Chariho School Parents’ Forum

February 26, 2007

My response to the article in the previous post

Filed under: Budget,Chariho,grade spans — Editor @ 6:01 pm

[Westerly Sun] 

“Don’t be fooled by early ‘propaganda’ supporting the Chariho bond”

 

It appears that the propaganda sup­porting the Chariho bond is in full swing.

 

The most recent noise comes from Richard Hosp, who claims that this bond is a bargain because, “structure inflation is at an all-time high, and will likely remain.” Critics would point out that the construction boom has peaked and the “inflation” will end.

 

According to the National Association of Home Builders “ Random Lengths” Key Price Indicators, framing lumber per 1,000 feet was $366 in October 2005. The October 2006 price was $278.

 

Mr. Hosp also states, “While the dis­trict could dissolve and each town could have its town school system, that would cost each town significant­ly more than its costs to operate Chariho.” This statement also assumes more than I’m willing to accept. Allow me to explain why I believe otherwise.

 

The full-time employee (FTE) to stu­dent ratio is a good measure of effi­ciency. It tells us how many employees (read salaries and benefits) it takes to get the job done.According to the U.S. Department of Education, the student-to-FTE ratio for the entire nation is 15.8 to 1. In other words, there are 15.8 students for each FTE. The average ratio in Rhode Island is 13.2. Chariho has a ratio of 11.3. Chariho is 14 percent less efficient than the state average and 28 percent less efficient than the national average.

When Chariho was formed, we were told that the consolidation would result in fewer employees needed per student, not more. But when local con­trol is lost, bureaucracies have a ten­dency to grow. Smaller, more locally controlled schools have not only been shown to vastly improve student per­formance, but they also increase community involvement and scrutiny.

 

Considering the facts that Rhode Island ranks as low as 40th in the nation on student performance (the U.S. Department of Education) and our per-pupil spending on teacher compensation is the highest in the country, it appears that all those extra employees (and money) are not getting the job done.

 

Personally, I find it insulting that Mr. Hosp would think that each town couldn’t do better.

 Bill Felkner Ashaway Member, Chariho School Committee  

February 24, 2007

Bond campaign

Filed under: Budget,Chariho — Editor @ 10:30 am

It appears the campaign for the bond is starting early this year.  I’ll post comments later but one point of interest – if you do the math you will notice that the RYSE building and space for the 6th graders is about $350 per sq ft.  For comparison, URI is building a biotech lab @ $250 sq ft.

[Chariho Times] 

CHARLESTOWN – Will Charlestown taxpayers save money if the three towns of the Chariho School District choose to adopt a one-third-payment plan for the $26 million bond to renovate and add additions to the Switch Road Campus?

Richard Hosp thinks so. On Monday, Feb. 12 he gave a presentation to the Charlestown Town Council outlining how Charlestown would save money with the one-third-payment plan.

 

After the presentation the council voted to approve a resolution in favor of the bond, but not the one-third-payment plan.

 

The council was not opposed to the one-third-payment plan but wanted to wait until the bond is approved in the fall or alternatively, make an amendment to the Chariho Act.

Right now the three towns of Chariho pay for the school budget on an enrollment basis. Charlestown pays for 28 percent while Hopkinton and Richmond pay for 36 percent of the budget.

 

Hosp argued that even though Charlestown would have to pay 33 percent of the bond, that the town would save money over the long run this way, rather than paying for capital improvements through the town’s annual school budget payments.

 

“It is cheaper, even for Charlestown, to pass a bond issue and pay one-third the cost than to see the bond issue defeated and pay an equal amount of annual capital expenditures spread over 20 years. In this illustration, over the 20 year period it would be $712,031 cheaper for Charlestown to pass the $25,000,000 bond at 33 percent than to ‘pay as you go’ at 28 percent,” said Hosp during his presentation to the council.

 

Hosp, a member of the Chariho Finance Committee and the Charlestown Budget Commission, said that passing the bond could collectively save Chariho taxpayers approximately $5.6 million versus annually spending $1.25 million for the next 20 years or more.

 

Hosp explained the example of repaying a 20-year $25 million bond at a 4.65 percent debt service rate versus annually paying for $25 million in capital costs at a 6.5 percent building inflation rate. Hosp’s presentation explained how “bond versus pay as you go” is more cost effective.

 

On Thursday, Feb. 15 the Chariho Building Committee voted 9-1 to approve the $26 million bond, to be paid over a time period of 25-30 years, for $25,823,750 in capital improvements to the campus.

 

The bond includes $18 million in renovations and additions to the High School, Middle School and a school for the Reaching Youth through Support and Education (RYSE) program. The RYSE program services at-risk kids and provides alternative programs for students in the grades 7 through 12.

 

State housing aid will reimburse 56 percent of the cost for new construction and 60 percent for renovations. That’s if the Chariho School Committee approves the construction application on Wednesday, Feb 21 and files it with Rhode Island’s Department of Education by Feb. 22.

In his town council presentation Hosp said that if the towns decide to go with the pay-as-you go plan, there’s no guarantee that the state reimbursement rate would stay at 56 and 60 percent. In fact, he said it would likely decrease.

 

The next step is for the state legislature to authorize that the towns can vote on the bond and then the town councils will have to vote to approve the bond once again.

In concluding his presentation Hosp said, “The three town have not had a cooperative relationship with each other or the school committee or the school administration and the district has not passed a bond issue since 1986.”

 

Some residents have said that one of the issues that has kept the towns of Chariho from approving a bond issue is that the elementary schools have neglected for too long.

Before and during the Feb. 12 council meeting, Chariho School Committee member Andrew McQuaide explained that if the bond passes the school district would be better able to make improvements to the elementary schools.

 

The district would be able to take some of the money the pay-as-you-go system would have allocated to annual cost expenditures and put it towards the elementary schools.

School Budget

 

At the Feb. 13 school committee meeting, the committee voted 8-2 to approve a recommended budget of $50.3 million. Committee member Giancarlo Cicchetti was the dissenting vote and said he voted against the budget because it depended too much on the bond passing.

Residents will vote on the school budget on April 10 during an all-day referendum vote. Before that on Tuesday, March 6 at the Chariho 7 p.m. there will be a public meeting to discuss the budget at the Chariho Middle School.

 

After the budget proposal was approved, committee members McQuaide and Andrew Polouski supported the approval of the bond. “If this bond gets voted down its going to drastically affect the operations of the school,” said Polouski.

 

The following are the list of proposed improvements to the campus:

 

$3.92 million for the RYSE School:

 

*      $2,880,000 for a new 12,000-square-foot structure

*      $708,000 is site costs and contingency allocations

*      $250,000 is engineering and architecture

 

$2.98 for the Chariho Middle School:

 

*      $972,000 for three new classrooms

*      $881,000 for school improvements – refurbishing lockers, upgrades to intercom system, bells and clocks, and door replacements

*      $502,000 for construction contingencies

*      $294,000 for new auditorium renovation (including upgrades to audio and stage lighting systems; the purchase of a new stage curtain, and carpet replacements

 

$15.42 for Chariho High School

 

*      $3,552,000 for additions to the school library, agricultural classrooms, band room, and cafeteria expansion

*      $2,556,000 for construction contingencies

*      $2,000,000 replacement of the school’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system

*      $1,120,000 for architectural and engineering fees

 

$2.01 million for Campus improvements

 

*      $630,000 in building costs for a new district maintenance facility

*      $400,000 for the running track

*      $343,000 in for construction contingencies

*      $250,000 for re-paving campus

 

$1,48 million for other project costs

 

*      Project management, legal and advertising cost, bonding costs, and more money contingency

  

February 10, 2007

Is it time for reform yet?

Filed under: Budget,School Choice,State-wide,Student Performance,Unions — Editor @ 11:24 am

From the Providence Journal

Carcieri’s school reforms

01:00 AM EST on Saturday, February 10, 2007

Rhode Island’s public schools are underperforming. The problem is not a lack of money, but a decades-long strategy of spending so much of the available money on adult compensation and entitlements, without insisting on strong accountability. (In 2003-04, the most recent Census figures available, Rhode Island continued to lead all states in the percentage of its per-pupil spending going to salaries and benefits.)

 

That is catching up with us. Students here tend to perform poorly on standardized tests. Business leaders complain that many students are ill-prepared for the job market. While state taxpayers provide tens of millions of dollars in school aid to local communities, much of that is siphoned away — often going out of state — in the form of superb retirement benefits for teachers and administrators.

 

At long last, leaders are recognizing that this is a serious problem. Whether they have the gumption to do more than talk about it is, of course, the question. Governor Carcieri, in his State of the State address, called for several long-overdue reforms to spend tax dollars more in the interests of students:

 

•Shrinking the number of school districts from the current 36. So many districts encourage waste and inefficiently.

 

•Reining in very expensive special education. Rhode Island leads America with 19 percent of students in special education.

 

•Changing teacher-contract language that hurts students. The governor, for example, mentioned “bumping” rules, under which the least experienced teachers are often assigned to the neediest students, rather than the best and most experienced teachers.

 

•Trying merit pay, by paying the best and most needed teachers more than others.

 

•Improving training and support of administrators, especially principals.

 

•Promoting English immersion for children who speak only a foreign language.

 

•Lifting the state’s moratorium on new charter schools.

 

These proposed reforms are all excellent ideas. He also announced that he, House Speaker William Murphy, Senate President Joseph Montalbano, and representatives of labor, business, local government and other interests will work together to formulate what he called “Rhode Island’s 21st Century Education Plan.”

 

That’s a start and consensus is fine, but it’s a safe bet that endless talk will only produce a mush of reform, pretty much protecting the interests of those whose power created the status quo. What is truly needed is a vocal leader who will go over the heads of the special interests and fight doggedly for the interests of students.

 

Rhode Island needs to move aggressively toward practices that work well whenever they are tried: parental choice, competition between schools for students, rewards for the best teachers and accountability for the worst, contract language that allows administrators to manage and be held responsible for performance, and spending on benefits that is sustainable.

 

The governor should use his bully pulpit to criticize, by name, those who block student-focused reforms. (The legislature would have little choice but to go along.) If the Board of Regents fails to muster the will or energy to make changes on behalf of Rhode Island’s students, the governor should appoint new leadership there.

 

Veteran state Rep. Paul Crowley (D.-Newport), appearing recently on the TV program Channel 12 Newsmakers, recalled how aggressively former Gov. Bruce Sundlun fought to improve Rhode Island, overcoming the power of special interests by convening meetings, demanding changes, and sometimes even pulling legislators off the floor. “I want to see that from the governor” in reforming education, Mr. Crowley said. “He’s got to be completely engaged or we’re not going to make a dent in this thing that we have today.”

 

The recommendations are sorely needed and many have been identified by a survey done by Education Parnership.  The RI school committee members surveyed wanted the following reforms.

Enable principals to more easily remove ineffective teachers.  Staffing sssignments based on subject expertise..not seniority.  Principalship applicants demonstrate performance-based leadership.  Preventing “bumping” of high quality novice teachers.  Make it easier to recruit through alternative certification.  Replace tenure with multi-year renewable contracts.  Added compensation to “hard-to-recruit” teachers.  Recruit more leaders from business community .  Assign most qualified to most challenging classes.  Reinforce leadership flexibility – K-12 certification.  Rewarding pay for performance.             

When parent dissatisfaction reaches critical mass, perhaps we will actually see them. As a state, our students do “perform poorly,” especially when compared to our neighbors.

8th grade math – RI 41, MA 1, CT 23, VT 3, NH 7, ME 24

8th grade reading  –RI 33, MA 1, CT 25, VT 8, NH 5, ME 4  4th grade math – RI 40, MA 1, CT 9, VT 6, NH 4, ME 16

4th grade reading – RI 37, MA 1, CT 7, VT 2, NH 3, ME 10 

Are these numbers enough to reach critical mass?  How about when I remind you that ”Rhode Island continued to lead all states in the percentage of its per-pupil spending going to salaries and benefits.” 

However – there are other problems on the horizon. 

While I agree in substance to testing and the NCLB, there are some problems with it.   

I think we can all agree that IQ is a characteristic that can be measured on.  It falls on the normal curve where some have a higher IQ while others do not.   

If all students are to become proficient by 2014, and some students fall in the lower realm of IQ (not including those below 70ish who are classified differently), then the only way to have everyone “proficient” is to lower the standards.  This does a disservice to those in the higher IQ range – resulting in what has often been labeled the “dumbing down of America.” 

We are running the risk of our education traveling like a military convoy.  It can only travel as fast as its slowest member.  This will inevitably lead to constrained results (if it hasn’t already).   It is the fastest and smartest that bring society forward.   If we set our goal at the lowest common denominator, well,,, we all know what will happen (or is happening).  

Research on the lowering of our standards is being done by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  We received a “C” grade for reading and science standards, an “F” for math and RI (believe it or not) has NO standards for history (how does that saying go again?  “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” h/t Edmund Burke)   

 PS.  I know, I know, there was an article in the Westerly Sun about the building committee.  Commentary is coming (but I still appreciate your email reminders, it shows you are concerned).

February 7, 2007

Questioning teacher salaries

Filed under: Budget,Chariho,National,State-wide,Unions — Editor @ 9:11 pm

An interesting letter in today’s Westerly Sun is worthy of your attention.

Format for paying our R.I. teachers shows fundamental need for reform 

Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal ran an article comparing teachers’ pay with many other vocations throughout the country. 

The data was derived from the fed­eral government’s Bureau of Labor statistics report of 2005. The question posed was whether teachers were bet­ter paid than other white collar or spe­cialty technical workers. Cities in California, New York, and the District of Colombia were identified as high cost places of living and their numbers mentioned specifically, but the figures were national. The bottom line was, without benefits, the average teacher’s pay per hour in the high cost areas was over $45 in the high-priced areas and over $34 per hour nationally. 

That made wonder about how Westerly compares. So I took our teachers’ work week, 36 hours, the school year of 181 days and multiplied to come up with roughly 1,296 hours of work time at the schools. I then took the school department’s instructional payroll and divided that by the num­ber of full-time equivalent teachers. Using that data, I calculated the aver­age teacher’s hourly wage in Westerly is $50.25 per hour – without benefits!

Is my math right? Instruction by the school department’s definition relates to instructional teachers, substitutes, instructional para-professionals, pupil use technology and instructional materials. This computation was made for teachers giving direct instruction only. 

The article went on to point out that there was evidence to suggest that bonuses paid to teachers who improved academic performance did, in fact, make a difference to overall quality. 

The way we pay our teachers is more important than what they take home. Our current methodology of basing pay on seniority and advanced degrees, not student improvement, is completely off base. 

According to the Journal, while teacher pay looked less impressive on an annual basis, teachers worked fewer hours and had summer, winter and spring breaks, during which they could pursue travel, education, outside employment or family activities.

Lastly, many of the other compared professions required time outside of the workplace, so all things being equal, teachers really could not be described as “under compensated.” 

Hello, Rep. Peter Lewiss. Maybe now you have something worthwhile for you committee to digest. 

Real accountability and transparen­cy should be on your plate. It is cer­tainly on our minds. 

Dick Anthony Westerly

An in-depth study was done by the Manhattan Institute on this very subject.  It did not evaluate Westerly or Chariho but shows Providence teachers average $38.92 (not including benefits).  The average white-collar employee (excluding sales) earns $26.93. 

According to the Education Partnership Contract Evaluation Report, the average teacher salary in the 2005-2006 Chariho budget was $59,800, not including benefits – ie. health care, pension AND social security (yes, teachers here get both pensions and social security.  Many private enterprises also provide 401k’s and social security, but the contributions made by schools are much more than in the private market).   This salary, using the same formula outlined above, shows an hourly wage of  $46.14. 

The average cost per teacher for these benefits is $22,475 for a total average compensation of $82,275 or $63.48 per hour. 

The letter not only brings to light the issue of teacher compensation but also introduces the merits of teacher “Pay for Performance.”  There are several studies and articles on this subject in the “Pay for Performance” section of the Schools in the News page.