should have been supported. Absolute travesty. I do not blame any officer for leaving if one of the reasons for exiting had to do with this. The State should not be allowed to get away not funding it’s share, i do not want to hear that it does not have the monies–we are talking about furthering ones education and it was promised as part of a package and the goods should have been delivered.
In order to move forward and better oneself you have to educate and grow and not be stagnant–outrageous that the State has money for faulty lighting for the Big Dig but to not educate its officers or to purchase the latest firefighting equipment.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave

Bill

Your math is not quite right. The Quinn Bill provides for an increase in base pay based on achieving certain educational credentials. 10% for an Assoicates Degree or equivalent, 20% for a Bachelors and 25% for a Masters or JD. The Town pays for half and the State is supposed to pay for half. The state did not fund its portion last year but the Town kept its part of our bargain. That means at most a reduction of half of the 25% (12.5%) bonus. So the maximum reduction is 10% in wages (12.5%/125%). Regardless this is a real reduction.

Of course, if the officers are dissatisfied with the wages offer or the working conditions or anything else they are free, like the rest of us to seek alternative employment under terms better to their liking.

Steps
11 years ago

The Town warrant has an article to delete the current Salary Administration Plan, also known as the “step” plan I believe. This means that there is a new one to relace it. Why did we need a new step plan and does the new one give ANY town employee ANY rise in salary? Can anyone from the Personnel Board answer this?

mike
11 years ago

Dave, That is true but if they have those degrees they have had very substatntial increases since Quinn Bill went in. And like most federal or state unfunded mandates, which the Quinn is, we as tax payers (IE Wisconsin) have to say no to those. They are unconstitutional. The good news is Southboro did right by the police and funded our half. That is still wrong. I dont get an auto increase for completing my Masters this year. It keeps me more competitive in a competitive marketplace. That is the way it should be for all people. Me, You, Police, Fire, Teachers et…

Kelly Roney
11 years ago
Reply to  mike

The Quinn Bill, whether you like it or not, is not an unfunded mandate. Here’s one key provision:

Any city or town which accepts the provisions of this section and provides career incentive salary increases for police officers shall be reimbursed by the commonwealth for one half the cost of such payments upon certification by the board of higher education.

We voted locally to accept the law.

The claim that it’s unconstitutional amounts to “anything I don’t like is unconstitutional” and has no basis.

Having better educated police officers is a good idea. Whether the Quinn Bill accomplishes more that the appearance of education is a fair question about which I’ve heard facts on both sides.

Kelly Roney
11 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

“that” should be “than”.

John Butler
11 years ago

Just in case anyone reading Dave thinks that average police compensation was cut by 25%, it was not. To the nearest whole percent, there was no cut at all in total compensation, on average, from last year to this year.

During the current fiscal year, the Quinn reduction from the State was $45,370, out of $1.45 million in total compensation, a reduction of 3%, but total police compensation from the Town, unrelated to Quinn, was also up 3%, to the nearest percent over the year before. So to the nearest whole percent there was no average reduction in police compensation, measuring more accurately it was 0.3%.

Dave
11 years ago

Mike: Respectfully, there is not a constitutional issue here; its one of statutory interpretation.

Mr. Hamilton, certainly the town did pay its 12.5% last year, however the expectation as of this writing is that it may not in the future. I would agree with you that even a 12.5% decrease in salary is significant, especially considering the concessions made in 1997 in a collective bargaining agreement which was agreed to by Town’s labor counsel as well as town meeting members when the statute was approved.

The larger policy issue is whether the Town seeks a desired end state which results in members of the police department being paid a wage which is significantly less than those of comparable communities. Mr. Hamilton’s answer is to work elsewhere, which is of course one course of action. The second and third order effects which need to be addressed is whether the town wants to be a “man, train and equip” provider for other municipalities, as those young Officers accept employment until a community paying higher salaries has an opening. Other second order effects include that you will have Officers which will not retire from this agency, loosing the “buy in” to a town and a personal connection which the residents expect.

The lack of a competitive wage will result not only in retention issues but also in recruitment concerns. All of these factors need to be considered by the residents as a collective whole when they make the funding decisions. While properly a policy decision, there are other factors to consider. Mr. Butler is correct in assessing non-Quinn compensation, however when significant concessions were made over a legacy of collective bargaining for that benefit, (which represented significant savings to the town), the actual reduction in compensation for those collecting a total compensation package including the Quinn incentive results in a real reduction of 12.5 % now and an expected 25% in the future. I challenge other employees in this town to report a similar cut in earnings.

The town certainly has to consider all avenues in balancing the budget. I observed that last year the teachers union gave up 2 professional days with out pay. That represents good faith, however only to the 1/90th of their total paycheck (e.g. without benefits) compensation. I would note that they also continue to collect their (100% town funded) educational incentive for graduate degrees.

This is a great forum and I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue. All of these decisions are policy matters which will form to shape a picture of the town both now and in the future. My recommendation is that the town debate the value of a well educated police department as those members seek to reconcile some of society’s more challenging issues in a profession where the there is need for highly trained professionals and the associated (and certainly assumed) risk to one’s safety is real.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave

Dave:

You cite the risk of having officer turn over as a bad thing. Too little turnover, which is much more common in Town Govt, is at least as bad a problem. Turnover in Town Govt, at least by private sector standards, is glacial. When new people, particularly those with experience or managers come into an organization they bring new ideas and new ways of doing things. My observation is that in Southborough our employees enter at the bottom and retire 20 to 40 years later. There is very little new blood, with meaningful experience, comes into our system. This in turn leads to massive institutional resistance to anything new or different.

I had the opportunity to talk to a new department manager right after they were promoted form within and given the job. The question was asked “What are your goals, what do you want to do differently than your predecessor?”. The reply was a puzzled look as if this was a question from Mars and the answer was “Nothing, I don’t want to make any changes”.

So, frankly what other towns (who are broke also) decide to pay police officers is only relevant to the extent that we are not able to hire and retain qualified officers. I for one am not convinced that turning over an officer or 2 a year is a bad thing.

John Butler
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave

Dave talks as if the Town made unilateral decisions about compensation for police. It is easy for most non-union readers of this column to slip into the notion that the Town makes such decisions on its own, much the way, perhaps their boss or their company does. With most Town employees, police included, this is just not the case. Compensation is entirely an outcome of bargaining.

In the case of Quinn compensation for police, the possibility that the State would reduce its funding was considered sufficiently possible that, before it did so, language to govern that condition was negotiated and incorporated into the contract. The union agreed that if the State cut its funding the Town did not have to make up the missing portion. Presumably the union got something else in the contract in return for that concession. If police don’t like that provision, they need to talk to their union. Lobbying for one-sided concessions should be no more likely to be successful with Town than it would be for the Town with the union.

Based on the other numbers Dave throws around here, I’m not confident of his calculation of 1/90th pay reduction for the teachers, but please note, since he agrees my numbers are correct about police budget, that, on arithmetic alone, 1/90th reduction is 1.1% and that is 3.7 times larger cut than the 0.3% reduction in police compensation. Presumably his “challenge to other employees” merely requires someone with a calculator to bring it to an early conclusion.

John Rooney
11 years ago

We are beneficiaries of exceptionally professional police officers and fire fighters.

While I tend to agree with Mr. Hamilton on a large number of matters relating to fiscal management, we sharply differ on the issue of police officer turnover and pay scale. This is one of those instances wherein we will simply have to agree to disagree.

First, According to the US Department of Justice, it takes on average 31 weeks to screen, hire, and train a new officer for a small department like ours. When an experienced officer leaves, we lose their experience, community contacts, and town knowledge. This results in a reduction in productivity and an increased liability risk.

Next, having spent age 5 to 18 growing up in a police department, and three years working with about 20 differrent police departments as a prosecutor, I can attest that every police department has a culture; the unwritten rules, customs, values, and outlooks that form the overall department environment. Usually a strong sense of duty and responsibility for one another are inculcated into the officers. At the individual level in police departments, close, personal relationships and feelings of dependence and trust often exist among officers. In smaller departments like ours, all of the individual officers may know each other and be friendly or unfriendly to each other; either possibility presents issues. And, when they know they are in a place where people are looking out for their welfare, they are more likely to exceed performance expectations. By encouraging turnover or by allowing a pervasive sense of indifference, the culture quickly deteriorates.

I am of the opinion that, in order to attract and retain professional officers, a police department needs to project the image of a professional organization. A high turnover rate does not do that. Law enforcement officers are one of the few groups in society lawfully empowered to use deadly force in executing their duties. The Town must continually strive to employ the most highly qualified persons available. Only the best professionally qualified person should have the ultimate-and awesome-police power of summarily depriving a person of liberty or even life. Even a rookie police officer must have the ability to handle tough situations with a gun.

Few professionals are so peculiarly charged with individual responsibility as police officers. Officers are compelled to make instantaneous decisions, often without clear-cut guidance from the Legislature or departmental policy, and mistakes of judgment could cause irreparable harm to citizens or even to the community.

We need to maintain the professional quality of our police department and pay our officers accordingly. Pay peanuts and you get monkeys – with loaded guns.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

John

I am not advocating paying police officers minimum wage. We need to pay an amount that permits us to hire and retain well qualified officers. Making good hires is the most important decision that most managers make. A good hire makes their lives better, a bad hire will make it miserable.

However, the very unwritten rules, customs and values you cite, which are found in all organizations, has a dark side. It leads to institutional resistance to innovation. One of the most striking differences that I have observed between our municipal departments and their private sector counterparts is the attitude towards doing something different or new. The relentless competitive pressure, for better and worse, in most of the private sector means that change is the norm. With only a few exceptions in town operations change is the exception and to be resisted by all means.

I did not mean to pick on the Police Dept with respect to my turnover comments but I stand by the observation that low turnover is as bad as high turnover. Town Hall would look very different if it were subject to private sector competitive pressures. The management would be flattened, clerical functions would have been automated long ago and eliminated, all services would be on line with credit cards accepted with no premium, all public meetings would be televised, service counters would be consolidated, hours of operation would be extended to be more customer friendly. In short, better customer service at a significantly lower cost.

I don’t think the 31 weeks you cite to hire and train an officer is particularly different than my experience in the private sector. It takes time for any new hire to come up to speed. 4-6 months for a relatively junior person is not unusual. Experienced people, who cost more, are expected to come up to speed faster. Perhaps we should be trying to hire more experienced officers (who cost more) who might bring new ideas into the department and would presumably come up to speed faster.

I don’t know what the optimal turn over rate is but I think town wide ours is very low and stifles progress. In particular I think that as we fill mid and senior level positions we should be filling some 25% to 40% from the outside to make sure we are bringing new ways of thinking and doing things to our small town.

John Butler
11 years ago

This conversation about police pay is floating without any of the important facts. Is there any data that says that Southborough is paying less than similarly situated communities? Shouldn’t that be the starting place for a discussion? If we are not paying significantly less average total compensation compared to similar communities, then, if there is a morale, turnover or recruitment problem unique to us, also unproven, compensation is not the cause. Also note that stories of officers who resigned about why they resigned are irrelevant to the subject of compensation. People will always say that they left for reasons of more pay because it is an easy story to give on the way out, when the real reasons are harder to discuss. If the average compensation data does not show a significant difference, then the problem, if there is one, cannot be cured by increasing average compensation.

Shubu Mukherjee
11 years ago

What follows are frustrated ramblings of a Southborough resident:-

Honestly, I am quite disappointed with the Southborough public school system. When we moved into town few years back, we heard great things about this school system, including one of the smallest student to teacher ratio (which supposedly does wonders).

Unfortunately, in MCAS, Southborough has not even ranked in the top 30 towns across the state. The standard answer from the school is that MCAS doesn’t matter. I completely disagree. This is the _only_ metric we have. And, I have spent enough time with my daughter’s MCAS math now to realize that the MCAS questions are actually a pretty good test of a student’s skills. But school management totally underplays MCAS scores.

Compare this to Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury is now among the top 5 in MCAS in the state. I would be happy to stand corrected, but my understanding is that Shrewsbury spends much less than Southborough per student. In contrast, in one instance that I am aware of, the MCAS topics weren’t covered until after MCAS test was over! Go figure! Perhaps we can learn something by trying to understand what Shrewsbury is doing right and what we are doing wrong.

Why do I bring this up? I am _not_ arguing that we should reduce the school’s budget. I am always for investing in education in whatever shape or form. But, I don’t think the school system is doing an appropriate job in what we invest in (classic example was when the school bought both routers and servers without knowing where the real bottleneck was).

I haven’t seen enough transparency in the school budget. There are a lot of buzz words and clouding of issues. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because we the townspeople have very little say in the school budget.

This may also be a good time to decide if we should close one of the 4 school buildings the Southborough school system has. I was taken aback by some of the comments the school committee members made in trying to select the committee that will determine if Neary should be closed or not … anyways, that’s a story for another day.

Shubu Mukherjee

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