Chariho School Parents’ Forum

September 12, 2007

The Education Partnership nails it

Filed under: Uncategorized — Editor @ 7:01 am

From today’s ProJo –

Valerie Forti: Reforms for appropriate school outlays

01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, September 12, 2007

VALERIE FORTI THIS YEAR, the Rhode Island General Assembly sent a very clear message to school districts and to unions.In level-funding state education aid, after passing a Senate bill last year that checks property-tax increases, legislators sent the message that school committees and unions should not expect to get more money if they cannot appropriately account for what they are spending. The legislature is (finally) noticing that, under the current approach, simply sending more money to the districts increases salaries and benefits — but does not necessarily benefit the children in our public schools, particularly in our urban school districts.

Local school committees, to their credit, have begun to take the determined stance that school-district employees must contribute to their health- and dental-benefit plans. Certainly, it would be in the students’ interest if the contending parties signed contracts by the start of each school year (see “Teachers lacking contracts in 8 districts,” news, Aug. 21). Nevertheless, it is encouraging that some school committees are resisting union pressure to simply give more and more to teachers in salaries and benefits while programs that directly benefit students — sports, arts, etc. — are being under funded or cut out altogether.

In several recent contract negotiations, unfortunately, school committees agreed to a quid pro quo for unions’ paying part of their health and dental benefits. In a number of new contracts, any savings were completely offset by a shorter school year, special stipends and increased “buy-backs” — money given to teachers for declining to take health insurance. Instead of helping students, the money continues to go for excessive adult entitlements.

As The Journal article stated, “The lack of money means some districts are contemplating increasing class size, closing programs and laying off teachers.” Students are suffering because of over-generous contract obligations. The legislature has begun to understand that fact — and this year, did not see fit to send more money to schools to simply increase salaries and benefits. (See Rep. Paul Crowley’s June 11 Journal Commentary piece, “A ‘clunker’ school- spending plan.”)

The Education Partnership honors good teachers. We want good teachers to have good salaries, health and dental care and a retirement benefit. But what our school committees are currently negotiating into teacher contracts in Rhode Island is not sustainable, and vastly outstrips the resources that we have for our children, and should be devoting to them.

When are we going to start to talk about real reform to help support our students? For almost a year, The Education Partnership worked closely with the legislature, the Rhode Island Department of Education, and various advocacy groups (including teachers unions!) to help increase public understanding of why Rhode Island needs a permanent school-funding formula, and to help design the formula. (Only one other state, Pennsylvania, does not have a permanent funding formula.)

At the end of the legislative session, though, after it became clear the formula was being distorted to support bloated and unrealistic spending, The Education Partnership felt compelled to withdraw its support for the formula that was ultimately proposed. Thankfully, the legislature refrained from passing a school-funding formula and it level-funded school districts, sending a clear message that it’s time for a change.

This state needs to think about real financial reform and ways that truly bring resources into school districts for students. For starters, when are we going to work on changing the pension system for teachers (and all municipal and state employees)? We should not be distracted by talk about consolidating school systems and redesigning the funding formula — which could cost enormous political capital while doing little to help students directly.

Let’s talk about a real reform agenda and pass legislation that redirects education spending more toward students.

Require that every school district (as well as municipal and state) employee who is more than three years away from retirement to be part of a defined-contribution plan — and take that issue off of the negotiation table. Our legislators could step up to the plate in a big way if they would take on this issue — and pass legislation that changes our system from an unsustainable defined benefit to a sustainable defined-contribution plan.

Additionally, we need one statewide health-care plan for all school district employees — taking that issue off the local negotiation table. Let’s end sick-day abuse that is costing taxpayers so much. The state law should set a cap of 10 sick days for all school-district employees (how about adding municipal and state workers?) with assignment beyond that to Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI). There should be no more insurance buy-backs of any kind. The state should mandate teacher and principal evaluations in every district, every year, to measure outcomes and bring accountability to our school systems.

For all the frustrating news about teacher-contract negotiations in Rhode Island, there are some encouraging signs coming from Smith Hill. This year’s decisions indicate that our legislators now understand something: Rhode Island does not have adequate public-education performance, and increases in funding have been going to excessive adult entitlements, rather than toward improving student achievement.

The citizens of Rhode Island need to work now to send a message to the unions and the legislature. We need a strong new pension-reform plan that seriously gets to the heart of the problem, a statewide health-care plan, no more insurance buy-backs, 10 sick days and TDI, and a research-based evaluation system in every district.

What we are doing is not working for our children and is not sustainable. Unfortunately for our students and the taxpayers of Rhode Island, that is eminently clear.

Valerie Forti is president of The Education Partnership.

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4 Comments »

  1. Why is it that when it comes to salaries, teachers can’t wait to tell us they are “professionals” and need to be compensated thusly, yet I never hear anyone challenge why “professionals” need the protection of a union in the first place?

    If teachers want to be paid like professionals then I would suggest they start by dissolving their union. Once that is done, they can then act like other professionals and individually negotiate personal contracts. If they are competent, and can demonstrate excellence, like all other professionals, they will be well compensated. If they suck, oh, well, find another career.

    Until teachers no longer accept union protection for the underperforming and non-performing, I will consider their career choice more like that of other union employees such as garbage collectors and toll booth operators.

    When they act professionally, I will honor them with the appropriate esteem. Until then, they can expect no more respect then any other union member.

    By the way, I appreciate Ms. Forti’s optimism about the state’s legislature, but since most of our politicians are in the back pockets of unions, I’ll wait awhile before assuming that our politiicans are done pandering to the teacher’s union.

    Comment by Curious Resident — September 13, 2007 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

  2. The one issue that every school committe neglects to include in each and every negotiating session is the swithch to an 8 hr work day for our professional teachers. They tell us that they work at least that many hours anyway. So, do it at school. That way, they’re already there for 1x/week ‘planning sessions’ and 1x/week ‘team meetings’ and 3x/week ‘after school help’ for the students who need it.

    I have mentioned this before to other parents and they think it’s a great idea. How about you taxpayers? Wouldn’t you like to have your teachers actually working 8hr/day? at the school?

    Comment by very tired — September 14, 2007 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

  3. My constituents tell me they want all Chariho employees treated just like employees in the private sector. As a member of the contract negotiations committee, I have to say that this is a tall order.

    After negotiations, I’ll be ablle to discuss this more.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — September 14, 2007 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  4. Maybe a tall order Mr. Felkner, and maybe unattainable considering the roll over nature of your fellow committee colleagues, but my wife and I are two parents willing to take over the education of our children the minute Chariho teachers walk. They can ride off into the sunset for all I care. They suck us dry and give us a pittance in return…good riddance.

    In fact, to any Town Councilors reading here, stop sending our money to Chariho, send it to each parent instead. You send me $12,000 per child and I’ll send you back $5,000; get my children a better education; and save taxpayers the burden of having to continuously reject building bonds.

    That’s right, for $7,000 per child, my children will be better educated than at Chariho and you’ll have no need to build the Chariho Taj Mahal. Give it some thought, won’t you?

    Mr. Felkner, propose the 8 hour work day. As Tired tells us, they claim to be working at least this much per day anyway…might as well do it at school. If they reject it, let them go…bye, bye. Somehow I don’t think the majority of the committee has the courage to do the right thing for the taxpayers and children, but who knows, maybe they’ll grow a backbone?

    Oh, I almost forgot, so many of them have relatives in the school system they might not be able to help themselves. Giving their relatives other people’s money isn’t as bad as being disinvited to the Thanksgiving Day feast.

    Comment by Curious Resident — September 14, 2007 @ 2:01 pm | Reply


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