Chariho School Parents’ Forum

April 28, 2009

Chariho teachers’ salary on fast track

Filed under: Chariho,Charlestown,contract negotiations — Editor @ 7:30 pm

h/t CP and Tom himself for sending me this.

Dear Editor,

 

The recent abysmally low voter turnout for the Chariho budget shouldn’t surprise anyone. Ever since the regional “town hall” meeting to approve Chariho budgets was eliminated, voter participation has been minimal. Nor should it surprise anyone that the proposed budget was defeated. The Chariho School Committee has for years failed to control school expenses. Finally voters are waking up and pushing back. Most people in our communities want and support good education but they also want and need prudent and responsible budgets. 

 

salary-scale1

 

This out of control spending starts with teacher salaries and benefits that make up the largest portion of the Chariho expense. Look at the chart above—it’s simple, an individual who was just out of college in 1999 with a teaching degree and hired by Chariho would earn $23,806 for the 1999-2000 school year. If that individual is still teaching at Chariho this year, only 9 school years later, without any further education, their salary would have soared to $70,892—a whopping THREE FOLD increase; absolutely extraordinary in a period of relatively low inflation! That’s just below an average 13% increase per year! How many taxpayers in our three towns can say that they have enjoyed pay increases of that magnitude?

 

The above speaks only to salary. There’s not enough room here to get into the details of Chariho teachers’ health insurance, vacation time, holidays, and pensions provisions that make their entire compensation package even more lucrative. This School Committee and its predecessors have had countless opportunities to reign in these costs but they have repeatedly acquiesced to union demands.

 

The School Committee will often say in response to requests to reduce the budget that their “hands are tied” by contract agreements.  Who’s fooling who? Those contracts were negotiated and approved by the School Committee. The next teachers’ contract is being negotiated right now – Now is when the Chariho School Committee must act and gain real cost reductions, to both salary and benefits, for the new budget.  

 

Let’s hope that the School Committee has gotten the message the voters sent last Tuesday. In this difficult economy the public wants the School Committee to aggressively address school spending. The School Committee needs to have meaningful reductions to the budget –and please don’t try to play the standard game of deleting field trips, sports, and advanced study programs etc. as the first response to that request.  Otherwise, the public will have no other recourse but to give a meaningful NO to the next budget.

 

Thomas Frost   

Charlestown   

 

And before the inevitable flood of emails come, as are always sent when I post anything from or about RISC, let me answer the most common questions.  RISC is a group run by several south county residents, mostly intelligent well meaning retired CEO’s. Yes Tom is on the board of RISC. Yes I used to be. No I am not now – they asked me to leave.  No, RISC and OSPRI are not affiliated. Yes we agree on some things (tax issues). No we don’t agree on everything (LNG development). Yes, they have expressed displeasure with the current performance of our education system. No, they have not (as far as I know) taken a position on school choice. Yes RISC started a transparency project 6 months after OSPRI went online, No I don’t know why they duplicate efforts. Yes I was involved in discussions with them about creating a transparency project before I created OSPRI. No, obviously, things didn’t work out. Yes I had started the concept on this website before that. Do they feel they have an intellectual property right to the idea? you will have to ask them but I have been told no.

Yes I have asked them why they are duplicating efforts.  No, they don’t believe it is a waste of money (we provide budgets, payrolls, contracts, and the check register – they provide budgets, payrolls, contracts and fiscal statements).  No they don’t do RI Votes. Yes RISC has advocated against the Westerly Bond. No they have not advocated against the Chariho bond. Yes they used to be called the RI Shoreline Coalition – but now the State Wide Coalition. Yes most of their donors used to come from Charlestown and Watch Hill but the situation may have changed since they went state wide. Do OSPRI and RISC “get along? I would like to but they are actively working to hurt OSPRI (e.g. once attacked ospri by saying we had a political agenda and inferred that our data would be tainted) and I have received information where a RISC official said they will never promote anything OSPRI does (have you ever seen an OSPRI OpEd in the RISC daily news recap?) and they cut the OSPRI logo off the Tea Party flyer before handing it out. Yes I am as perplexed as you. I think that will answer most questions I normally receive.  I have exhausted all efforts in resolving the issue and don’t feel like answering the emails anymore.  So they are all answered here.

All that being said, I think Tom did a good job on this and agree. That’s why I continue to promote good policy regardless of who develops it.

August 26, 2008

“Chariho Forever!”

Filed under: Charlestown — Editor @ 7:25 pm

That quip comes from Andy Polouski at the Charlestown meeting Monday night discussing their plans to withdraw from Chariho.

From the Westerly Sun:

CHARLESTOWN — After a rumble of misunderstand­ing about how its report was originally released, the Ad Hoc Withdrawal Committee presented its findings to the Town Council last night in a congenial workshop, where there was much agreement about the problems facing the Chariho Regional School District.
Emphasizing more than once that his committee sought a long-term solution to what it perceives as a long­term problem, Giancarlo Cicchetti said that the best option for Charlestown would be to eventually fully with­draw from the regional dis­trict and create its own kindergarten through grade 12 school system.
The primary problem with
the regional district is entrenched political differ­ences over funding between the three towns, which has resulted in the defeat of need­ed bond referendums, Cicchetti said. Seeing no reprieve from this stalemate in the future, Cicchetti said the best way to secure Charlestown’s educational future is for the town to go it alone.
At that point, Cicchetti
attempted to show render­ings of a new Charlestown school campus that were developed by Newport Collaborative Architects, but James Mageau, the Council’s acting president, objected.
“I think we’re getting off track here,’’ said Mageau.
Mageau said he did not want to give voters the impression that Charlestown
had decided to split away from the district when this decision was still “prema-t­ure,’’ especially when their support is needed for a $25­million Chariho bond on the ballot this November. The bond money is slated to bring Chariho’s Richmond campus up to code and elim­inate the need for having classes in trailers.
“I don’t want to confuse the public,’’ said Mageau.
In his opinion, Charlestown should only consider withdrawing from the regional district if the bond questions fail and if the town is unsuccessful in get­ting Hopkinton to be more supportive of the regional district, Mageau said. On the latter point, Mageau said he wants to explore the idea of suing Hopkinton for breach of contract for failing to approve needed bond ref­erendums.
“Hopkinton has never been supportive of the dis­trict,’’ Mageau said, noting Hopkinton voters last November refused to pass a bond question to repair the schools.
At the end of the work­shop, the council did look at the architect’s renderings, but not before it was firmly established that the first order of business was con­vincing voters to approve the bond questions and, to that end, enlightening Hopkinton voters about the value of being part of the Chariho district.
“The people of Hopkinton must be educated about how lucky they are to have two other towns share the cost of educating their children,’’ said Andy Polouski, vice chairman of the Chariho School Committee, who spoke when the workshop was opened up for public comment.
Hopkinton could never afford to educate their chil­dren by itself, said Polouski adding, “I hope the people of Hopkinton are smart enough to stand up and not destroy the most valuable asset they have.’’
“Chariho forever!’’ Polouski said before leaving the podium.
Regarding the issue of withdrawal, councilwoman Harriett Allen asked the Ad Hoc Committee what they had concluded about the idea of partial withdrawal — in other words, leaving Charlestown students in the regional high school, but bringing the younger grades back to town. From talking to people in the three towns
over the years, Allen said she has the impression that everyone wants their kids to go to the high school, but they want the younger ones closer to home.
“That just screams partial withdrawal,’’ she said.
The committee studied that option and concluded it wouldn’t work for the same reason it concluded that full withdrawal was Charles­town’s best recourse — polit­ical differences would pre­vent the three towns from funding such as system, said Cicchetti, a member of the school committee.
Toward the end of the workshop, Cicchetti sought to get the Council on record as saying they support the withdrawal plan, even though no vote can be taken
during a workshop. If and when withdrawal comes about, it would expedite pro­ceedings with the state if longstanding Council sup­port could be shown, he said. But then the reality facing this council surfaced: Some of them may not be re-elect­ed in November. Cicchetti called this “unfortunate tim­ing.’’ But councilwoman Katharine Waterman said she was willing to go on record saying the following: “I would like to see Chariho remain strong; how­ever, I have very little faith in its ability to do so,’’ she said.
If Hopkinton voters don’t approve this November’s bond questions, Waterman said it would be time to “move on.’’

July 7, 2008

Charlestown ad-hoc recommends withdrawal

Filed under: Charlestown — Editor @ 9:46 pm

This article from the Westerly Sun isn’t much of a surprise, but what is surprising comes in the section near the end discussing buy-outs and assets owned.  The suggestion is that Charlestown could withdrawal from Chariho and not be liable for future financial support.  It is my understanding that the three towns are collectively liable for the Chariho employees.  In other words, even if Charlestown left today, they would still be responsible for the current employees’ pension and health insurance.  But the article infers that they could walk away with no liability.  If this is true, the $4mm that they estimated to have paid into the District (which they would lose if they left) pales in comparison to the potential liability.

Is it realistic to think that Richmond and Hopkinton would shoulder the entire liability?

CHARLESTOWN — Withdrawing from the Chariho Regional School District could cost as much as $49.9 million over 20 years — but would be cheaper than equalizing taxes among member towns.
So indicates a recent report by the town’s Ad­hoc Withdrawal Update Committee, which rec­ommends floating a bond for a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 Charlestown School District over 11 other options — including partial with­drawal and a joint school district with the town of Richmond.
Committee members had hoped to present their report to the Town Council on July 9, but the meeting has been postponed by Councilor James M. Mageau — who, along with other coun­cilors, support a referendum this fall asking vot­ers to approve up to $25 million for Chariho’s main campus in Richmond. The three-part ballot question is identical to a $26-million campus improvement plan that failed by 47 votes in Hopkinton last November.
The ad-hoc group, however, views withdrawing from Chariho as the most cost-effective solution for Charlestown in the long run.
The bottom line
Capital costs for a Charlestown school district are estimated to include: • Construction of a new middle school (324­student capacity): $19.7 million • Construction of a new high school (324-stu­dent capacity): $21.2 million • Auditorium with 500 seats: $3 million • Renovations to Charlestown Elementary School (486-student capacity): $3 million
 * Secure land for new schools: $3 million Assuming Charlestown receives $1.2 million in state housing aid, the annual cost to repay a $49.9 million bond would be about $3.3 million in fiscal year 2012-13 — which represents a 11.7 per­cent town budget increase. (Without the proposed audi­torium, it would present a 11.1 percent budget increase.) Equalizing taxes in the dis­trict, or creating a common tax that is based on property values rather than student enrollment, would lower Hopkinton and Richmond’s annual school contributions to more than $6 million each, while increasing Charlestown’s share to about $18 million — an increase of about $7 million, according to the committee’s report.
Charlestown has the lowest percentage of student enroll­ment in the district (about 28 percent), but pays more than Hopkinton and Richmond when state education aid is subtracted from each town’s annual contributions.
“Charlestown cannot afford a uniform school tax rate, and meanwhile school infrastruc­ture has degraded to the point where education is suf­fering, where the [district] operating budget is consumed by the costs of maintaining failed facilities, and where renovation of these facilities will be quite expensive,” the committee’s report notes.
The ad-hoc group favors complete withdrawal because it removes the stalemate on tax equalization; gives the town local control over the education of its students and a plan for a high-quality edu­cation; and is both cost-effec­tive and affordable.
When and where?
Under a timeline estab­lished by the committee, the town would hold a withdraw­al vote in mid-to-late 2009, with school construction beginning in 2010. Students would move-in to the new facilities in September 2012.
The group recommends a “one vote, one plan” approach, or building all of the facilities at once rather than in phases. (As an alter­native, town officials could opt to divide the project into two phases.) “We feel that this is a more streamlined approach which avoids any unforeseen prob­lems that might arise between votes or phases of construction in a two-stage plan,” the committee wrote. “However, if members of the town are interested in pro­ceeding with a phased approach, we suggest that a survey question to evaluate town sentiment on this pro­vide valuable information in making a final decision on how to proceed.”
Because any future land acquisitions would be subject to negotiations in executive session with the Town Council, committee members have declined comment on possible school locations. A source close to the group, however, acknowledged last week that a land swap with The Nature Conservancy might be possible — giving the town space for a school campus on Carolina Back
Road near the Charlestown Elementary School.
Forgoing investments
Though the town currently has about $4 million invested in Chariho infrastructure, committee members have recommended against asking Hopkinton and Richmond for a pay-out.
“Since the district was formed in 1958, Charlestown has invested around $4 mil­lion in infrastructure improvements at the Switch Road campus. Further the value of this investment has depreciated significantly,” the committee wrote. “If Charlestown asks for repay­ment of assets, then accord­ing to [state law], the other two towns have veto power over Charlestown’s with­drawal proposal. The 2004 withdrawal proposal set a legal precedent that if Charlestown did not ask the other towns to repay assets, then Charlestown could vote as a single town to with­draw…”
In 2004, Charlestown vot­ers rejected a $34.9 million bond for a Route 1 high and middle school complex, and a $3 million campus auditori­um. The proposals failed despite the fact that local res­idents approved a binding withdrawal question in 2001
by a margin of 543 votes.
For Chariho construction bonds to pass, a majority of voters in Charlestown, Hopkinton and Richmond must vote to approve them. An amendment to a state law known as the Chariho Act could change that, and allow a majority of voters in the dis­trict to approve school improvements — but would also open the door for Hopkinton and Richmond voters to approve a tax equal­ization measure.
The last bond that passed in the district paid for the construction of Chariho Middle School in the late
1980s.
Elementary school improvements

In addition to school with­drawal options, the Ad-hoc Withdrawal Update Committee has recommended using impact fees to improve the Charlestown Elementary School — whether the town proceeds with withdrawal or not.
Under 2004 withdrawal plans updated by the commit­tee and Newport Collaborative Architects Inc., the Charlestown Elementary School would expand to include new space for music and media centers, two new fourth-grade classrooms and
three new kindergarten class­rooms.
Impact fees, or fees collect­ed from development, could be used to renovate or rebuild the school’s library; improve or replace the schools well and septic system to add capacity for increased enroll­ment; and build or renovate classrooms to increase stu­dent
capacity.“We recommend that the [town’s] impact fee ordinance be amended to allow greater flexibility in utilizing this money for the benefit of Charlestown students,” the committee wrote. “Other towns (notably Richmond and Hopkinton) use different lan­guage in their impact fee ordinances, which allow a greater use of ranges. Whether Charlestown with­draws from the district or not, the ordinance should be amended so that money can be used to pay for a wider variety of needed upgrades.”
The town’s existing ordi­nance requires that impact fee revenues be spent through the Chariho district.

 

Charlestown Options

Filed under: Charlestown — Editor @ 9:34 pm

Today’s Sun outlines Charlestown’s 12 options per the ad-hoc committee (personally, short of total choice through vouchers or tax credits, I like option 12):

The Sun Staff
Members of the Ad-hoc Withdrawal Update Committee examined 12 options for Charlestown’s educational future.
Their findings are listed below:
Option 1: Stay in the Chariho Regional School District.
While staying in Chariho offers several educational advantages, committee members believe that longstanding political differences between Charlestown, Hopkinton and Richmond will continue — and prevent much-needed improvements at the district’s main campus in Richmond.
“As long as the per capita [or student enrollment-based] formula under which the three towns pay for education remains intact, staying in the district would be cheaper for Charlestown than a withdrawal effort,” the committee wrote. “However, the physical facilities of the district are old and failing, to the point where education is negatively affected. The high school is in danger of los­ing [New England Association of Schools &
Colleges] accreditation due to the infra­structure problems. It is more difficult for students at the high school to feel proud of their school when that school is literally falling apart.”
Paying for capital repairs through district operating budgets will shift funds away from educational programs, and it could become increasingly diffi­cult to manage under a state cap on annual spending increases. Even if the three towns agree on a sizeable school improvement bond, “the same debate over how to pay for school improve­ments will go on, and Charlestown in the future will continue to find itself pressured towards tax equalization as facilities go through new cycles of dete­rioration, and bonds continue to fail.”
Option 2: Negotiate with Hopkinton and Richmond to pass a bond.
A negotiated agreement between the three towns could result in concessions from Charlestown, including the equal division of annual school operating budgets; tax equalization based on the number of homes in each town; or some other financial compromise — all of which would likely increase Charlestown’s yearly contribution to the district.
“The negative economic impacts of [these options] will depend on the amount of added money that Charlestown agrees to pay for educa­tion within the district,” the committee wrote. “A further concern is that any agreement less than full tax equaliza­tion may ‘pave the way’ for subsequent requests by Hopkinton and Richmond for yet more financial concessions from Charlestown, until full tax equalization is achieved.”
According to committee estimates, full tax equalization would result in a $7 million annual increase in school spending for Charlestown — a “very serious financial hardship.”
Option 3: Construct buildings for middle school and/or high school students in Charlestown, but remain in the Chariho district.
“Charlestown would fund the cost of building new facilities in town, but would still be bound under the Chariho Act to share in all costs of educating the children of all three towns,” the com­mittee wrote. “The concept of ‘double payments’ does not seem politically appealing within Charlestown, particu­larlyif we would be constructing a building for [high school students] while simultaneously paying for improve­ments to [Chariho High School] that benefit children of the two other towns.” To be eligible for state aid, school con­struction work would have to be done through the Chariho district, “requiring the independent ‘yes’ vote of all three towns — another hurdle to overcome,” the committee noted.
Options 4 through 7 (partial withdrawal options): Withdraw pre-kindergarten through grades 5, 6, or 8; or withdraw grades 9 through 12.
In a 2004 survey, Charlestown par­ents indicated that bringing younger students back to Charlestown was a priority. Similarly, a committee in Hopkinton favors the return of fifth and sixth graders to local elementary schools, while Richmond’s Education Advisory Committee has recommended withdrawing pre-K through grade 5 students from Chariho.
Currently, there is no provision in the Chariho Act for partial withdrawal, so “any agreement between the towns and the district would probably then need approval by the voters of all three towns.” Removing high school students from the district “would be extremely difficult to negotiate with the other towns, who have never expressed any interest in this option.”
“These negotiations would be much simpler if all three towns agreed to withdraw the same grades from the dis­trict at the same time,” the committee wrote. “Students in grades that are withdrawn under these options would be attending smaller schools, which are generally recognized to provide more attention and a better education in many ways.”
However, committee members acknowledged that partial withdrawal could create differences in curricula between the three towns, resulting in potential difficulties for students.
Option 8: Form a pre-K through grade 12 Charlestown School District based on revisions to the 2004 withdrawal plan.
This is the committee’s primary rec­ommendation to the Town Council, and is considered to be the best economic solution for the long-term health of Charlestown. Much of the proposed withdrawal plan was drafted in 2004, and several legal questions have already been resolved.
“Withdrawal lets Charlestown con­struct
appropriate facilities, and gives Charlestown complete autonomy over education in the town,” the committee wrote. “Charlestown students would also experience a smaller number of dis­ruptive school transitions. Further, withdrawing Charlestown students cre­ates space at the Switch Road campus to alleviate crowding issues for Richmond and Hopkinton students. All withdrawal options save Charlestown large sums of money when compared to tax equalization.”
“It is the perception of this committee that many people who voted not to withdraw from the district in 2004 would now vote in favor of withdrawal because of their frustrations with the inability of the district to agree on bonds and construction.”
Option 9: Form a pre-K through grade 8 Charlestown School District, and tuition grades 9 through 12 into another district.
Offered as a secondary option for review by the Town Council, the com­mittee suggested this alternative in the event that councilors or the public do not support full withdrawal from Chariho. It would require a smaller bond, and offers the possibility of form­ing a joint district with another town such as Westerly — which has declining student enrollment and a similar eco­nomic base.
“The tuitioning-in option does not, however, provide the continuity of edu­cation that building pre-K [through] 12 facilities in Charlestown do,” the com­mittee wrote. “Further, this option does not offer the same opportunities to craft an exceptional high school education. This alternative also relinquishes some degree of local control, does not provide a clear and predictable funding formu­la, and sacrifices a sense of Charlestown identity in merging with another town.”
Option 10: Form a pre-K through grade 12 Charlestown-Richmond School District.
Though both Charlestown and Richmond appear to agree on educa­tional issues, Richmond’s withdrawal from Chariho under existing state law would prove “financially and politically difficult.” Because the central campus is located in Richmond, the town would either have to turn it over to Hopkinton, or a buy-out agreement would have to be brokered and approved by voters in all three towns.
“Moreover, Charlestown and Richmond have very different tax
bases, and at least one prominent Richmond politician has been an out­spoken advocate of tax equalization,” the committee wrote. “It is not clear that a Charlestown-Richmond District would eliminate the specter of tax equalization that has been a problem for the district.”
“Further, a Charlestown-Richmond District would leave Hopkinton stu­dents with no clear avenue to educa­tion,” the committee added. “Although these students might be tuitioned-in to this new district or to another existing district, it is possible that [the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] would step in to protect the educational welfare of Hopkinton students.”
Option 11: Form a pre-K through grade 8 Charlestown School District, and a Charlestown­Richmond High School for grades 9 though 12. Annual funding for the high school could be based on an equalized tax rate, as an incentive to Richmond.
“A Charlestown-Richmond High School would educate students in a school size that many find appealing for sports programs and for a diversity of classroom offerings,” the committee wrote. “Further, this proposal would unite Charlestown and Richmond, two towns that seem aligned on certain edu­cational issues, with both towns gener­ally voting in favor of bonds and operat­ing budgets.”
Equalizing taxes with Richmond to fund a high school, however, would cost Charlestown an extra $2.7 million per year — and would be less cost effective than a pre-K through grade 12 district in Charlestown.
Option 12: Form a privately run, pre-K through grade 12 Charlestown School District.
The town would contract private cor­porations — such as Edison Schools or Mosaica Education — to manage all aspects of local schools, implement their own teaching systems and provide staff. Considered to be a fairly new industry with “mixed results,” committee mem­bers felt the proposal would bring oppo­sition from the state’s educational establishment — including unions and professional organizations.
“The legal team at RIDE has told us that this would be ‘an uphill battle’ and it is easy to visualize the strong opposi­tion that this effort would generate from many fronts across Rhode Island,” the committee wrote.

April 26, 2008

School Choice in the news

Filed under: Charlestown,School Choice — Editor @ 9:43 am

Charlestown has floated the idea that they would run their own school for K-? and possibly utilized vouchers for high school aged kids. 

Foster is also looking at some choice options.