Chariho School Parents’ Forum

May 9, 2007

Westerly Bond Defeated

Filed under: Budget,Chariho — Editor @ 11:18 pm

With 54% of the vote, Westerly has said, “enough is enough” and defeated the $30M bond.  

Two letters in the Sun tell us exactly why it failed.  On a comparative note, Westerly spends $12034 per student, Chariho spends $12,195.   The Chariho teacher:student ratio is 11.3 and Westerly is 11.2 (the national average is 15% and the state average is 13%). 

Also remember that Westerly beats Chariho on student performance by having a higher percentage of students who scored in the top 25% of the NECAP test and a lower percentage of students who scored in the bottom 25% of the NECAP test.  Chariho was also beaten by all of our geographic and demographic peers – Coventry, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Exeter and West Greenwich. 

Actually, by looking at demographic factors that contribute to academic achievement (poverty, family structure, etc..), Chariho town students should perform better than those areas but they don’t (more on that on another day).

And when you read the second letter, think about this.  Westerly has 318 teachers, Chariho has 342.  How many millions would we save by using the same changes proposed in the letter?  $13 million?  $14 million?  Imagine how much work we could do to our schools with that much money saved EACH AND EVERY YEAR.

The People’s Forum “Rejection of school building plan shows need for accountability, reform” 

In my opinion, the principal reason why the $30-million school bond was not approved by the voters of Westerly Tuesday was not that there isn’t a justifiable need for upgrading of science labs and general infra­structure improvement.

There is a justification! So, why would such a necessary expenditure of taxpayer money be defeated? The reason is as clear as a bank’s approval/denial of a car loan or a mortgage. In order to borrow, the debtor has to demonstrate an ability to have enough income or cash flow to pay off the loan. This is true for a town or a school.

If the spending habit of the school, in this case, is excessive, there is not enough money to pay off the loan. If the Westerly Public Schools had not asked in their budget for the maximum spending permitted under new state law, there may have been some available cash flow from the taxpayers to warrant approval of the bond. But no, the attitude is to request even more on behalf of the children. 

First of all, it is not the children who are being spoiled. It is the teach­ers’ contract that is the principal source of “spoil.” It amazes me how the merit and importance of good teachers is constantly undermined by the common denominator of a teacher contract. 

All of us are different, and we all make our own contribution. No one is the same and we should not be com­pensated the same. Anyone who has taken the time to stay abreast of this national problem realizes that the managerial model of running educa­tion via a teacher contract is absolutely not working.

 It is true that public education in the United States needs to change in order to make us more competitive globally. It is also true that Westerly deserves to change – in this case, truly for our children’s future. We need to spend more money in the pie for them and less for the teachers.

Sorry teachers, but a switch to a defined contribution retirement plan as opposed to your current defined benefit plan would allow a stock mar­ket over 13,000 to contribute to your well-deserved retirement, and give some relief to your taxpayers. 

At recent budget hearings – i.e. April 4 – the comment was made that people of Westerly don’t show up at budget hearings because they don’t think they can make a difference.Well, in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and many states – as well as even some towns in Rhode Island – the voters do have the oppor­tunity to express their approval or disapproval of a proposed budget by way of a vote. When people purchase an automobile, digital camera, flat screen TV, house etc. they do their homework because they are making a decision.

Just think about the broader participation in school and town budget decisions if all of the vot­ers could vote on them. The Westerly Town Charter needs to be amended to provide for such a vote. Wow, people might start to know as much about their school budget as their home entertainment center or even Red Sox or Yankee sta­tistics! 

This is serious stuff, folks and we need everyone to get on board and seek change. 

James T. Beale, Jr. Westerly

*****************************************

“Compared to other areas, Westerly’s school costs just don’t add up”

 The letter from Ms. Lloyd (The Sun People’s Forum, May 4) ques­tioning the logic of spending more money for school construction when there is so much spending in the current budget may at first appear have seemed to be a comparison of apples and oranges, since capital spending is not directly related to annual expenditures. It does, though, raise the ques­tion of whether we are in fact get­ting a good deal for our money. 

We moved to Westerly from Pueblo, Colo. By any measure, Pueblo is disadvantaged relative to Westerly. The student population is 52 percent Hispanic, and 62 per­cent of students qualify for free lunch. Per student spending was under $5,000 in 2006, and the aver­age student- teacher ratio across the school district was 17. 

Compare this to Westerly. The student population is 90 percent white, and 18 percent of students qualify for free lunch. Per student spending was $12,000 in 2006, and the average student-teacher ratio was 11. Which school district do you expect would perform better on standardized tests? 

Well, you may be surprised to know that there is no significant difference in student achievement. In Pueblo in 2006, 78 percent of third- graders were proficient in reading and 76 percent in math, while sixth-graders were at 64 per­cent and 49 percent. In Westerly, 72 percent of third-graders were profi­cient in reading and 55 percent in math, while sixth-graders were at 64 percent and 53 percent.

If you think that I’m selectively choosing results, feel free to look at the com­plete comparison at www.greatschools.net.

 

The message here is that increased spending, particularly on lower student-teacher ratios, does not improve student performance. Using Pueblo’s ratio of 17, Westerly would have 200 FTE teaching posi­tions instead of the current 318. This would save approximately $8 million annually in teacher salaries, plus another $4 million or so in benefits.

 

That $12 million annually would be more than enough to pay the debt service on the $30 million pro­posed to fix up the old schools. In fact, it would be enough to build a new high school and brand new ele­mentary schools, since it would service about $140 million in new debt. Would we want to do this? I think many parents would love to be proud of the schools they walk into, and are willing to spend the money to see that their kids have the resources they need.

 

But first we need to make sure that we are getting a good deal for our money. Right now it doesn’t look that way. The vote on the $30­million Phase II project merits a longer look at how our current tax­payer dollars for education are allo­cated.

 Jay and Connie Goodman Westerly

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2 Comments »

  1. I had the displeasure of visiting Westerly’s new middle school last year. I was stunned by the obvious waste of taxpayer money as the design alone was extravagant beyond belief. At the time, I thought Westerly taxpayers must be incredibly wealthy or exceedingly stupid. I don’t blame Westerly citizens for rejecting this latest bond. Like Chariho residents, they are already paying a high price for substandard performance. I especially liked Mr. and Mrs. Goodman comparison of Pueblo’s school costs versus Westerly. Let’s hope Chariho residents have the same resolve to halt out of control school spending when our bond comes to vote.

    Comment by Curious Resident — May 10, 2007 @ 12:14 am | Reply

  2. I’m proud of Westerly’s stand on this issue.

    I believe this will show that all communities, including Chariho, are starting to take a serious look at how our tax dollars are spent or not spent, as in the disrepair of the 1904 building.

    Comment by Lois Buck — May 10, 2007 @ 8:31 am | Reply


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