As the final seconds wound down on Superbowl LI, the New England Patriots lined up inside the Atlanta Falcons’ five yard line, knowing a touchdown would deliver their fifth Superbowl title in fifteen years. Their 6th round draft pick quarterback, who will earn just one million dollars next year, lined up under the center, who was an undrafted free agent earning $615,000 this year, snapped the ball and tossed it to James White, a 4th round draft pick who earned $690,000 this year, for the winning touchdown.
What is astounding about the Patriots’ fifteen year dominant run isn’t just what they’ve accomplished, but that they’ve been able to do it in the salary cap era. The salary cap, which limits teams’ spending, is supposed to create parity across the league by not allowing teams to keep all of their best players indefinitely. And yet, the Patriots have dominated the rest of the league despite the spending restriction.
How have they done it? They pay below market rates for their best players, but spend just as much if not more on the rest of their team as other NFL teams do. They find talented players in later rounds of the draft that cost less, but will give equal, if not better performance than players around the league who cost more. Look at the three players above involved in the final play of the Superbowl. Each of them is either a low draft pick, or was undrafted entirely. None of them are paid well by NFL standards. While it helps that one of them just happens to be the Greatest Of All Time, the Patriots just won their fifth Superbowl spending way less on that talent than other teams would.
Why do I bring this up? The NFL’s salary cap is loosely analogous to the effects of Proposition 2.5 on
teams municipalities, across Massachusetts. Proposition 2.5 limits the annual amount of money the town can raise to 2.5%, plus new growth. Once growth and state aid are factored in, every year we have about 2.8% more money than we had the year before. So, the amount that we can increase salaries and other expenses can only really go up by the same percentage, all things being equal, without cutting another expense.
This year, the Patriots’ best free agent is middle linebacker Donte Hightower. He’s crucial to the team’s success. The entire defense runs through him. When he looks around the market place though, he sees his peers who are comparable in their on-field performance earning four or five times what he makes. If he wants that kind of money this year, the Patriots will likely let him walk because they won’t be able to afford the rest of the guys on the team. Giving Hightower that kind of raise means someone else on the team has to be cut, because the Patriots can’t spend more than the cap. Cutting middle tier players makes the entire team worse, and would run against the team’s philosophy about how to maintain their success.
Here, like Hightower, Grafton teachers understandably want to be paid comparably to their peers who may actually get less impressive results than Grafton teachers do. Grafton teachers annually earn, on average, $67,559. Apples-to-apples, Westborough and Shrewsbury earn annually on average $78,661 and $75,488. As the argument goes, if you want to attract and retain the best talent, you need to be competitive with those salaries in neighboring or similar communities (those of you in the know understand that it’s actually more complicated than this, but bear with me. We’ll get there).
But right now, with the annual revenue and expenses that Grafton presently has, we’ll be running a $200,000+ deficit in just two years. So, while it’s in Grafton’s interest to be competitive with neighboring
teams towns, our income is limited. If we increase the pay of all 227 FTEs to what neighboring towns pay, we’ll have to cut a large number of FTEs. Paying more for one thing necessarily means either paying less for another, or cutting something else entirely. This is especially true, and very likely, given our impending fiscal crisis.
Like the Patriots, part of what makes the Grafton Schools special is that we provide sufficient staffing levels across the board. We actually spend more overall on teacher salary than say, Millbury, while paying slightly less on average individual salary. We employ 100 more FTEs than Millbury does. Upping the pay scale to the detriment of the number of FTEs we employ disrupts that system and sets us up for declining results.
So, if you’re a relatively new teacher, pay attention to this very closely: If the GTA is successful in obtaining an offer better than the one presented to them already, and salary increases are retroactive, then you’re toast. Last one in, first one out. You’ll be unemployed and looking on from the outside when your friend with fifteen years of experience across the hall is enjoying her pay raise and larger class size.
The best possible thing that teachers can do for themselves is understand how town finances work. I implore you, come to the FinComm budget sessions. Understand the school budget and the town budget as the Superintendent and the Town Administrator present them. Then, tell us where we cut to afford what you say that you want.
No one disagrees that teachers work hard. No one disagrees that teachers deserve a contract. No one disagrees that teachers deserve a raise. The only bone of contention is how much Grafton can afford to pay you without completely disrupting the system. Because if we have to cut some teachers to afford to pay other teachers more, then you’re not “fighting for better schools.” You’re fighting for your raise at the expense of schools.
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So, was the School Committee’s latest offer that I have suggested the GTA accept fair? Let’s take a look.
This document: grafton-comp-and-ranking-salary-comps-2-2017-1 comes directly from Dr. Cummings’ office. It lays out how Grafton’s steps and lanes would look if the GTA accepted Grafton’s last best offer , compared to surrounding communities. The eleven highlighted districts constitute communities that have been identified as “comparable” to Grafton.
Let’s compare Grafton to Millbury and Westborough. Grafton’s bachelor degree entry level pay would be $44,409, Millbury’s $46,459, Westborough’s $46,327. Not bad, but let’s be honest, no one really cares about that step and lane, do they folks? That’s not who and what GTA leaders are fighting for. People in that step and lane will be the first victims of inevitable cuts.
Here’s the real stuff: Grafton at Master’s Max: $81,323. Millbury: $73,422. Westborough: $80,134.
Take it and run.
I assure you, no one is passing an override to pay you more than $81,323. I promise you that. It’s Ed’s mortal lock. Take it to the bank. The more people see those figures, the more they’re going to wonder what the hell you’re doing. They’re going to tell you to take off your red tee-shirt, put down your sign, and go back to doing what you do best – teaching.