MWDN: Algonquin to again weigh adding teachers

At a regional school committee meeting last night, Superintendent Charles Gobron gave a preview of factors driving the Algonquin budget for fiscal year 2013. One of those factors is a desire to lower the student-teacher ratio by hiring more teachers.

Enrollment at Algonquin jumped by 40 students this year, resulting in class sizes that exceed the goals set by the district. Gobron said Algonquin would need to hire about five teachers next year to bring the ratio more in line with the district’s goals. Gobron did not present any budget numbers last night – that will happen in January – nor did he say whether a request for new teachers would make it into his budget recommendation.

Reports the Metrowest Daily News:

Regional School Committee member Paul Butka has driven discussion on the topic at several meetings, saying this is the first year he has heard from parents worried that the numbers are too high.

Butka again drove the discussion Wednesday, trying to gauge the temperature of the room on whether adding teachers is a high priority.

“It’s going to be a significant component of any potential budget increase,” he said. “Is it the will of the committee that we chase those five teachers?”

Other members said although they support the idea of adding teachers generally, they would need to see the entire budget before making a commitment.

Butka represents Southborough on the Regional School Committee. You can read more about the discussion in this article by the MWDN.

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Al Hamilton
10 years ago

Once again, the Superintendent and School Committees are avoiding any mention of the central drivers of the ever increasing costs of education. Between 2010 and 2011 the average teacher at Algonquin received a 7.7% raise continuing an unbroken trend. Since 2005 the average increase each year has averaged 7.5%. Today, teachers at Algonquin receive about $16,000 more in pay than the State average.

http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/teacher.aspx?orgcode=07300000&orgtypecode=5&leftNavId=815&&fycode=2011

Anytime a school official talks about the 1 or 2% contracted increases they are not telling you the whole story. They are only referring to 1 of 4 items that can cause a teacher to receive increased pay. The biggest drivers are not the ones that our leadership quotes in public. They are the steps and lanes that offer raises for longevity and for changes in credentials. These are never discussed in public but are probably the largest drivers of our labor costs and overall costs in our budgets.

Of course they do not want to discuss this because the School Committees and Superintendent have the sole authority to approve these agreements. Next year the Regional School Committee will have to come up with close to $900,000 of new revenue just to cover the costs of the teachers we have in the system today based on the contractual obligations they took agreed to.

Please do not think I am bashing teachers here. Whether we are getting our monies worth or not is a legitimate question worthy of public debate but I think our leaders should have the courage to put all the facts on the table about what is driving the cost of education.

Talking about hiring 5 new teachers and a 1.55% increase is an act of legerdemain designed to take our attention off the real cost drivers.

Southside Gadsden Flyer
10 years ago

Well stated Al, you always come with the facts and I appreciate that!

Tim Martel
10 years ago

I hope the School Committee considers the long-term implications of adding these additional union positions. There is already active consideration for if/how to change from a 4-school to a 3-school system, as a result of declining school population. So I have to ask – by hiring five teachers now, are we creating a situation where five teachers will have to be laid-off in a few years time? What will that cost us?

SB Resident
10 years ago

I simply do not understand the School Committees motives. There is an implied understanding the school committee and the teachers union are in cahoots in order for these crazy contracts to get passed. Why would this be so? I understand the objective of the school committee to get the most money from the taxpayers, but then getting the most for our money to actually improve the quality of the schools should be the goal of the school committee. If the school committee didn’t approve these contracts we would have the money for these 5 teachers within the current budget.

Isn’t the K-8 student population going down? It would make the conversation about adding teachers at algonquin more palatable if the talk of reducing the number of teachers in K-8 was in the same conversation.

Lastly, I don’t understand why Gobron keeps talking about the 105K savings from higher paid teachers leaving as a one time savings. I’m pretty sure those teachers are still gone.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

The $105k is a fiction. Every year teachers retire. Retiring teachers are typically at the high end of the pay scale. Every year they are replaced by new teachers at the low end of the pay scale. Meanwhile the roughly 95%+ of teachers that remain get an average 7+% raises that will cost us something on the order of $900k.

We can’t blame teachers or their unions for striking the best deal they can get. Their unions are their to promote the financial interests of their members. We should hold the Superintendent and the School Committees responsible because they are. They have purchased labor peace at the cost of having the resources available to improve the quality of education if you believe that student teacher ratios are important. This is no different than the auto industry execs that bought labor peace in the 70’s and 80’s which ultimately set the stage for the auto bailouts.

Johnboy
10 years ago

It makes sense. As the student population goes down, the number of teachers goes up.
7% raises! Doesn’t everyone get them? Go home at 3 PM ( check the school parking lots and count how many teachers cars are there after three.) How much time off in the summer? Oh yes, they may have to change their lesson plan every ( fill in the blank) years.
Can you imagine how much more college would cost with the same student/teacher ratio.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Johnboy

Johnboy

I think it is important to separate our thoughts on teachers from how the School Committee has negotiated labor contracts.

Teaching, if done well is hard and very important work, my mother, grandfather and grandmother were teachers. Most of us can remember teachers that made a difference, for the better, in our lives. I can. So I do not want this discussion to be about disrespecting teachers.

There is, however, economic reality. Teachers and many other public sector workers have been gaining economically when compared to private sector workers for several decades both in terms of salary and also in terms of benefits and pensions (remember those). At some point this becomes fiscal suicide for govt entities. We are seeing the tip of the iceberg in Ca, Pa, and Il.

We need to have an honest conversation about the long term costs of the benefits we are promising as well as the salaries we are promising with our public employees. That is not happening today, both sides are sticking their heads in the sand.

Johnboy
10 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al,
No disrespect meant. It’s the lucrative contracts that bother me. Project out their contracts and the teacher contract portion of the town budget will gobble up and reduce other budgets. With all the technological aids to teaching ( TV, movies, iPads etc.) wouldn’t you think the the student/teacher ratio (the cost driver) could increase somewhat. I realize grammar and high school is not college, but some of my best classes had hundreds in a class. What is so bad about 25 per class? That sure would reduce the need for four teachers because the student population increased by 40.

John Kendall
10 years ago
Reply to  Johnboy

Just a note here…..I received a couple of phone call accusing me of bashing teachers and schools. For the record, I’m not Johnboy, nor do I post under that name.

Jack
10 years ago

When is enough enough? How about some real information instead of misinformation? The schools are killing the town and it’s time to pull them in line with the other departments.

John Kendall
10 years ago

An increase of 40 students….what does that equate to in actual classroom number increases? They didn’t stick all 40 kids in one class, so how does this affect everything?

Frank Crowell
10 years ago

Taking into account the actions of the Superintendent and the School Committees of the last three years, I am not confident there will be any honest conversation with the public about long-term costs of the teacher’s contract. The only way I see this changing is separating the school budget from the town budget and voting on each separately outside of Town Meeting (whole town votes without the educational cheer leading squad over whelming TM). If we had real competition, this would be a game changer as well (convert Neary to a charter school).

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

I am a fan of charter schools. All of us in the private sector have to deal with competition and I believe that education would benefit greatly from competition as well.

I am happy to pay my taxes to educate the children of our community. The key point is that I want to pay to educate children not support any specific institution or to paraphrase Milton Friedman “State Monopoly Schools” which is more or less the system we have.

Elder
10 years ago

I cannot understand why town meeting has no power to reign in the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the school committee. I remember two town meetings ago the school committee told town meeting that they had not agreed on terms with the union, and we later found out that this was an outright lie. Any other elected body that lied or deliberately misinforms the public would be subjected to a full public outcry.

Al, how can town meeting or our board of selectmen slow down the pace of raise increases the school committee is clearly willing to give? And, how can Mr. Kolenda be a voting member of the school committee voting on school raises and also vote as a selectmen on town budgets? What happens if he votes in favor of a school budget increase and then votes against the school budget at town meeting. Isn’t there some type of conflict with this? Or are we to assume that he will automatically always be in favor of the school committee’s budget since he took part in preparing it? I would like some type of clarification here, as it seems that the only change we can make that makes any difference is in the school committee. Al, any ideas?

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Elder

Elder

Unlike municipal union, Town meeting has no say over the contracts. Town Meeting must vote for the Fire, Police, Clerical, and DPW union contracts but the Teachers Union is exempt from that requirement. Only the school committee votes on the contract. The Selectmen have no role in the negotiation of Teachers Contracts.

There are things that could be done. Special legislation could make it a requirement to secure the approval of Town Meeting. you can expect the Teachers Union to fight this tooth and nail and they are very powerful and would likely kill this on Beacon Hill.

The other option is by laws that would require that before a contract was voted on a formal estimate of the costs of the contract would have to be published and the contract itself would have to be published. Today these items are more or less done in secret.

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