LETTER: Flat One-Year Contract Is the Only Responsible Move for Tiverton Schools
Tiverton resident Justin Katz speaks out on how to handle contract negotiations with the local teachers' union.
The Tiverton School Committee scheduled a “special meeting” — not on its regular calendar — in order to discuss negotiations with the teachers’ union on Tuesday, July 7.
The fact that the district’s single biggest expense item would be up for negotiation this summer wasn’t publicized much when the school department was threatening to close schools and cancel all sports and extracurricular activities prior to the financial town referendum (FTR). Tiverton residents should pay very close attention.
When the budget debate was in full swing, district administrators told me that their requested budget included no increase for the union beyond step increases. If they now find additional resources for the first year of the contract before school’s even begun, it will mean that they demanded more money than they actually needed.
More telling, though, will be the second and third years of the contract. The economic trends of the recent past and the expectations for the near future are not good, and it would be irresponsible to sign any substantial contracts that last longer than the year already budgeted.
For one thing, enrollment has fallen by about one in five students since 2000, and it isn’t all because there are fewer children in town. Tiverton is the only non-urban bay community in which a smaller percentage of children are attending public schools than a decade ago.
That’s true despite the facts that the town gained more population and lost more household income over the last decade than any other municipality in the area. (In fact, only Narragansett had a steeper drop in inflation-adjusted income in all of Rhode Island.) One would think that a town with a poorer population would utilize the public schools more.
Meanwhile, the number of single family homes on the market in the year ended in June was up 13% from the year before, and the median sales price was down 20%. In other words, even though they’re getting less and less money for their property, more and more Tiverton residents are trying to sell.
Rhode Island’s economy remains a frightening unknown.
If that’s not enough reason for the school committee to exercise caution in its long-term planning, it should consider the new reality of the FTR. Locking in contract terms for multiple years is quite a bit more of a gamble, these days.
And if it’s still a gamble they’re willing to make, committee members should know that if we’re elected to their seats, this November, Susan Anderson, Ruth Hollenbach, and I will not vote to close schools or cut sports and extracurriculars as a means of meeting our budget. We won’t even threaten it.
To repeat: Anything beyond a one-year agreement with no compensation increases above step raises would be just plain irresponsible.
Justin Katz, Tiverton
Justin Katz is a candidate for the Tiverton School Committee. He is also a co-founder of Tiverton Citizens for Change.