Sunday, April 18, 2010

EASD Answers Residents' Call for Deep Cuts

Posted by: Noel Jones

The school board continues to move forward on the painful task of delivering on deep budget cuts requested by resident tax payers who were originally faced with an 11.85% tax increase in the preliminary budget this year. With the proposed cuts, the proposed tax increase has been brought below the state cap of 3.6%, but still proposes a 2.35% property tax increase in a bad economy. Residents commended the board on this fiscally responsible move to eliminate wasteful spending, and urged even more, so that we do not have to increase taxes or dip into the district's savings account to make ends meet. 

Because I was performing in a dress rehearsal Thursday night, I was unable to attend the school board workshop, which turned out to be the most eventful so far.  I am told that approximately 100 residents and teachers showed up, and 646 people have watched the meeting so far on line. Below you can read articles by both Colin McEvoy of the Express Times and Chris Baxter of The Morning Call on the $8.7 million in cuts proposed, including 70 teaching positions. The articles list the cuts, but what is just as important to note (and what is outlined in resident comments) is what is not listed:
  • No wage freeze for administrators was presented as part of the cuts, despite repeated requests from residents. A few administrative positions will be cut, but no administrators have offered to take a pay cut, in symbolic side-by-side sacrifice with taxpayers. An across-the-board wage freeze would save over $5 million in taxpayer money.
  • Teachers have also refused to re-open their contract and give up their average 10% raise this year, which also amounts to over $5 million.
  • No retirement incentive for teachers was proposed, to retired teachers with seniority whose salaries and benefits costs the most (this is something the union is requesting).
  • Accreditation for Growth (AFG), an after school program involving teachers, parents and students to improve academic performance, was cut except for at Easton High School, which is in its third year of Corrective Action II under No Child Left Behind--in other words, a performance level bad enough to  warrant legally being taken over by the state. It is important to note that not only is this program clearly not working, but we are the only local school district spending tax money on this ineffective program. The cut currently amounts to $164K+, but could be much more if we cut AFG at the high school as well.
  • Zero cuts to the high school athletic programs were proposed, while all sports were eliminated  from the middle schools. Girls lacrosse will be made a JV/Varsity sport, to insure that our school district is in compliance with Title IX, a federal law that mandates that equal money be spent on girls and boys sports in public schools. But not one cut to boys sports was proposed. Cuts were proposed to music, art and education programs at all schools, but not to high school boys sports. It should be noted that the music and arts programs are not being cut completely, rather the district is maximizing class size to cut teaching positions, and combining students into fewer classes. However, the idea that not even a fractional cut to high school boys sports was proposed reinforces concerns expressed by residents in my earlier post, that Easton is dominated by a jock mentality at the expense of the academic (and artistic) education of our youth.
School board member (and newly-announced city council candidate) Kerry Meyers said, in response to resident concern about cutting education, music and arts without cutting high school sports, "Athletics is as important as a classroom."

You can watch the meeting on line here.

Express Times Article by Colin McEvoy -- 70 Teaching Jobs Cut

Morning Call Article by Christopher Baxter -- The Ax Falls on EASD

It would be really great if anyone who attended the meeting could post their impressions here--I watched most of it on line and recognized Carinne, Troy, and Larry amongst other residents speaking up.


noel jones said...

UPDATE: this is the latest info i have received on the upcoming board meeting this thursday--

1) The athletic coaches apparently organized a meeting Wed night to "save middle school sports". They held this at the HS and are planning to come in droves with parents and students to speak to the need to keep this program in tact with perhaps a few cuts to the numbers of teams.

2) The teacher's union is organizing a rally from 5:45 - 6:15 at their office across the street from the HS Thurs. Then plan to parade into the auditorium together for the 6:30 meeting. They say the rally is "in support of the students and against the cuts proposed by the district."

David Caines said...

Well, it is interesting to see that all involved are fighting back, but as I have said before it seems disingenuous. And it also is apparent that its just the same ole, same ole.
Why weren't the teachers up in arms when the school's failures were so obvious two or thee years ago?
Why are the board members acting like the bankers who caused the bailout and still expecting raises for catastrophic failure.
Obviously the reality of this new age of economic hardship and a demand for responsibility in the work place has missed this entirely. And I must say that this being the case, it is kind of obvious why the schools are failing. Obviously neither the teachers or the board are bright enough to see the way the winds are blowing and people that far behind the curve probably shouldn't be entrusted with raising the next generation of Eastonians.
My questions are things like how dare the board not take a pay freeze, what are they stock brokers? Bankers?
Where are the offers from the teachers union, coaching staff to become self-policing? To volunteer hours to keep the teams afloat? Where are the offers from anyone involved to honestly clean up this mess that they have either made or inherited?
I must sadly still agree with the title of this post, obviously a "Clean Sweep" is exactly what is needed here.
What is odd for me, is that I am generally a huge fan of the unions and all that they have done for America. Not so here.

Laureston said...

I have been to almost every school board meeting for the past several months to speak up for the tax cuts and to commend the board in showing fiscal responsibility. We have to live within our means... it's that simple.

I have also said from the beginning that if the teachers are really "concerned about the children" they would open up their contract to renegotiate the forcasted 10% raise they will receive this year alone.

As for concerned parents who feel the loss of school sports will drive our children to join gangs I say this... How about volunteering some of your time and effort in fundraising and chaperoning some extra-cirricular activities to keep the kids off the streets and keep my tax dollars in my pocket? In other words put your money where your mouth is and stop asking me to pick up the tab.

Please come to the next EASD board meeting to support fiscal responsibilty. Raising taxes isn't the answer.

Jess said...

For full disclosure, I should say that my wife is a teacher in the district AND we live in the city and pay taxes. Perhaps this makes me biased, but I think there are issues involved in this situation which are far more nuanced than some would have us believe. As a rule I don't like to talk about things I don't know about, so maybe someone else can help clarify this issue of teacher raises. I speak only for myself, not for the union or any teachers. I just think there is some room for opposing views on this blog (which I love, by the way).

It is slightly misleading to say that the teachers are getting a 10% raise this year. While I believe there is a yearly across the board pay increase (I've heard numbers like 5%), the rest is made up of raises based on continuing education. I'm not sure, but I think teachers are required by law to continue their education. The district does reimburse tuition expenses up to a certain amount, but the compensation for their time and efforts above and beyond their normal teaching load (often during the Summer) is that raise the get when they complete those credits/degrees. Perhaps some people feel the salary schedule which dictates those raises is too generous, but I think it's unfair to require teachers to take these classes and get these degrees and ask them to not be compensated for it.
From what I've been hearing there also seems to be questions about how the teachers would even go about taking a smaller raise or no raises at all. It's unclear to me, weather or not teachers would be able to make a concession like that without opening their entire contract for renegotiation. I'm sure there are people who would love to see that happen, but we negotiate multi-year contracts for a reason and if we slashed school employee pay every time the economy took a turn for the worse we would not be able to attract quality educators. And with apologies to Mr. Caines, I believe we have quite a few excellent teachers. I'm sure many of those teachers would be happy to make some concessions, so long as it meant they wouldn't be left open to major changes when the district finds itself in the middle of a crisis and is literally seeing red.

I guess my point is just that when we say "The teachers are getting huge raises and they should just give up their raises and we could save a lot of money," we might be oversimplifying just a little.

Anonymous said...

If i don't do my job, if you don't do your job and in the vast majority of professions(everything but teachers?)not only do i not get a raise, but i wouldn't even have a job! We all know there are great teachers, there are good teachers and there are not so good teachers. In the case of EASD somebody screwed up, a lot, and now they should pay up. THE DISTRCIT HAS BEEN IN CORRECTIVE ACTION FOR 6 YEARS! This means that teachers are NOT doing their job and so they should NOT get a raise/have a job? That said, the unfortunate thing is that these "not-so-good" teachers are dispursed in different schools. If we look at the high school then we see the immediate need for change. If teachers are not teaching so that students are learning/performing well... then they are not doing the job they were hired to do! Figure out a different method of teaching, do something. If the scene (classroom makeup) changes (students are not doing well on tests, hungry, experienceing issues at home that interfere with test performance/learning) well then darn-it firgure it out so that they do well. Adjust your teaching style, adapt to the change in student popultion. Thats what an educator does...educates. If i plan my day to do the work i was assigned and then the circumstances change, i have to adapt my performance that day so that i get the job done. The job is not done, the kids are not proficient on tests, and not graduating and now there will be 25 in a classroom, no crisis counselors, and nothing to do afterschool. Let's start with the are management, did you not see the forrest thru the trees? Did you not see the corrective action status all the years...the failures? You screwed this bout you man up, admit the mistake and take the cut? Next you can figure out what teachers are not proficient/performing and cut them replacing them with teachers that have figured out how to educate those most in need of an education. Ever heard of Teach For America? Their teachers move students above proficient in 2 years, up and out of corrective action. these folks up and lets bring these teachers here!

Anonymous said...

Not anonymous, last post by:
Laura Accetta
Weed and Seed Site Coordinator

Carinne said...

“Put your money where your mouth is” should be the official slogan for Thursday’s meeting.
I would send that message to parents, teachers, administrators, and even Pastor Phillip.
Parents, pay for your own kids to play sports. In high school too. If you can’t afford your own kids, then ask for help from the other parents of the team. The community that shares the opinion that athletics are as important as academics should pay for it too. Have the ex-jocks of this town become so lazy that they can’t fundraise? If so, just write a check in the amount you think Timmy throwing a ball is worth. Or in the amount of 11.8% of your school tax. If you honestly think YOUR kid would be in a gang and become a criminal if they didn’t have a couple of hours of practice a week, then your parenting should be reported to DYFS.
Teachers, accept the same amount of money you making now. Open the contract! When you are responsible for the school being in Corrective Action II for the third year in a row how dare you want a raise? I don’t know of many jobs where you wouldn’t be FIRED for 3 awful evaluations in a row. As far as the good teachers (and I believe we have some), use your energy to advocate to participate in Race to the Top, so your efforts will be financially rewarded.
Pastor Phillip Davis from Shiloh Baptist Church, it was great you could make it out to speak up about not cutting sports from EMS. I have attended a few sermons at Shiloh, where you creatively pressured the congregation to tithe for the ministries financial gain. With your multi million dollar new church built, you can focus some of that money to sports I guess.
Last I would say to anyone in this community, if you seriously speak a word about Middle School sports when literacy coaches are being cut you are a fool. I for one would rather the children of my community know how to read over knowing how to score points at any sport.

Cathy Stoops said...

I keep hearing about the kids being turned out into the "streets" and the implication is how awful that is. I like the idea of seeing kids more in the community and out of an institutional setting which is what the average high school has become. Maybe our streets would improve with new life. Vibrant communities have kids on the streets! Parents need to spend less time in front of the TV recovering from their daily work for corporations and take personal responsibility for their kids instead of paying other people to do it and join with others who volunteer (like my childless tax paying self) to create after school activities and teams. Maybe the hidden gift in all of this is that we are being required to be a community in the true sense of the word. I am not tired of the federal government interfering with my life as much as I am tired of corporations and unions and school districts interfering with my life. We as a community need to step forward and say no to the taxes but yes to the responsibility of raising youth.

noel jones said...

Jess, thanks for posting--we need more teacher's voices (in this case, spouses of teachers count too) in this discussion--and that's really what it is--a long, ongoing independent discussion about how our community can get out of this mess in a way that improves education for our youth, rewards good teachers, eliminates those that are slacking and getting tiered raises each year, and is also fair to the tax payers--especially those of us who do not have children in the school system. So thanks for jumping in and being civil about it all, because you are right--this IS a forum with room for debate and we work really hard here to encourage people to feel welcome to disagree, while doing it respectfully. I'm sure that since you are married to a teacher and also a tax payer that you see both sides of the issue, so it's great to have your input.

I would like to see teachers urge the union to reopen their contract, take a concession on their raises in sympathy with tax payers, and further urge the union to support Race To The Top, which is federal money that could alleviate our tax burden, while rewarding only the good teachers with merit-based pay.But I also want to see administrators make a side-by-side sacrifice of a pay cut in solidarity with teachers and tax payers. This would be truly moving forward together as a community to resolve this problem.

I am very happy that the school board is listening to residents and taking strong measures in the form of deep cuts. However, the nature of those cuts is important, and it's disturbing that high school boys sports has not offered to take even a fractional hit, while they seem content to watch the middle schools lose ALL their sports programs.

I am sick as a dog but I am going to make this meeting on Thursday a priority because the school board (who are not paid a dime, by the way) have answered our requests for deep cuts and they really need our support. I hope that everyone will really try to make it. There will be a lot of people there, speaking from all sides of the issue, and this community discussion is really important to getting us on the right track again.

noel jones said...

Latest article by Colin McEvoy of the Express Times on the teachers protest planned for tomorrow night:

Who needs reality TV? Come on out to the high school auditorium Thursday night, 6:30pm--bring popcorn.

David Caines said...

I'll apologize here because I mixed up the administrators with the board. This whole thing is a bit of a mess, I'll also admit that I have been trying to simplify this for myself. I don't think that rehashing, blaming and all that is getting us anywhere. Are there good teachers ?, I hope so, kind of assume so. But in the end I do feel that this has gone a little too far around the bend.
I worked for a company about twenty years ago that fell into distress and was bought out. The new owners fired everyone. They obviously didn't feel that they had the time or the ability to go through all of us one by one if the company was going to be saved. I wasn't thrilled but I got it, it's not that unusual as a business practice. I feel that this is what may be needed here, considering the absolute importance of this particular business surviving and thriving.
As to sports and all that, I'm a bit surprised that no one has mentioned that to be a member of a team you have to keep a "C" or above GPA though that may not be the practice here, it was at my school. In the end I think what I most want to avoid is having this conversation next year, and the year after. I agree with those who have posted here who are obviously in fields where what you produce determines everything about your work life, and no I don't think it is unfair to demand that of anyone in any field. I'd support things like teacher report cards, so parents can pull their kids from classes where teachers under preform and things like that. I'd like to see the system become more self policing. Barring such things I can't really support any of the parties involved. And as many have mentioned here, we don't need to even "Think Out of the box" all we really need to do is accept and implement successful practices used by others.

Anonymous said...

If we are truly interested in improving the education of our students how can anyone support the elimination of 70+ teachers? Doesn't anyone relaize the negative impact on the learning process? The increase in already large classes? We need more teachers offering more one on one learning with independent learning plans. We need to stop putting kids in a box by age rather than ability. We need to stop allowing parents to push their kids to the next level when the teacher and administration is recommending they be held back.

Solutions are difficult in there troubling times. All levels of government are feeling it and all levels of government are tackling the probelms differently. EASD needs to re-evaluate the number of administrators of course and everyone in the distict should vounteer a wage freeze and possibly a cut. I cannot even imagine the problems at the high school next year with 30 less teaching staff.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Nice to read your post Jess and hope to see more of your input. I would just like to comment on your statement that "it's unfair to require teachers to take [continuing education] classes and get these degrees and ask them to not be compensated for it."

Each year, I am required to take continuing legal education classes AND donate 20 hours of pro bono service, but I don't get compensated for these extra obligations. I know teachers have a tough job, but their compensation package, including benefits and salary increases, is not commensurate with the private sector. Especially in the Great Recession.