My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Amherst teachers eye contract talks

Hampshire Gazette
Saturday, December 19, 2009

AMHERST - The union representing teachers and staff has agreed to talk about possible give-backs in negotiated raises for next year in response to what could possibly be a $4 million budget shortfall.

Meanwhile, the union president said teachers' discussions with principals about possible reduction in staff and School Committee budget meetings this month have hurt employee morale.

The Amherst Pelham Education Association, representing about 550 employees, voted overwhelmingly Dec. 10 to agree to Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez's request to enter wage discussions, said president Timothy Sheehan, a teacher at Fort River School. He will represent the union in the talks, which may start in early January, he said.

"It makes sense and it's the right thing to do," he said.

Next year is the final one of the current contract and union members are due to receive 3 percent cost-of-living raises; some will also receive "step" increases. The total salary increase is 5 percent for the regional schools and 4 percent for the elementary schools, according to Finance Director Rob Detweiler.

The cost of these increases in next year's budget is $1.3 million. The estimated shortfall under a worst-case scenario is $4 million.

The current average teacher salaries in Amherst are $57,877 in the elementary schools and $56,603 in the regional schools, according to Kathy Mazur, the human resources director.

The School Committee will be represented in the talks by members Irv Rhodes and Steve Rivkin of Amherst and Farshid Hajir of Leverett. Rodriguez and Mazur will also be present. Attorneys for the union and the administration will be there, Sheehan said.

"We want to be open-minded and have a frank discussion," he said.

Rodriguez made a specific proposal to the union, Sheehan said, but declined to say what it was. Even if the union gave up all of its cost-of-living increases, there would still be a sizable budget gap, he said.

Teachers are concentrating on students' needs even as their jobs or those of their colleagues are on the line, Sheehan said. As programs and even entire departments sit on the chopping block, "people try to find ways to be supportive of each other," he said.

"It's tough to watch as the School Committee looks at priorities, to see if your program is a priority," he said.

On the elementary level, teachers also worry about whether they will be assigned to a different building next year because of redistricting, said Michael Morris, principal of Crocker Farm School.

"It's impossible for people not to be affected" by the discussions of budget cuts, he said.

At the Dec. 8 School Committee meeting, Latin teacher Sean Smith read a statement expressing the staff's anxiety over budget cuts, on behalf of 14 department heads.

"We are mourning the anticipated loss of colleagues, some of whom we have worked with for decades," he said. He referred to "this process of dismantling and reshaping our school."

"While we consider the damaging effects these cuts will have on the educational experience of our children, let us also consider the teachers in our schools whose lives will be turned upside down as a result of losing their jobs," he said.


Anonymous said...

How many people total work in the Amherst schools? (Total being everyone, not just teachers).

Anonymous said...

Staffing numbers

In 2008, about 700 staff serve 3276 students in the elementary, MS and HS. That's a ratio of 4.7 students/staff. Seems like a lot of staff when the classroom size is approx 20 students to 1 teacher.

Page 28 shows exactly how many staff per school. Includes central admin.

Immediately below that chart is the number of SPED admin/staff and the number of kids served in each program.

Anonymous said...

Salaries of staff for Amherst (elementary) (grouped by category):

Page 6 shows salaries paid to teachers, paras, admin, for regular ed, ELL, special ed

Total regular ed salaries (teacher, para, clerical) - went from $5.1 to $5.7M in the past 9 years.

Total special ed salaries went from $2.5M to $4.2M in the same 9 years.

Here you can see how spending for SPED paras went up from 800K to 1.2M between 2000-2009. Paras for regular ed in this period DECREASED from $258K to $135K.

SPED teacher salaries went up from
1.5M to 2.7M (for an increase of 1.2M). Regular ed teacher salaries went from $4.7M to $5.5M (increase of .8M)

Keep going in this document and you'll see expenses for utilities, expenses, transportation.

At the end, you see a pie chart where the proposed FY2010 budget suggests 23% of the budget for SPED and 26% for regular ed. This document was published in June 2009 so likely does not contain the latest proposed cuts.

Anonymous said...

The equivalent document for the MS and HS:

Salaries for staff Regional budget (MS and HS)

No FY2000 data available for comparison.

This June 2009 document proposes to spend 24% of the budget on regular ed and 20% on SPED

Anonymous said...

This document details exactly how many students in each school/district are in SPED, ELL, FRL.

Of the 1,314 Amherst elementary level students, 234 are students with an (IEP), which is 17.81% of
the student population.

Of the 1,732 regional level students, 315 are students with an IEP, which is 18.19% of the student

Anonymous said...

Yes, SPED spending has gotten out of control. We are always told that it is "state mandated" but if that were the case, wouldn't other school systems be in this same situation?

We either need to reign in our SPED spending or start actively recruiting additional SPED students from other districts so the programs we do have (i.e. the alternative high school and Bridges which operate with very low staff/student ratios) become more efficient (by serving additional students for the staff in place). This would at least generate more revenue.

Anonymous said...

in this politically perfect progressive town where we invite gitmo detainees to live and prosper, let's stop expecting teachers to give back negotiated in good faith contract required pay. of everything we do, this really stinks.

the teachers are represented by a legally certified union. The town was represented by the school committee. A contract was agreed upon and executed. It's not the teachers we ought to be bashing for the contract.

some of us are experiencing mandated furloughs of our family members. some of us are not getting cost of living increases in our salary or have not received salary increases in many years. but very few of us are being expected to give back negotiated increases.

whatever happens this year, our schools will continue to need dedicated teachers committed to our students. let's try to remember that.

Joe said...

The teachers and their union should receive public acknowledgement for their willingness to return to the negotiating table as it relates to the budget next year.

A few years ago, the teachers and the school committee (and their legal representatives) agreed to the current contract. Both sides agree the current contract was negotiated in “good faith”, so I will take that as a given. However, both sides deserve the blame for the current contract if the educational goals are “all about the kids”. It should have been clear to both sides that any negotiated increase in salaries beyond what could be afforded by a legally limited increase in taxes wasn’t prudent. Does most of the blame belong with the school committee, yes, but the teachers deserve some of the blame if both of these groups truly believe they want to provide the best education for the students.

The existing contract isn’t the only contributor to the current budget crisis in the schools, but it is a meaningful contributor. I hope both sides recognize this critical issue as they agree to sit down and talk. It may be easy for both sides to come to an agreement that will help next year’s budget, but at what cost? Hopefully, they don’t agree just to push the problem forward. As a parent, I would rather live with the existing contract terms for one more year than agree to higher raises in the future that can’t be supported by the current tax base. Additionally, I think it would be a mistake by the school committee to accept an offer by the teachers to lower raises next year if the cost was losing even more control by the school committee to determine the school schedule and the curriculum.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the teachers are willing to sit down and talk about their contracts. It's in everybody's best interests to figure some way out of this financial mess and it's good to see the teachers helping take the lead.

Anonymous said...

Well- it would have been really hard for them to hold out given the police union's fake giveback.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:29 Can you explain your post please?
I also have a question--why is it mandated, I mean why does a teacher/aide have no choice but to join the union? And also if you know the answer CS please give it....what happens to all the dues the union takes out of your pay check? year after year after year and is a worker eligible for some kind of refund for all this $$$ when they have left the district? Exactly where does this money go--whose pocket anyway??? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Because they are still eligible to receive MUCH larger salary increase under the Quinn bill. Only the state is no longer going to fund their portion of the increases because their pool for funding is broke. The town, and its taxpayers are going to be left holding the bag for some very large ( like 10%+) salary increases.

Anonymous said...

Quinn Bill= Welfare for cops

Anonymous said...

I think it is a good thing that the teachers are willing to discuss this. They certainly were not obligated to, and I doubt they are doing it because of whatever the police agreed to. I imagine this has been in discussion for awhile.

I hope if they do agree they get some conditions along with it like the superintendent and/or central office and/or administrators take a similar reduction. If I were them I would also make it contingent on an override passing as well. The whole share the pain idea, you know.

Anonymous said...

How does an override work? Are you voting a YES/NO on a fixed amount (like $1 million) for a specific budget (like school budget or town budget?) Or could it be even more specific like "$1 million for the school budget, and it would be spent like this "add 2 paras in dept X, 5 in dept Y, add 1 music teacher."?

Thanks for clarifying.

Ken said...


With all due respect, you always sound so authoritative but what you say is often either riddled with inaccuracies, opinions that masquerade as fact, or, as in this case, a lack of perspective. But I do commend you for your 20-20 hindsight.

As someone who was on the negotiating committee that led to this contract 3 years ago, I can assure you that it was not clear that the recession was going to hit, and that state and local tax collection was going to be affected to the degree they have been. If you knew all this then, Joel, why didn't you say something??

FYI, the inflation rate over the previous years and projected into the future at the time this contract was negotiated was about 3%. That means that we had negotiated cost of living increases UNDER the inflation rate for all 3 years of the previous 2 contracts, if I remember correctly, and 2 of the 3 years of the present contract--the typical practice over all the years of my experience. It may seem like just a dim memory now, but things were going very well for Amherst even not that long ago, and many people's income went up against inflation--while teachers still saw their real income eroded by inflation. The step increases that Amherst teachers get through year 15 are actually inflation-eroded quite significantly over a 30-year teaching career. As far as I can recall, the town never volunteered to give teachers MORE than had been negotiated when times were booming.

All in all, we are a fairly average teacher salary district, in a district where expectations for teachers, and teacher quality, are way above averge. The student population we work with is very complex, way different than any other town around. Most Amherst teachers bleed their hearts out in the job they do for your kids, and do not get paid for a significant chunk of the time they put in (beyond contract hours, there's no overtime pay, nor do teachers get bonuses, commissions or promotions). Putting in 10+ non-paid hours a week (including weekends) is pretty common, about $12-15,000 of unpaid time per teacher per year. I can assure you that no one will expect teachers to stop putting in that time if increases are given back, or in the future if contract increases are held to 0%. In fact, teachers will have to put in even MORE time (and be expected to by every parent) as support staff decreases, in order to be as effective as they can.

Most teachers are parents first and foremost, and many of the ones that aren't yet will be. What we do first and foremost is the best we can do for our own kids, and for our own retirement future, just like what you do is the best that you can for you and yours, Joel.

The fundamental issues are 2-fold. The first is that the system under which teachers are paid and schools are supported by taxes is untenable and has been for years. The tension between available monies and the need to pay teachers as professionals, especially under propery tax limits let alone struggling economic times, is only going to get worse. The second is that Amherst's past anti-business policies have severely restricted the possible cash stream into town coffers.

Abbie said...


I think you mean "Joe" here not "Joel". Accurate? Only a "Joe" has posted under this thread.

Anonymous said...

Questions for me remain: is the superintendent's salary also being renegotiated? or the travel allowance?

Are other administrative positions also under the contract or is it exclusive to teachers?

I'm not a teacher, just concerned re the talk of overrides that started quite some time ago.


Anonymous said...

A bit more; I'm not saying that I want our superintendent to renegotiate the contract.

I'm only asking because it seems that budget hits often affect lower paid employees more exponentially than higher paid.

a 5% cut on a salary over six figures is not as harmful to a family as is a 5% cut to a $50,000 in terms of affording housing etc.

I think everybody negotiates their contracts in good faith. But to expect certain segments of the public sector to shoulder salary cuts that impact actual living costs is problematic for me.

So I am interested to know how various administrative town salaries are being affected.


Anonymous said...

I think the superindents' salary should not be re-negotiated, since it was negotiated less than a year ago when the brunt of the economic downturn was clearly understood.

The SC offered him the salary/package knowing what the school budget was this year and understanding that the economy was NOT going to turn around in the next few years. Don't tell me any of you are surprised and shocked at the deficit in the town budget we are potentially facing this year.

I don't even think the teachers should have to renegotiate - the economic downturn can be taken into account at their next scheduled negotiation in one year's time. While it's good to be able to act quickly and nimbly, we have to stop ourselves from reacting to every piece of news. There's a balance between being able to act and always reacting (and thus always changing things).

We need to have a well-thought out plan for the school system.

A realistic package can be put together saying "This is what the town can afford. This is what we need. We are missing X amount. And the SC and the town has to make a serious decision about what we want the schools to look like given the tax base. A one-year give-back of teacher's hard earned increases or an override are temporary solutions - temporary ways to put off the real question of how do we afford the schools we want. Or how much school can we afford (the second issue that Ken brings up.) So we need something that looks like a 5-year plan at a minimum.

Anonymous said...

Boy, I'm not a teacher but I surely hope they do not crump. They need to get a spine and play hard ball. Please teachers, don't fall for this guilt thing.

ken pransky said...

My bad, Joe it was! Thanks for catching me. (I've seen other posts by "Joel," which spurred this morning's response.)

Fed Up Parent said...

I agree with Joe. Although I appreciate the teachers' willingness to negotiate, I recognize that the contract was negotiated in good (if economically misguided) faith and our teachers may very well have already budgeted for themselves and their families based on these raises.

Instead of a giveback this year that might come with additional promises in the future (which we might not be able to keep), I hope the School Committee decides to plan the current budget with the current salary expenses. I.e. work within our means. I also hope the next negotiating team remembers this and doesn't negotiate raises more than 2%. While they are at it, I hope they get a change back to the semester system and a FULL day's worth of instruction on Wednesdays in our elementary schools!

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of anything more ridiculous and shameful in my life! We ask teachers to do one of the most important jobs there is--shaping our future generations-- and then we pay them barely living wages and then to top off that insult we ask for it back....Where is the logic here? Trim some of the not needed administrators who administrate to other administrators before you risk our children's (educational) well being!

Anonymous said...

Atta boy, Joel. You have to have someone to blame. Is this part of your upbringing, that every problematic situation demands someone to blame?

Are you saying that because of Prop. 2 1/2 the teachers and any other state/town official should never expect a raise more than 2 1/2%?

At least you've solved that problem. Now we know who to blame. Feel better?

Anonymous said...

"Trim some of the not needed administrators who administrate to other administrators before you risk our children's (educational) well being!"

Catherine, that says it all. We all know of central office personnel who search out "busy work" for appearances sake. As opposed to dealing with a classroom, no contest!

Anonymous said...

I think the half day wed in elementary school is linked to the fact that the elementary schools share buses with the MS/HS. (To work out the bus schedule, the "extra" hours required for elementary school per day required cutting back on one day (wed)) - or something like that. Anyways, that is my very rough understanding of the situation.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:15PM, that doesn't make any sense. Our elementary buses are shared with the middle/high school buses every other day of the week and still manage to get in a full day's worth of instruction!! When we moved here and inquired why our kids wouldn't be in school all day (but there was no available after-school care for wednesdays only), we were told it was for "teacher workshops," not anything to do with the buses.

Anonymous said...

To Fed up Parent- I agree. The teacher's union is strong...I thought NY was bad, but the half Wed thing does more damage than good in this town. Working parents find it even harder to find space in after school care that is affordable, we still have cirriculum days on top of it all. This half day thing also costs our town money- as an in town business, the whole town seems to be avoided because the buses and traffic are heavier, etc. This is something unions and even the teachers don't seem to get that- in the real world when you are salaried positions after hours are required in all other industries. It only gets worse if you have a middle schooler/high schooler and elementary schooler because they all have different start times, release times and "late start/early release". In Hadley, Northampton and other districts...this is not the case this seems to be an Amherst thing.

Mary May said...

Regarding the early dismissal of elementary students on Wednesdays, this was initiated well over 25 years ago (I've been here that long and it happened before I arrived) as a way of gaining time for teachers to meet as teams. When the Wednesdays were shortened, the remaining 4 days were lengthened to make up for the difference in time. From my own first hand experience, these blocks of time are used regularly for all kinds of meetings that otherwise would be difficult to schedule. The early dismissal has nothing to do with bussing.

Anonymous said...

I have seen teachers leave early in a rush on Wed. and I also have heard them call it their short day. I know there are meeting that can't be scheduled at other times, but economically parents also loose money as a result. I never heard of anything until we moved here. I went to public school and never was dismissed early on a regular basis...that's what made early dismissal because of snow so exhilarating! Maybe after 25 years we need to review this one like the rest of old approaches that don't seem to be in everyone's best interest. I know it is extremely disrupting to my kid's routine. Where is the accountability in making sure those meetings are taking place and the teachers utilize them? The same thing regarding early dismissal for parent/teacher conferences...both parents can not make the meeting or they have kids home during days when they need to work.

Anonymous said...

25 years ago, many homes had only one working parent and substantially fewer "low income" families in town. Back then, early release Wednesdays were probably not a huge hardship on families. As a single mom, I always found early release Wednesdays a financial and logistical struggle. Now for most families, even those with two parents, both parents work and there is no one at home to meet the school bus at 1:45 when the kids get home on Wednesdays. It is definitely time to reexamine this policy.

Anonymous said...

I like early dismissal on wednesdays. It's like a little break for the kids in the middle of the week. It's extra fun time with the kids for me, or an opportunity for an extra long playdate, or a special trip somewhere local, or a half-day of skiing in the winter. If I'm busy with work from home that day, I have them entertain themselves or send them off on a playdate.

I understand it's hard for parents who work, but isn't that what the afterschool program is for? And it's available for a reduced rate to FRL families.

Many teachers in Amherst live far away - in Springfield, Longmeadow, even CT. Why should they have to come in on weekends or evenings to accomodate our schedule? We all take time off from work if we need to see the dentist or make a doctor's appointment, why should we expect differently from our teachers who get paid way less?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the staff you saw leaving were paras. Paraprofessionals (paid hourly) aren't paid for Weds afternoon and leave shortly after the kids.

Just because a teacher runs out at 1:30 on a Wednesday doesn't mean she's not back at 1:45 with a coffee for her 2:00 meeting. I never saw anyone leaving early when I was in the Amherst schools. Wednesday afternoon is a productive and valued work time.

Other schools in the area have the same Wednesday setup. The Hilltown Charter school and private schools (Smith College Campus School, Greenfield Center School) to name a few.

But I agree that anything and everything can be revisited. Just don't arbitrarily accuse teachers of stealing time. Not fair.

Anonymous said...

It's a short day for the KIDS, not the teachers. That's why it's called "the short day."

Working Mom said...

Anon 6:39PM, apparently you haven't tried to find "after school care" for Wednesdays only. The after-school at my kids' school doesn't accept kids only for Wednesdays, high school kids are not yet home to babysit, and there are few other options. I'm glad you have a fun time playing with your kids on Wednesday afternoons, but for many of us, it is an economic struggle (we are not on free/reduced lunch but still struggling with our tax rate) as well as a logistic one every year. For a town that spouts social justice, this policy is completely against that. Anything that puts one class of family at a disadvantage that potentially damages the kids is socially unjust. Like early release Wednesdays.

Anonymous said...

You guys have it all wrong.

Short Wednesday's are for the TEACHERS to give them some prep time during the week. They also have meetings then. Elementary school teachers have kids all day, and they need the time.

Anonymous said...[FIYBndh9Liy%2F%2BCzOjwVOsFologsCtL18k

Not sure where to put this, but it is pretty darned interesting data about what works to turn around failing schools (and could be applied to failing subgroups).

Will never fly in Amherst. Scripted learning? Heaven forbid. Even if it works.