K-8 school committee approves new teacher contract

The Southborough (K-8) School Committee met last night to put their stamp of approval on a new teacher contract that will award 3.5 percent in pay raises over the next three years in return for teachers paying more for their health insurance. The Metrowest Daily News reports on the story:

Superintendent Charles Gobron said the contracts favor the town because teachers agreed to pick up 25 percent, rather than 20, of their health care premiums.

He said the raises – .75 percent in the first year, 1.25 percent in the second and 1.5 percent in the third – will mainly reimburse the teachers for the money they lost. He added that as health care premiums rise, so will the amount teachers pay.

School Committee Chairwoman Marybeth Strickland said teachers “were very fair and understanding of the fiscal realities we face,” noting that contracts in the past have been much more generous.

While teachers voted to ratify the contract last week, details on its contents were not available at Town Meeting this week because it had not yet been approved by the school committee. Selectman John Rooney criticized the administration for not making the information available to voters before they decided whether to approve the school budget.

“Teachers ratified new a contract, and that contract over next three years gives teachers the highest raises of any town union,” Rooney said. “We didn’t hear that from Dr. Gobron [in his presentation].”

School Committee member Marybeth Strickland told Town Meeting voters that teachers got “very, very small raises” to offset their increased health care contributions.

Contracts approved last week for the municipal unions – including police, fire, DPW, and clerical – promise raises in the 1.5 to 2.5 percent range over three years, with no raises awarded this year.

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Al Hamilton
11 years ago

Is anyone else bothered by the lack of transparency in this process. The deal is negotiated in secret. The details are withheld from Town Meeting and then voted in the following Thurs.

There are 3 points to consider.

First, I understand that it is common practice for the executive body which is negotiating an labor agreement to, as part of that agreement, agree to support the agreement in public including voting for it. So, assuming this was the case, the deed was done in secret and the vote on Thurs was a mere formality or sham depending on how you look at it. This may be the way things are done but it is hardly transparent or sweet smelling.

Second, the School Committees could have made the terms of the contract public. I had a copy of the summary of the agreement and others who had no obligations with respect to confidentiality had copies. At a minimum, the School Committee could have put the contract on the agenda of their meeting the night of Town Meeting and then postponed the vote until Thurs. By putting the matter on their agenda the matter and the agreement would have properly entered the public domain if it was not already there. This would have permitted the School Committee or Dr. Gobron to tell Town Meeting what they had negotiated.

Finally, do not for a second believe that a teacher will only get a 0.75% increase next year. Buried in the contract and unchanged is the same system of steps and lanes that provides for regular raises. The 0.75% merely raises the entire raise machine up a notch.

This contract is the largest in our community and accounts for nearly 1/2 of our tax expenditures. I think the public was due more transparency and time for consideration and comment than it was given.

Paul Gaffney
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al – As you know, I was a member of the school committee for many years. I am a big supporter of the Southborough Schools and Algonquin. Notwithstanding all of that, I agree with you that there can and should be more transparency in public employment compensation arrangements. Have you obtained a copy of the current contracts for each of the bargaining units in town? It would be wonderfully transparent to translate those contacts into examples that every citizen could understand – including the “step and lane” construct present in many public-employee contract that turns the “face value” 0.75% (or whatever) “increase” into something more like 3% to 5% for each typical employee.

I want to be careful to separate bringing transparency to these matters from pre-judging them. Many people may in fact support 3% – 5% raises for town and school employees. It did always feel a bit opaque to me, however, to publish the “headline” number when almost everyone in the bargaining unit would be receiving an annual increase much higher than the “headline.”

Karen Muggeridge
11 years ago

Yes, it does Al. The lack of transparency in the process makes it very skewed to the disadvantage of the taxpayers. The discrepancies of the different collective bargaining entities in town as far as raises go, are also noted. There are other parts of the contracts to which I am not privy, so I can not judge.

This editorial column, gives a pretty good reflection of my feelings on the whole transparency issue.
http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/opinion/x1664571732/Dowd-Bargaining-behind-closed-doors

The BOS and Dr Gobron have now both used the teachers and other town employees, picking up an increased share of their health insurance premiums. That is great, thank you, but without knowing anything about those plans, we don’t really know if it’s as good as it can be. Is it a high or low deductible plan, a plan that rewards preventative care or one that is still fee-for service.

We are given a piece of information that sounds good and presume that it is, but do we really know? I think we often are given, and react to a small piece of information, and bounce to whatever conclusion we want to, or are hoped believe. I am using this as an example, don’t need insurance information.
(People were up in arms about one town being mentioned at town meeting, with regards to the school budgets and seemed to me, to miss the whole point.)

More transparency, yes please.

John Boiardi
11 years ago

Everyone should read the article in the Metrowest regarding collective bargaining.

Resident
11 years ago

The school committee HAD a meeting right before town meeting and should have voted on the contract. They chose not to. Why? So that none of us at town meeting would know about the raises. The school committee was also involved in negotiating the contract, so they knew the details, but didn’t want us to. When selectman Rooney mentioned the amount of the raise, they yelled in outrage and tried to keep it under wraps. Their cheering section was also told to rise in uproar if the issue was brought up. Then the chair of the committee directly misled everyone of us when she said the raises were “very, very minimal.” That is not true. That is not fair. They withheld the information for a reason and that reason was to make sure the school budget passed.

At least it is good to know we have a school committee who does not care about fairness in charge of our children. The town should not stand for it.

John Boiardi
11 years ago
Reply to  Resident

Resident,

You are correct. The school committee deliberately kept the contract raise package from being disclosed at the town meeting. The proponents of the school committee budget were loud and obnoxious when the budget was being discussed. Some of the louder ones should have been escorted out of the meeting. Anyone who votes for one of the current school committee members when they come up for reallection should keep their performance in mind. They are unrelenting in driving up costs and taxes regardless of the towns financial situation. Wait until next fiscal year when there won’t be be a pot of gold in the overlay account.

Frank Crowell
11 years ago
Reply to  Resident

You would think that one of the school committee members would respond to this on the blog and tell us all the sequence of events. I certainly would want to clear up why this was not voted on just prior to TM if I were on the board.

Perplexed
11 years ago

One thing that has bothered me since Town Meeting is the fact that at Town Meeting, Dr. Gobron was proud to tell us that the teachers’ union had agreed to increase their contribution to health insurance, yet when voters asked about other parts of the contract, we were told it could not be discussed until ratified by the SC. I believe a Mr. Kessler told us it would be illegal to talk about it (not sure he used the word illegal, but certainly that it would not be proper and would put us in some sort of jeopardy). Does this strike anyone but me as “selective disclosure”? Why is the Superintendent able to talk about the aspects of the not-yet-public contract which put the union in the best light, but the voters cannot know about other details, like raises for which we are paying! I would love to know what I am missing here. Perhaps there is simple explanation for the partial disclosure. I, for one, would like to see this changed. Either we can talk about the contract details or we can’t, you don’t pick and choose the parts you want to reveal!

choosing anonymity
11 years ago
Reply to  Perplexed

Great point made by “Perplexed”. Dr. Gobron is willing to let us in
on only some of the secrecy and at his discretion. I know some of these parents involved in the group that is so willing to give everything to the schools at the detrement of the towns budget, were and are professionals. I don’t uderstand how
they are willing to raise hands or stand up to vote without full disclosure so blindly. In what other part of life do we do this….NONE.
Even when I have a bid to paint my house or to do a rennovation I want full disclosure. I would be in idiot not to.

choosing anonymity
11 years ago

please pardon my spelling errors…..it is Saturday morning you know.

Mark Ford
11 years ago

A remarkable thread. Gaffney and Muggeridge both posting…you’ve got to know we’re at a crossroads. I read Ms. Muggeridge’s link, have you?

Pat Q
11 years ago
Reply to  Mark Ford

Just read the link. Very good article. Seems like such a crazy way to do business with so much at stake.

John Butler
11 years ago

I do not see how the School Committee or the parents could believe that the increasing labor costs represented by this contract could be in the probable best interest of the school children. Lets ask ourselves which is the greater risk: that Southborough teacher salaries are not high enough to attract the people we want in the overall recruiting picture, or that, on the other side, higher labor costs force unwanted layoffs as a result of a collision with a future failed tax override attempt? Is it not obvious that the greater risk to our schools now stems from possible funding inadequacy, that we have essentially no salary problem attracting and retaining such talent as is available? This says that a school committee that thought strategically about risks, and focused on the best interests of the children, would be trying to hold down labor costs and would have the support of parents in doing so.

Paul Gaffney
11 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

John – there seems to be some inevitable Stockholm Syndrome in these negotiations and a bit of the “Road to Abilene” phenomenon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abilene_paradox). No one wants costs to escalate unnecessarily. But there are complicated social forces at work and a natural human tendency to find a solution rather than create a crisis. Unfortunately I don’t think there is a single union adviser out there that would allow a teachers’ negotiating team to accept a total wage freeze and there is likely no school committee that would risk the inevitable confrontation. All of that is normal human emotion in spite of the totally rational fact that (a) no teacher could leave the Southborough system expecting better compensation elsewhere and (b) continuing to employ all current teachers at current wages is better for all parties than employing fewer at higher wages. Those rational facts get quickly subsumed with many emotions. I know all of the members of the current school committee and they are all capable, intelligent, rational folks who care deeply about the role of their elected office. I will tell you from personal experience that changing the nature of public employee compensation is not going to happen via one lone school committee or even one lone board of selectmen. It is only going to happen in a larger forum and that will only happen, I believe, when people have all of the facts and when they care enough to do something based on those facts.

Resident
11 years ago

The unfortunate fact is that in their zeal to crush the selectmen’s and advisory’s recommended cuts, Gobron, the school committee and the immature cheerleaders did more to hurt the future of education than they realize. Advocating is one thing – misleading voters, offering false information, orchestrating disruption, thinking they could fool us and not vote on the contract before town meeting, and trying to suppress information is another. I accept Mr. Gaffney’s opinion that the members of the school committee are all professional and committed. What I cannot accept, nor do I expect does he, is their unified effort to mislead us and then use some bogus excuse that they had not voted on the contract yet. We would not stand for this misconduct with any other elected position, but we do for the schools because we think it is best for our kids. It is clear that Gobron and the school committee approach this all with an end justifies the means approach, and discard fairness and truth. That approach was successful at town meeting 2011. I can’t wait for town meeting 2012.

John Butler
11 years ago

Paul, I agree with you entirely about the “natural human forces” at work and possibly also about the difficulty of taking on this challenge in the comparative microcosm of one school system.
However, I have a much harder time excusing the school committee from the responsibility of not thinking clearly and speaking frankly about the problem even if they cannot implement as would be desirable. Unless there is some escape from the conclusions drawn here, which I doubt, they should saying publicly and loudly that this is not in anyone’s best interest even if they add, “We cannot change it alone.”. If they do not speak frankly, the “larger forum” you speak of is a Wisconsin situation, a social cataclysm born of years of sweeping problems under the rug. It is the silent acquiescence that I find most discouraging.

Kathryn Marous
11 years ago

Some of these posts seem to opine that all parents who voted against cutting the school budget also agree with the teacher’s contracts in their entirety. I do not believe this is the case. My understanding is that the school budget is a larger issue encompassing many things including equipment and maintaining special ed staff. I believe many town meeting voters did not want staff lay offs and larger class sizes and that is why they voted they way they did. I don’t think they were all making a statement encouraging teacher raises. Also, I agree with Paul Gaffney that there should be more transparency. Wouldn’t it be great if parents (myself included) took a larger role in school committee rather than waiting until town meeting to make our voices heard? This debate is not about parents of school children vs. everybody else in town. It is WAY more complicated.

mike
11 years ago

Hmmm, I hear some voices of reason out there. That is a good thing. And I do not think the school committee and Gobron are on your or my side. Good thing is they are electable and dismissable (unlike the teachers under current union led contracts – hence the problem). If enought folks want them held accoutnable hear it is:

1. You have to get people elected to the school commettee who believe what you do. the current board does not and supports the unions efforts at all costs. Along with Dr. Gobron who is at heart and experience a scholl, teacher, union person.

2. You have to elect people who are willing to stand up and say here is the alternative. Even in the face of immature clappers. Because if I am hearing this correctly we pretty much all feel the same way. Keep the teachers ( I am a parent as well), change to merit pay, and do away with seniority, and destroy tenure (teachers can not be fired and dont ever tell me they can – it takes a literal act of God).

3. You are right, we can not just fire the unions, so you have to have a back up plan for a strike. That means having 30-50 people who can step in and conduct school if the teachers decide to strike at the unions command.

4. The unions will have to go way becasue either the teachers can negotiate directly with the town, or they go away as well. And if the school committee wants to play patsy and hide and seek with the bill payers – you and I, fire them. Folks, there is NO LAW saying we have to hire the union teachers or the unioins have to be in control of our schools – teachers. That would be collusion between the scholols and the unions and the state . But no one knows that or believes it. My wife had to fight for a year 15 years ago to get out of paying immoral dues to the unions. She did fight it and ultimately won.

All the good teachers would stay. Which in Southboro that would mean the majority.

Elect some school committee members that will work to that end.

And you know what. There are only so many parents in this town folks. You have to then show up and vote down the immature cat callers at town meetings. I know it takes time and it is frustrating but those group of parents are going to show up every town meeting.

Dave
11 years ago

Mike: You may want to look at Chapter 150E, Section 9A, which holds: ” (a) No public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike, and no public employee or employee organization shall induce, encourage or condone any strike, work stoppage, slowdown or withholding of services by such public employees”.

Additionally, most labor contracts in MA have no strike clauses, so the Town has contractual, injunctive relief and breach of contract remedies available. Usually public sector unions recognize this (and have agreed to it) so the response is an informational picket.

Kelly Roney
11 years ago

If you want to compare states where teachers have unions to those which don’t (or don’t have real bargaining rights), you’ll find that states with teachers’ unions do a far superior job of educating their children.

That’s only correlation, not proven cause, but it’s worth thinking about.

Most of the people here who despise unions do so out of ideology, not from actual results.

Frank Crowell
11 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

I am not sure where you are getting your information from. I Googled this question and found these two discussions:



http://blogs.ajc.com/kyle-wingfield/2011/03/03/do-unionized-teachers-really-produce-better-results/



http://studentactivism.net/2011/02/21/teachers-unions-actsat-and-student-performance-is-wisconsin-out-ranking-the-non-union-states/



Could you please pass along what studies that back up your point.

Kelly Roney
11 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

Frank, I went back to Google to find again the stuff I looked up last week, and I found that your second link had floated up pretty high. That wasn’t what I had read last week, so I read it this time, and here’s one excerpt:

Back in 2000, three professors writing in the Harvard Educational Review did a statistical analysis of state SAT/ACT scores, controlling for factors like race, median income, and parental education. They found that the presence of teachers unions in a state did have a measurable and significant correlation with increased test scores — that going to school in a union state would, for instance, raise average SATs by about 50 points.

Thanks, this piece completely proves my point, once you get past the first paragraph.

Even so, college entrance exam scores are a bad way to measure school performance. The states that do the best at preventing drop-outs look worse than they should if that’s your measure, since more weak students remain to take the test. Those states are the pro-education states, and the deep South doesn’t qualify. The states who get more of their students to take college entrance exams also look worse in those numbers for the same reason. Again, places like Massachusetts lead the nation in entrance test participation.

And we still do 50 points better.

A better measure is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is given in participating states to representative cohorts of students. Your own link refers to this item from the Washington Post that shows better educational success in union-friendly states.

The WaPo item had been one of my sources for the assertion that union-friendly states have better outcomes. I had not claimed that there was a causal relationship, only correlation, but your own link claims cause.

Frank Crowell
11 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

Neither link that I posted proves anything one way or the other. I was hoping you were going to site some official study.

By the way, from the same piece, you did not post this. I wonder why.

“But there’s another problem. Most of the states that don’t have teachers’ unions are poorer than Wisconsin, and have more English Language Learners in their schools, and rank higher for other demographic factors that make strong academic performance less likely. Rich kids in a school with a teacher’s union will do better than poor kids in a school without one, generally, but that doesn’t have much to do with the union itself. States with teachers’ unions do better, on average, than states without, but is this because of the unions, or state demographics?”

Kelly Roney
11 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

I can’t believe you didn’t read the paragraph that immediately followed the one you just quoted:

There’s only been one scholarly effort to tackle this problem that I’m aware of. Back in 2000, three professors writing in the Harvard Educational Review did a statistical analysis of state SAT/ACT scores, controlling for factors like race, median income, and parental education. They found that the presence of teachers unions in a state did have a measurable and significant correlation with increased test scores — that going to school in a union state would, for instance, raise average SATs by about 50 points.

I wonder why you would question my sincerity when the very next paragraph answered the question posed by the paragraph you quoted.

Frank Crowell
11 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

Kelly – I do not doubt your sincerity. All I am wondering is where you got the original information on this. I am in search of this decade old article that is referenced since all I posted are just discussion threads like this.

Kelly Roney
11 years ago

Clapping at Town Meeting is not really a problem. We’re not in church! Applause has gone on for years at TM, sometimes called for by the Moderator, without being anything other than an early measure of the voters and their passion. As long as it’s brief…

Catcalls and shouts while someone else is speaking, however, are bad. No one should ever be shouted down. At one point on Monday night, I called, “Let him speak,” when John Rooney was replying to criticism, and some people on my side of the issue were shouting objections to what he said. They weren’t saying anything as bad as the infamous “You lie!” but they were out of order.

The shouters were wrong to object the way they did. Whether I agreed with him or not, I wanted to hear what Mr. Rooney had to say, and we should all be adult enough to give everyone that right and privilege.

mike
11 years ago

Strickland states that the teachers got a very small raise to offset the cost of increase in health insurance. Well you know what School Committee, Unioins and Gobron, they are still paying less than the average private employee in health care, and they know that because of our illustriuos President, health care is being nationalized, and shortly they will not have to pay anything. It will be paid out of higher and higher payroll taxes. So they got the raise knowing that. So who is the fool Southborough? And, no one has received raises in 5 years. And they work part time to boot.

Kelly Roney
11 years ago
Reply to  mike

This is a complete misunderstanding of health care reform. Everyone is mandated to have health insurance. What the whole country will soon have is similar to what we’ve had for several years in Massachusetts. Is the state government paying for your health care? Nope.

President Obama’s health care reform derives many of its ideas from Romneycare, which in turn is very similar to a plan proposed by the very conservative Heritage Foundation in the 1990s in opposition to the failed Clinton plan. In turn, they got the idea from that notoriously socialist enclave, Switzerland.

Nothing was nationalized.

Bill
11 years ago

Mike,
Teachers are paid to work Monday through Friday, September through June. Please find another song to dance to.

mike
11 years ago

Kelly, Totally off topic but I can not let that one go by. Yes the state is paying, with my tax dollars, for 42% of the states citizens. With my tax dollars. And If anyone chooses not to have health coverage, there are 14 out of 23 pages on our tax sheets to penalize us anywhere from $1200-$3600 depending on your income. That is all very very wrong. Again, the state, the government, reaching into my pocket and stealing my hard earned money to pay for someone else. Under any other terms that is stealing my dear.

Kelly Roney
11 years ago
Reply to  mike

Prove it. And talk radio is not a source worth citing. They’d rather make stuff up than grapple with the well-known liberal bias of reality.

Health care costs more than $10,000 per person in Massachusetts. There are 6.6 million of us here. Multiply it out and you get $70 billion. The state budget for health care is about $13 billion. As in, not 42%.

If the state were efficient enough to pay for 42% on 19% of the expenditures, we should let it handle the whole megillah.

Also, people who can’t distinguish taxation with representation from theft aren’t credible.

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