To the editor:
The School Committee recently approved a contract (by a 3 -2 vote) with the NEAB (teachers union). In my view this contract has many shortcomings and did not seriously address the two new ‘realities’ that are facing our state and our town. The first reality has to do with the teaching profession; the second with economic conditions.
With regard to teaching and learning, the language in this contract offers no compensation alternatives for ‘great teaching’ (highly effective teaching if you base it on the Race to the Top rubric) and/or improved student achievement. Rather, remuneration rewards teachers for simply reporting to work and performing their job. It is widely accepted by most residents that many Barrington teachers are indeed exceptional and much appreciated. I share this view. Great teaching, however it’s defined, should be acknowledged, celebrated and compensated accordingly. The Memorandum of Understanding that accompanies this agreement contains very weak language that talks about the creation of a committee that would ‘explore’ alternative compensation schemes and report findings and recommendations. We’ll have to wait a year to review this information and then have to wait two more years to begin to act on such findings. I am not optimistic that the outcome will change the status quo.
Then there are financial matters that are cause for grave concern. While some members on the committee tout the savings on retiree health care, (perhaps the only bright spot) the bottom line is that three members voted in favor of adding nearly $500,000 per year in employee compensation to the operating budget over the next three years. In so doing, strategic plan items such as All Day Kindergarten and technology are now in jeopardy. School Committee members were aware that, prior to approval of the contract, the Committee on Appropriations had only allocated $900,000 (a 2% increase) in next year’s budget which would not support the mandates of the contract and the strategic plan initiatives at the same time. It’s my belief that the School Committee must find a way to live within the guidelines as established by the Committee on Appropriations.
I also believe that the contract should begin to mirror compensation in the private sector. For instance, longevity pay, the number of sick days (15), and the payout of unused sick days (at $50 per day) are more generous than what most of our neighbors receive. These are vestiges from a bygone era of over forty years ago when benefits made up for low pay. Finally, due to the uncertainty of state finances and general economic conditions, the contract length should have been shorter than three years. Paula Dominguez, a fellow SC member said of this contract, “If you take the name Barrington off of it, this contract looks like any of the other R.I. communities”. I agree. Although the Barrington School District has been an educational leader and for a long time, I believe the School Committee missed an opportunity to lead in this arena as well.
While I desire to move forward with the School Department’s strategic plan initiatives, I believe that we can only do so based on a well thought out, long term plan that addresses these two new realities. This contract acknowledged neither and is an impediment to moving the school district forward.
Mr. Fuller is a member of the Barrington School Committee.