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WVN #543: School reconfiguration: Small part of budget increase

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, The School Committee talked again and again about reconfiguring Wayland s three elementary schools to use space more efficiently and
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 17, 2014
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The School Committee talked again and again about reconfiguring Wayland's three elementary schools to use space more efficiently and accommodate expected small enrollment increases. Then a final vote adopted the superintendent's original plan, which would add $594,000 to the budget.

      That may seem like a lot of money to rearrange the same students in the same buildings, but it's a drop in the bucket in a town budget of roughly $70 million, 70% of which is devoted to schools.

      April Town Meeting voters will face a property tax increase for next year estimated at 10%, much of it attributable to teacher salaries, which have risen much faster than the inflation rate. This newsletter explains how a complicated system of rewards and incentives allows teachers in some cases to boost their income by a third or more in just a few years.


      After months of agonizing, the School Committee made its final decision on elementary school reconfiguration, with a vote for all three schools to house kindergarten through Grade 5, and with two sections of each grade at Loker, three at Happy Hollow, and four at Claypit Hill.

      Although the final vote on Feb. 10 was unanimous, Chair Barb Fletcher and members Donna Bouchard and Ellen Grieco had outvoted members Beth Butler and Malcolm Astley, who had moved earlier to support the alternative, slightly cheaper plan for kindergarten and grade one at Loker, with the higher grades at Happy Hollow and Claypit (K-1, 2-5). The decision follows the pattern set in the budget discussion to ultimately completely endorse the recommendations of School Superintendent Paul Stein.

      Much of the discussion was a rehash of issues raised at earlier meetings, with the exception of a deeper consideration of the need for an assistant principal at Claypit Hill. That issue had been raised in earlier meetings by Astley, a retired elementary school principal, who noted that Claypit was one of the largest elementary schools in the state. Research by Bouchard noted that other schools as large as Claypit (over 500 students) all have assistant principals. A consensus emerged that the new position would have to be added, but the Committee decided to ignore it for this year. A new assistant principal might add another $100,000 to the budget in future years.

      In addition, Stein spoke with Police Chief Bob Irving, who indicated that the chosen reconfiguration plan would require two additional crossing guards, at a cost of $14,000-$16,000. It was unclear whose budget would pick that up. The Health Department would also have to add a .35 Full Time Equivalent nurse.

      Not including the above new items, the price tag for the chosen reconfiguration is $594,000. Voters, who will get the final say at Town Meeting on the recommendations, may well ask why it costs so much to move the same number of students around the same buildings.

      Stein laid out the costs in his proposed budget, page 13:

      One-time expenses for physically moving total $61,000. But the biggest costs are for the administrative staff needed for a newly fully functional Loker School, including a principal, secretary, librarian and custodian. Other needs include specialists (art, music, computer), special ed teachers and assistants, a guidance counselor, speech therapist, and English Language Learners staff.

      There will also be a need for about $500,000 in capital improvements to the Loker kitchen and cafeteria and the Happy Hollow cafeteria and art room (in addition to the already planned and funded Happy Hollow nurse's area). These will be budgeted separately, as part of the capital budget.

      Parents have been distressed at what they term overcrowding in Happy Hollow. The issue is not classroom space but a lack of common space; possible expansion area for common spaces is now occupied by classrooms. The reconfiguration will reduce the Happy Hollow population enough to free those spaces up. The ability to do those Happy Hollow renovations was the major motivation for doing the reconfiguration this year. It was assumed that the need for reconfiguration would grow in the future in any case with somewhat larger elementary populations.

      Voters will get the final say on these choices at Town Meeting. The entire school budget is listed as one line item in the warrant, so legally the School Committee could choose to implement any changes made at Town Meeting as it wishes. But the chair has indicated that the Committee would "probably" abide by whatever wishes TM expresses. Voters could move to delete $594,000 from the school budget while commenting that they want to delay the reconfiguration this year, or could move to delete $150,000 with the comment that they preferred the less expensive (K-1, 2-5) option.

      The superintendent maintains a webpage for his reconfiguration task force:

      Teachers Get 4% Raises

      Wayland taxpayers are facing a large tax increase next year. Numbers will not be final for some time, but they appear to be in the neighborhood of 10%. An obvious question is why.

      Nearly half the increase results from a return to the historical trend line after having depressed the tax rate for several years by using excess free cash. The rest comes from the largest increase in the school budget in over ten years.

      The next obvious question is why the school budget is rising so much. About a third of the answer comes from the cost of the proposed elementary school reconfiguration. Another, smaller piece stems from new mandates for Special Education and English Language Learning.

      But a WVN analysis indicates that the largest part of the increase comes from sizable teacher raises under the newly signed teacher contract for FY15 through FY17.

      The Finance Committee’s Fiscal 2015 budget guidelines issued last September called for level funding, with some exceptions: “Operating budget requests are to be level funded at FY20l4 amounts for the upcoming fiscal year excluding utility related accounts and settled labor contracts... Salary items should include any step/lane increases due during the upcoming fiscal year and any COLAs in settled contracts.”

      As WVN reported previously, the School Committee announced last June that agreement had been reached with the teachers’ union on two contracts, one for the current academic year (2013-2014) followed by a three-year contract covering 2014-2017. The one-year contract is now available online, and a Memorandum of Understanding extending the provisions for the next three years is also now online, though not the complete contract.

      The contract for FY15 provides for a Cost of Living Adjustment of 1.5%, which approximates the current rate of general inflation. However, typical teachers receive far more increases under the contract. Steps are annual increases for teaching experience, up to 12 years. Lanes refer to adjustments for advanced degrees beyond the bachelor's level, up to a Ph.D. For FY15 a newly minted teacher with a bachelor's degree receives $44,647 annually, but that can increase to $108,002 after 15 years if he or she has received a doctorate in the meantime. On average Wayland teachers are hired with a "Master's + 30" -- 30 credits beyond a master’s degree -- which under the FY15 contract, begins at $51,027 and tops out at $97,219. Typical new hires have five years of experience, which puts them in the middle of the range at $61,346.

      In addition, many teachers receive extra stipends for leadership roles, coaching sports teams, or after school clubs. Several new stipends were added this year. A department head gets $7,416. A football coach gets $8,308.

      Additional benefits were added in the new contracts, most notably a longevity bonus. These kick in at 20 and 25 years of service, which includes many Wayland teachers. The School Committee was surprised by the number of teachers opting for this bonus rather than waiting for an increased retirement benefit. But teachers continue to enjoy the availability of a defined benefit pension plan, which has become nearly extinct in the private sector.

      Average Salary $86,559

      This year, FY14, the average Wayland teacher salary is $86,559. And in response to a request from WVN, Superintendent Paul Stein has calculated that the average Wayland teacher salary will increase slightly over 4% in FY15 from the current year, to $90,065.

      Conventional wisdom holds that teachers are chronically underpaid. But a look at the state Department of Education website is revealing:

      According to the DOE, Wayland teachers received an average salary of $88,529 in FY12, the latest year reported. It is unclear if this number is directly comparable to the more recent numbers reported by Stein to WVN, but these are official state numbers. The average public school teacher salary statewide was $70,962, according to the report.

      Massachusetts salary statistics for all occupations for May 2012 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are available here:
      http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ma.htm http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ma.htm

      Using median hourly wages annualized (median numbers remove the effect of the unusual very highly paid outliers found in the private sector), the typical worker in "Computer and Mathematical Occupations" made $86,778. An employee in "Architecture and Engineering Occupations" made $79,019. An employee in "Legal Occupations" made $81,765.

      It is also revealing to look at DOE data over time. From FY02 to FY12 Wayland teacher salaries increased from $60.2K to $88.5K, or 47%. Yet inflation during those ten years ran 28%. See

      So teachers pulled ahead of inflation by 19% over those ten years, while it is widely reported that wages in the economy in general have been stagnant, in inflation adjusted terms, for decades. It is also worth noting that inflation-adjusted costs per pupil during this period increased by 22%. Nearly all of that increase can be accounted for by the gain in teachers' salaries. It might reasonably be assumed that most of the 68% inflation-adjusted increase in total school costs since 1980 has been due to teacher salary gains versus average wage gains in the rest of the economy.

      It should also be noted that teachers statewide gained 44% in salary during this period, but Wayland teachers actually dropped slightly in relative salary ranking, from second highest in the state to seventh highest. Though all teachers moved up in salary versus other wage earners, Wayland teachers did a bit better than most, and teachers in five other school districts out of the 328 in the state database did even better.

      Readers may find it difficult to understand how the numbers above square with the relatively low Cost of Living Adjustment numbers always reported by the School Committee when announcing contract settlements. The following hypothetical example, not meant to be at all typical but to illustrate how actual raises can far exceed contract settlement numbers, may help. The teacher is fictional, but the numbers are right out of the Wayland teacher contracts.

      Terry Teacher was hired for the FY11 school year (2010-2011). She had an M+30 and five years of experience, typical for a new hire, so she received a salary of $59,729.

      Next year, for FY15 (2014-2015) she will have gained four years of experience. Under the new contract she would receive $73,950 for an M+30 with nine years experience. However, in those years she also spent several evenings a week and summers in grad school, so she now qualifies for the M+60 lane. M+60 with nine years gets her $76,104. In addition, she became an advisor to an after school club. Terry could have chosen to coach a sport, getting her an extra $7,000 or so a year, but she chooses to advise one of the academic clubs for $2,980. So in total she now makes $79,084, or 32.4% more than she made four years previously.

      The announced COLAs from FY11 to FY15 amounted to only 5.5%. They comprised only a small part of Terry's 32.4% increase.

      The facts show that Wayland teacher salaries are at least comparable to those of other professionals, and that is before factoring in the value of pension plans and extended vacations. Whether salaries are now adequate or should be even higher remains a matter of personal judgment, but the notion of Wayland teachers being poorly paid is obsolete.

      Wayland teachers pulled ahead of other wage earners by an average of about 2 percent a year during the decade leading up to 2012, and the 4% raise for FY15, more than 2% above the rate of inflation, will follow the trend. Salary provisions are locked in by contract now until 2017. There is no public record of the Finance Committee having objected to the terms of the new contracts.

      It appears that there are two ways to reduce the salary component of the school budget: 1) a policy of preference for new hires with less experience and less education, so that entering salaries for new Wayland teachers could be lower, or 2) increasing class sizes.

      --Tom Sciacca

      KEY DATES:

      Tuesday, Feb. 18:

      The Finance Committee will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 18 to continue its evaluation of the draft FY2015 budget and proposed warrant articles for the spring town meeting.

      The Finance Committee presented its recommended FY2015 budget on Monday evening, Feb. 10. The Powerpoint slides are posted here:

      With the latest round of borrowing to finance FY2014 capital projects, on Jan. 24 Moody's continued Wayland's Aaa bond rating. The current borrowing rate is just under 3%. Moody's rating report: http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_Finance/MoodysJan2014.pdf

      Wednesday, Feb. 19:

      First meeting of the new Town Administrator Selection Committee.

      Thursday, Feb. 20:

      State Senator Jamie Eldridge presentation on government and climate change, 7-9 p.m., Peace Lutheran Church, 107 Concord Rd., Wayland. More information:

      Monday, Feb. 24:

      A public hearing is scheduled for the long-awaited signalization and other improvements of Wayland’s West Plain and Old Connecticut Path intersection on Feb. 24 at 7:35 p.m. in town building. Developer Todd MacDowell, Danforth Green, LLC, told selectmen at last week’s meeting that they plan to rebuild the busy intersection this spring. At their Sept. 9 meeting, the selectmen had voted to replace the negotiated 2005 settlement agreement between the Town and a prior Danforth developer (valued at $1.45 million) with a new agreement which retains the commitment to improve Wayland's intersection. The design plan is posted on the highway department website:

      Thursday, Feb. 27:

      Because of last week’s snowstorm, the Economic Development Committee rescheduled its Rivers Edge bus tour of two affordable housing projects to Feb. 27.

      Saturday, March 1:

      March 1 is the annual deadline for informing the Town Clerk if you want your property excluded from mosquito control spraying this summer. Instructions are posted here:

      Wednesday, March 5:

      The Wastewater Management District Commission (WWMDC) will hold its rate setting hearing on March 5. The agenda and new pages of information about the commission’s FY15 rates, betterment process and budget are posted on the town website:

      You can read all previous WVN newsletters at:
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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