Q. How much will the new three-year contract for teachers cost Tiverton taxpayers?
After about 30 minutes of plucking line items out of the Tiverton school district’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016, at a January 22, 2015, presentation to the Budget Committee, Superintendent William Rearick wrapped up with, “That’s really the budget in a nutshell.” Left out of the nutshell were any details about the cost of the proposed teacher contract, even though the basic terms were decided and tucked into the packet handed to Budget Committee members.
After another half hour of discussion, mostly about the prospect of all-day kindergarten, Budget Committee Chairman John Souza asked whether the School Committee was in the middle of any negotiations. Still, no details were provided. “I won’t ask you,” Souza assured Rearick, as if the details were a secret.
Some members of the public, and even some members of the Budget Committee, were therefore surprised when, in mid-September, the school department announced that the deal was complete and, in fact, it matched the terms that had been made public eight months earlier.
The announcement of raises was all the more surprising coming months after a heated argument about whether the district could afford to go forward with all-day kindergarten after the elector budget won at the financial town referendum in May, giving the district no increase in local funds. With all of the debate over finding around $127,000 to fund all-day kindergarten, nobody on the School Committee, in the school administration, or in the public pointed out that the committee was preparing to increase teachers’ pay by $255,281 for the first year of a new contract.
While all-day kindergarten would have added the $127,000 to the annual budget every year, the teacher contract increased the cost every year for three years. According to the district’s fiscal impact statement, released at the end of August, the first year is costing $255,281, the second year will cost a cumulative $534,760, and the third year will push the budget up $917,330 over where it would have been had there been no increases in the contract.
In other words, over the three years of the contract, all-day kindergarten required another $380,352 to be found, while the teacher contract commits the town to an additional $1.7 million.
The advertised 2% annual salary increase also requires a closer look. While that is the contracted increase for each step of teacher salaries, it isn’t the whole story for several reasons:
- First, some additional forms of pay for teachers are directly linked to salaries, such as extra pay for advanced degrees and stipends for coaching and other extra activities, and they’ll be going up, as well.
- Second, the contract includes an additional day of professional development with raises for all three available days. Although these days are additional and not mandatory, in the third year of the contract they will each be an opportunity for teachers to earn $90 per hour for five hours of planning or other preparation and learning.
- Third, and most significantly for some, teachers receive step increases every year for the first 10 years of their careers. Before the contract, these raises ranged from 5.5% to 17.7%, and the 2% will be additional to that.
Consequently, no teachers will be receiving only a 6% increase over three years. Including the extra pay for longevity and professional development, the average teacher will see a raise of 11.3%, ranging from 6.9% to 40.1%. These estimates are based on data the district provided Tiverton Fact Check for each teacher.
It is true that the majority of teachers are already at the top step, meaning that they’ll see the smallest raises in percentage terms, but they also tend to have more degrees. Without including additional pay for extracurricular activities, 143 teachers will receive raises between 6.9% and 8%, and 34 teachers will receive raises over 20% through the three years of the contract.
Far from being an afterthought during discussions about Tiverton’s annual budgets, these agreements should be front and center. Over the next two years, as town officials and other supporters of large tax increases make excuses for increased budgets and for cutting services (or not expanding them, as almost happened with all-day kindergarten), taxpayers should keep this quietly approved $1.7 million in mind.