Anybody who's able to catch video from the Aug. 14 Tiverton School Committee meeting should do so. It provides an excellent lesson on why all levels of government are facing financial crises. Whether it's the need for new tolls, catastrophic debt, or underfunded pension plans, wishful and unclear thinking about money is at the root.
On Tuesday, the committee approved an agreement with the teachers' union, extending their contract until 2015. It didn't have to be approved before the upcoming election, and it didn't have to cover three years.
The lesson came when member Danielle Coulter suggested that the committee should clarify how much money the agreement would obligate the town to pay. What followed was an extended word game, led by member Deborah Pallasch. They were offering a "financial impact statement," she said; what Mrs. Coulter wanted was a "budget statement."
Well, whatever you want to call it, the statement does not show the true cost.
A press release by Supt. William Rearick (that has since disappeared from the district's Web site) asserted that "the cost … will average approximately $250,000 annually." That number is so low as to be simply false.
According to the "impact statement," the first year would cost $0, the second, $375,136, and the third, $384,025. Rearick added that up and divided by three.
The first problem is that the greatest increase shown is a 1.75% raise to be given in years two and three to teachers with at least ten years on the job (about four out of five teachers). In reality, that compounds. When you give somebody a raise, it doesn't go away. When you give another raise the next year, it's added on top of the first.
The second problem is that the statement didn't include step raises that many teachers will get every year, averaging more than 6%. The nineteen teachers moving from step 9 to step 10 will get a base salary around 15% higher that year. That one step alone will cost the town around $175,000 not shown in the statement.
With step raises, the financial impact of this agreement will be around $600,000 per year. And that still doesn't account for health and dental benefits.
The committee claims that more than half of this increase doesn't count because they "didn't negotiate" those items. But that was their choice. Choosing not to negotiate an increase is the same as giving it away.
Justin Katz is a candidate for the Tiverton School Committee.