Tuesday, June 19, 2012

“Serenity now,” Brunswick style

As you know, dogs are important to us here at Side.  Our faithful companions Boo-boo and Sweety-bitch are pictured on the right side of the page, and though both are functionally blind, they continue to provide us with the silly distractions and companionship that pet-lovers know all to well.  When they need to go out, we almost always say “c’mon kids,….”

Then there’s the ‘government watchdogs’ we’ve talked about frequently on these pages, and most recently pictured in this apropos image:

We suppose that to many in town, we’re considered a junkyard dog for the way we go after the ankles of the local ruling class and their chosen professionals.  “It’s in my nature,” as the scorpion told the turtle.

Recent events and a message from a dear friend have led us to another symbol to use in our efforts.  We give you “Serenity Dog,” an enlightened member of the canine species; one who has reached a higher level of doggie consciousness.  We’re confident that woof-woof guru stature has been reached, and deservedly so.

               Doggie buddha

How have we come to this point?  It shouldn’t take but a moment to make you sorry you asked.

Not too long ago, in this post, we told you of a kind offer from School Superintendent Perzanoski:

Why don’t we set up a time next week when Jeff Hipsher and I can meet with you to go over the material? I think that would be the best solution rather than going back and forth on e-mail. Jeff is available after school usually around 2:45p.m. I will tell you that the FTE is 235.73 and the teacher salary line in next year’s budget increased from$13,104,151 to $13,572,299 and that is a $468,148 and 3.57% increase over last year. Please let me know what day works for you. Paul.

In response, we stated that we would like to do so, with the conditions that 1) we be allowed to record the meeting, and 2) that at least one School Board member attend as well, preferably one that served on the committee that conducted contract negotiations.

We wanted to record the meeting because we were hoping to gather information, and one layman would find it difficult to listen, think, respond, take accurate notes, and otherwise participate fully with two professionals immersed in the subject matter.  Recording it would protect the others if we mis-represented any information gathered at the meeting.  Besides, all the important meetings are broadcast on Community TV, so a public record exists of what was said.  We believed the same should hold here, but were happy to record the audio only, rather than call for a full-blown video record.

We wanted a School Board member to attend to provide ‘member of the public’ balance to the paid professionals, and to confirm the information we were being given was consistent with what they had been told during the contract process.  If that puts us in the ‘trust but verify’ camp, so be it.

The response we got was as follows:

Good afternoon Mr. Schaeffer I’ve had a chance to review the series of e-mails between us and your request for additional staff attendance and the ability for you to tape the meeting. I’ve answered your questions and offered to meet to have a dialogue about the content of the contract. It is clear with your request that this meeting is more than just informational and will serve no useful purpose for the School Department. I respectfully withdraw the offer to meet with you but will offer you copies of the spreadsheet for each year of the contract that analyzes how many teachers are on each step, the cost and increase for each year. If you would like copies of the spreadsheets, please contact Business Manager Jim Oikle. Thanks, Paul.

Think of that what you will; we consider it our obligation to pass it along to you.  Since that response arrived, we have in fact obtained the referenced spreadsheets from Mr. Oikle, and we are posting them for you to examine and absorb.  Please excuse us; we looked for a way to merge them into a single file, but were unsuccessful.  So you’ll have to look at them one page at a time.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/97014262/Year-One-2012-2013-Brunswick-Teacher-Contract

http://www.scribd.com/doc/97014311/Year-Two-2013-2014-Brunswick-Teacher-Contract

http://www.scribd.com/doc/97014327/Year-Three-2014-2015-Brunswick-Teacher-Contract

For a frame of reference, you might want to relook at this file:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/90562543/11-12-Brunswick-Teacher-Salary-Table

Last but not least, you don’t want to forget what appeared in this memo:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/95071822/April-11-Teachers-Contract-Memo

We have not proofed the three spread sheets we were provided for accuracy in computation or agreement with the new contract posted a few weeks ago.  Hopefully our paid professionals check and recheck the data in cases like this.  So let’s proceed with what we discern from this data and the weeks of postings and emails that led up to this point.

Observations:

- As we asserted, the dollar figures provided in ‘the memo’ could only be derived from specific head counts, with details of seniority steps, for each of the three years, combined with salary figures for the next 3 years, to the dollar.  The spread sheets made available to us prove that point.

- It seems clear that these figures were available BEFORE the vote to approve the contract on April 11th.  In other words, the School Board could have been given the salary tables for the new contract, and relevant assumptions, before voting on the proposal, instead of only ‘the memo,’ which we continue to maintain was a misrepresentation of the facts, and a very brief attempt at glossing over more complex and vital details.

- This simple fact makes delaying contract signing and posting for public consumption till the very end of May, when virtually all budget hearings and decisions were complete, look like a deliberate tactic to keep the details hidden from view until the short attention spans of the public had focused elsewhere.  And it makes the Superintendent’s statement in an email of April 19th, 8 days after the vote, that they had yet to complete the salary scales, seem deceptive.

- The figures in ‘the memo’ make two very critical assumptions.  First, that the staff head count covered by the contract would not change by even a smidgeon from the school year now ending (FY 12) through the third year of the new contract (FY 15).  Second, that not one of the 231.73 FTE staff covered by the contract would advance their educational achievement sufficient to move over one column or more in the salary schedule during the contract period. 

- You can make your own guess at how likely these assumptions are to bear out over the next three years.  We’ve decided any such assumptions are hokum on their face.  For one thing, if you go to this presentation by the Superintendent, you will see that he proposes the addition of 36 new staff in the coming years: 20 clinical/psychology staff; 5 instructional consultants; and 11 educators.  That’s without considering the impact of K-8 summer school he proposes!  We challenge you to name one School Board member who would dare oppose such staff growth, given the hundreds of sign posters around town who would demand that we ‘imagine and invest,’ and do it NOW!  And besides, if we don’t, your house will lose another 20% in value, says Sally Sellit.

- As to not changing educational attainment?  Do we suddenly think devoted teachers will not see the value in taking classes to increase their skill and income?  Compared to a basic BS degree, getting 15 added credits will raise your salary 1 ‘step’ per year, or nearly $1600.  Moving from that point to a Masters Degree will add another 1.4 ‘steps,’ another $2200.  Add 15 more credits, and you jump another .6 ‘steps,’ or $900 plus more.  Move up to the CAS column, and you get another full step on top of the rest.  And depending on your effort, it’s certainly possible a teacher could move two columns to the right during the 3 years of the contract.

- The specifics of the approved contract make ‘step increases’ significantly different from year to year.  In the first year of the new contract, a good many of the membership receive a two step salary increase, because of the elimination of the ‘zero step’ from year 14 to 15.  In the second year of the contract, step increases returned to the more typical pattern of a single step for most teachers.  In the third year, the zero step between steps 22 and 23 is eliminated, giving the top heavy teacher corps a two step increase as well.  Hence, stating “step (2%) plus blah, blah, blah” for each of the three years of the contract is wrong and a clear misrepresentation of fact.  (Remember, a single ‘step’ averages about 3.5% across the full salary range.)

- The statement that annual savings on School Department costs for health insurance in the second year of $117,000 is accepted without substantiation.  However, since the new policy carries forward from that point, there is no additional savings of $117,000 in year three.  Year two sets the new baseline, and that carries forward to year three.   Hence, at the very least, the dollar increase for year three is $409,588, vice the cited figure of $292,588.

- Independent of the highly unlikely assumptions, and the assertions that ‘step’ is 2% in each contract year, this last point makes it clear that summary effects on the budget were misrepresented.

- As an absolute minimum, School Board members should have been told what assumptions were made in generating the numbers they were given to take the vote, since they were presented with aggregate staff figures, rather than raises that could be viewed in terms of their consequences for individual teachers.

- Apparently the requirement to earn your Masters by year 8 of your teaching career was not adhered to very earnestly.  Out of the 46 plus FTE’s (full time equivalents) without a Masters, 35 are beyond year 8 in the salary scale.

- Given the unchanging total of 235.73 FTE’s for each contract year, we find the following average salaries: in FY12, $55,590; FY13, $57,576; FY14, 59,879; AND FY15, $61,616.  The new contract specifies 182.5 workdays per contract year, so these figures work out to $315, $328, and $338 a day respectively, compared to $304 a day in the school year just ended.  Those figures work out to an average salary in the $80,000 a year range when compared to 52 weeks of work.  Not too bad, especially when you throw in cadillac benefits.  And this doesn’t include stipends for various other duties, etc.

- We hope to have updated figures from the town shortly, but based on the data from a few years ago, we suspect these average figures for the teaching staff places them in the same pay range as department heads on our municipal staff.  We’ll update you as soon as we get the detailed figures. 

- Apparently each covered member will be paying an additional $500 annually towards their health coverage.  That’s not much in view of the 3 years of guaranteed raises, is it?

- It should be pretty apparent that we have a pretty top-heavy teaching staff, which undermines the challenges of retention and recruiting we hear year after year. In FY13, 36% of the teachers are at the top salary step; in FY14, 38%; and in FY15, 41%.  In FY13, they account for 42% of total salary dollars; FY14, 43%; and FY15, 46%.

Questions:

- It’s clear to us that the teachers union calculated all the figures and the specifics of the contract proposal.  We’d sure like to know what the negotiating members of the School Board did on our behalf, what they presented, and what their response was to the teachers’ submission?

- On what basis were ‘negotiations’ conducted?  Ordinarily, we would expect the process to begin with expectations for individual salary increases in each of the 3 new contract years.  The data provided to us, and ‘the memo’ provided to the School Board to inform their contract vote, suggest negotiations were based on total budget cost to the Department for each contract year.  With very odd and unlikely assumptions to boot.  Call us cynical, but we could easily surmise that this was an intentional ploy to throw School Board negotiators off kilter, hoping they would eventually say ‘whatever, sounds good to us!’  All it would take to dissuade us of this view is input directly from someone who was involved correcting out view.  They will be given all the space they want here on our pages.

- Rich Ellis, the resident numerologist on the School Board, rose at a public hearing on May 31st to say he “fully understood the information he was presented” before voting on the contract.  Understanding the information is one thing; whether it makes any sense is another.  As always, Rich has an open invitation to correct and enlighten us on these pages.  As we’ve observed before, he seems to be an expert on what’s happening in every other school district within the sound of our voice; surely he can clear things up on this local matter, where he represents the public in good old Brunswick.  The burning question that comes to mind is whether he was referring only to ‘the memo,’ or whether he had the three spreadsheets in hand that we have provided here.  If the latter is true, how can he explain his privileged status in this matter, and why didn’t he object to the distorted characterization provided to his associates on the board?

- And as long as we’re directing comments in Rich’s direction, perhaps he can help us close out the question of the dollar savings for those 102 position cuts the super promised us.  You remember; on April 19, Mr. Perzanoski told us this:

I don’t believe we are required to complete research on your behalf. We thought it was a good idea to compile it and we are doing that when we have time. You’ll have it  when we are finished. Thanks, Paul.

As fate would have it, that was exactly two months ago, and we still have no answer.  Six weeks here, two months there; pretty soon, another year slips by, and next thing you know, one forgets about promises, commitments, and other things.  Rich, oh Rich?  Are you still there good buddy?

While we are able, you have our word that we will not forget.  We don’t bury bones in the back yard, but we still try our best to follow through on our questions that have been buried by others.

Ankle-biters need their fun too.

Planned Follow-up:

We will, in the next day or two, post a detailed analysis of the raises contained in the new contract, salary by salary by salary.  It will no doubt not interest many of you; but for those who want to see things to make up their own minds, you’ll have all the information you need, and we think you will find it eye-opening.

So until we get back to you on this subject, ‘woof-woof,’ keep your tail wagging, and please remember to do your business in your assigned outdoor location.

Serenity does have its obligations, you know.

For a few laughs, watch this serenity compilation:

http://youtu.be/v3VCl3yBURs

1 comment:

  1. There is a great danger in presenting too many "facts" as it encourages "missing the forest for the trees". The important issue here is that in 2000 the school budget was $24 million produced 3125 students of whom 27% made the honor roll. The average teacher salary was $47,091 per year. In 2012 the school budget is $33.5 million and produces 2448 students 27% of whom make the honor roll. The average teacher salary is $60,488. It would be obvious to all except those who probably graduated from this system that the students have come out on the short end of this gratuitous pandering to the teachers.

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