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.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Amherst teachers concede on wages -- if town approves override

Hampshire Gazette
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

AMHERST - The teachers union voted Monday to agree to concessions that will moderate their salary increases next year, but only if voters approve a tax-cap override March 23.

While the Regional School Committee chairman called the agreement "shared sacrifice," a leader of the group opposing the $1.68 million override called it "a public relations gimmick."

The 380 teachers in the Amherst Pelham Education Association did not give back any of the salary increases their contract entitles them to. They will receive 3 percent cost-of-living increases and about half of them will also get 4 percent "step" raises next year.

Instead, they agreed to turn three "professional days" a year into unpaid furloughs.

If the override passes, this concession would trim about $1,000 from the salary of each teacher next year, said Tim Sheehan, the union president. This would be the equivalent in dollars of giving back about half the cost-of-living raises, he said.

The teachers agreed to the concessions, which were negotiated with administrators and School Committee members, because they were worried about the impact of budget cuts, Sheehan said.

"Because the staff work with children, we can see exactly what the result of this magnitude of budget cuts would be, cuts that would make the schools unrecognizable," he said. "We're willing to do our part."

The anticipated cost of pay increases for employees in the Amherst and Pelham elementary and secondary schools next year was $1.3 million. If this concession takes effect, that cost would be reduced by about $350,000, said Farshid Hajir, chairman of the Regional School Committee.

"We appreciate the spirit of cooperation and shared sacrifice the teachers have shown," he said. "In these times of uncertainty and economic pain, the teachers have done their part in helping the school committees narrow the budget gap. They've shown that they have the best interests of the district in mind."

A similar ratification vote will be held today by the union representing school clerical employees, with a potential budget impact of $20,000.

Sheehan said the union made the concessions contingent on passage of the override because "it didn't seem fair for us to be the only ones doing something." The message is that "we're willing to go ahead and do this and we hope voters are willing to do the same," he said.

The vote Monday to ratify the agreement was not close and there was no debate, Sheehan said. Some teachers who voted against it said they felt "disrespected," he said.

On "professional days," teachers typically score exams and attend workshops for their professional development, Sheehan said. If they are no longer paid for these days, they will have to spend more unpaid time on these activities, he said.

The union agreed to this concession instead of smaller cost-of-living increases because of the pension system, Sheehan said. A teacher's pension is calculated based on the three highest salary years, usually the last three, and a salary concession would have negatively affected those retiring in the next three years, he said.

The agreement was the outcome of about 10 hours of meetings with school administrators and School Committee members, Sheehan said. It was not affected by the departure of former Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez, he said. The School Committee was represented at the meetings by Hajir and members Irv Rhodes and Steve Rivkin.

Override opponent Stanley Gawle said the teachers' concessions are not comparable to the ones agreed to by the fire and police unions. Those were "timely and commendable" because they were announced before Feb. 12, and thus enabled the Select Board to reduce the size of the override, he said.

The teachers have known about the fiscal crisis since October, and could have acted similarly, he said.

"This last-minute gesture isn't a giveback at all," he said. "It's a public relations gimmick designed to get taxpayers to vote for the override. The illusion may also be intended to distract taxpayers from the whopping 3 to 7 percent raises teachers are due to receive next year."


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid Union leadership really dropped the ball on this one.

Our teachers are well compensated relative to area districts. They earned their raise package but they seem to ignore the context - we just closed a school and will lay off 50 positions.

I would have suggested that the entire raise amount be deferred for one year as long as the dollars remained in the school budget.

That kind of leadership wold have sealed the deal for an override. As it stands, they give back ~$350,000 conditionally, and only compensation they might earn if they are away from school for professional development.

A year from now, I want to see the math - how much comp was saved by the teachers' union offer.

Am I being too hard on them? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I just looked at the elementary school report and I am awed and so thankful for all this work and these thorough answers. This is sensational. THANK YOU FOR ALL THE INFORMATION AND ALL YOUR HARD WORK. THANK YOU!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for asking the right questions. I haven't seen that enough in this district before. I especially like this one:

Q: “What have been the per-pupil costs each year for the past five years? Please break out by:

Elementary regular ed. students
Elementary spec. education students
Regional regular education students Regional special education students"

Even though this question hasn't been answered by the district yet, it is the right question. And it's a start.

I am finding these reports to be extremely useful, many thanks for all your hard work CBAC. What are your names and how can we send you a note of thanks?

C.L. said...

3:54pm- I think you are being too hard. They offered something that protected the time with the kids, so in a sense they shielded the student-teacher interaction from being affected. They could have offered a furlough of an actual school day (I guess) and that certainly would not have been desirable. By targeting professional days, in a sense they took the complete burden.

For me that did seal the deal: I'm voting yes on the override.

Anonymous said...

10:19p.m. and 10:25p.m. here again. Sorry for posting these comments on the wrong blog entry, I meant to post these under new update from citizen's budget advisory committee, there is a lot of useful information in the reports.

Anonymous said...

It is a myth that teacher pay is the source of our problems. We need to compensate teachers well if we want good teachers.

The real problem is feckless administration - the inability to state the truth which may be:
1) that we need fewer teachers with lower enrollment or
2) that as a community we cannot afford to have as many electives as we want; or
3) that past management practice and an absence of financial control by the SC led to current problems ; or
4) that the non-direct service costs that have evolved from the lack of oversight need to be slashed dramatically.

I agree that union concessions are largely a stunt designed to influence by an interest group wanting to maintain the status quo. My guess is that most teachers understand that the world they live in has changed fundamentally. Hence ultimately they will take a financial hit like the rest of us.

Our town's insistence on proceeding to an override without an explicit plan founded in financial reality is insanity. As it stands I vote no. A yes vote will ply the drunks in the administration with the sensation that our current unreality can persist indefinitely. My one regret is that other town services will suffer.

What we need is
1) an unvarnished evaluation of what we are doing;
2) a considered sustainable plan developed from the data of that evaluation; and
3) if necessary a supplemental funding mechanism (read "override") based on data and long term planning.

Otherwise we will find ourselves in the same position 2 or 3 years from now.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed that Amherst teachers are getting the largest wage increase in the area? Longmeadow teachers voted only a 1% increase because of the financial crisis.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered the role that the school committee had in agreeing to the teacher contract in the first place?

Don't we elect school committee members to help negotiate with teachers come up with a fiscally responsible contract?

Do you think the Yankees will ask Alex Rodriguez to give back half the money he earns this year if ticket sales at Yankee stadium are down?
Then when he does agree to give half back, will he be seen as greedy when he doesn't give it all back?

Anonymous said...

Yes, 9:29 a.m., please pay attention. The Longmeadow teachers did not vote themselves a 1% raise, just like the Amherst teachers did not vote themselves the raises they got in this contract after taking a 1% raise the year before this contract began.

The school committee and Superintendent NEGOTIATED the contract with the teachers union. The teachers took the package offered to them and asked the union to vote on it. The union accepted the contract the town offered.

Do you see the difference?

Teachers cannot simply state this is what you are going to pay us. Both sides, often in a difficult, intense, blood-spilling (figuratively speaking) process, negotiate. In fact, this is how every teacher's contract for many decades has been decided upon.

So, if you are looking to blame someone for the teacher's contract, which it sounds like you are, then blame the school committee and superintendent for offering this contract with these raises.

Better yet, run for school committee or throw your hat in the supt job posting ring and then get on teh negotiating team and you will see first hand how this goes.

Ed said...

Do you think the Yankees will ask Alex Rodriguez to give back half the money he earns this year if ticket sales at Yankee stadium are down?
Then when he does agree to give half back, will he be seen as greedy when he doesn't give it all back?

There is one very VERY big difference here: If ticket sales are down enough, Rodriguez becomes unemployed as the whole outfit goes into bankruptcy.

By contrast, the teachers take it at the point of a gun. I am not going to take this as far as the Libertarians do, but what happens if you don't pay your property tax, or if a renter, your rent? David Knightly, who has a gun, comes in and removes you from your residence.

There is a big difference between having the ability to FORCE people to purchase your overpriced services and the open marketplace.

There is a very big difference here, and if there is anything resembling democracy left in this country, the people have the right to rise up and say "NO MAS!"

Which is what I encourage all to do -- just say (and vote) "no."

Anonymous said...

Teachers conceded but what about the administrators? Didn't the district give 10 administrators raises last summer after reviewing their job descriptions and what is fair? Are they giving anything back? What about the job description of teachers and paraprofessionals? Hadley sup is not taking his raise but our new sup is taking extra $30,000+ when things are financially difficult?

Anonymous said...

The principals and assistant principals declined their raises. This was announced at the Feb. 2 SC meeting. Alberto Rodriguez did NOT agree to give up his raise, though.

Anonymous said...

How about other administrators? Teachers, Principals, Assistant Principals all work directly with the children. They are the one giving up their pay. What about the top paid administrators who hardly ever has any contact with the children?