It’s been an incredible 72-hours in the on-going saga of the Grafton Teachers’ Association’s contractual impasse that has seen the GTA arguably commit violations of Massachusetts collective bargaining laws, post fake school administrator raises, and reveal that their contract proposal actually will cost Grafton millions of dollars that we do not have, and is still hundreds of thousands of dollars more expensive than the school committee’s offer.

Since Friday, the GTA has channeled their inner Donald Trump, posting an incredible array of false assertions on their Facebook page, including that the 2014 override money was supposed to be dedicated to teacher’s raises, and that some Grafton administrators receive annual raises of nearly nine percent.  Not only are these assertions blatant mistruths, but the GTA was told, in advance of posting these claims, that they are relying either on misleading or partial information in making those claims.  Nevertheless, the claims were made and the posts are still on their Facebook page.

But even more incredibly, the GTA may have committed a violation of the Massachusetts collective bargaining laws by posting the school committee’s most recent offer to resolve the impasse, as well as the GTA’s responsive counter-proposal.  And in so doing it has revealed that its contractual demands will far exceed what Grafton can afford.

The Money (It’s Always About the Money)

In pertinent part, the GTA’s salary demand as reflected on Facebook is as follows:

ARTICLE XXIII, SALARY SCHEDULE

Year 1: We agree to the new step scale effective 7/1/16, with retroactive pay,

which is equivalent in cost to a 2.4% base wage increase.

Year 2: Effective 7/1/17, a 1.5% base wage increase and on day 45 an additional

1.5% base wage increase.

Year 3: Effective 7/1/18, a 1% wage increase and on day 45 an additional 1%

base wage increase.

The dollar impact of this proposal is substantial.  Over the life of the contract, which would expire in just two years, Grafton would be paying an additional $2,646,630 in teacher salaries.  Their proposal would cost an additional $900,811 in FY2017, an additional $911,422 on top of that in FY18, and an additional $834,377 on top of all of that in FY19.

Although couched as an increase for cost of living (COLA) allocations, the actual percentage increase of the contract each year when you factor in the steps is really 5.23%-5.03%-4.39%.

For their part, the school committee is offering 2.4%-2-2 for COLA increases over three years.  This would cost the town $2,496,058. [Editor’s note: I’m expanding this section for a clearer explanation (I hope) of the delta between the two proposals].

IMG_2764

The above chart reflects the consequences of each proposed resolution of this matter.  As you can see, the total dollar value difference between the SC and the GTA proposal in total present dollar value is $150,572.  However, because the deficit created at the baseline difference between the two proposals compounds every year, by the end of the contract, the schools would be an additional $271,061 in the hole above and beyond where they would be if the GTA accepted the school’s offer.

In all candor, the school committee’s offer probably also is more expensive than we can afford.  If you look at their offer as compared to a lower 2%-2-2, we’re $266,219 in the hole.  That’s how much the “#notmyschoolcommittee” is extending for the GTA. But I can’t fault them for trying to compete with neighboring communities and attract quality candidates.

Couple of things about these proposals: first, this is a lot of money.  It’s a lot of money we don’t have.  This year alone, we’re scraping to find $260,000 or so to cover increased healthcare costs.  If the schools do end up taking that hit as proposed, there will likely be workforce reductions at schools.  So, the difference between the two proposals still is fairly substantial in that respect.

Salary increases that we can’t afford = fewer teachers.  Some of the very same people who are outraged about administrator salaries and outraged at the PG-13 language on this blog will be handed their walking papers under the GTA’s proposal.

It’s strange to me that this was posted as some kind of PR stunt.  Causing enormous cost (tax) increases doesn’t usually make you more popular.  Although, when you’re being accused of cyber bullying town residents, I suppose you have to do something to change the narrative.

The Bad Faith Bargaining

In addition to bad PR, releasing proposals and counter-proposals on Facebook is just plain weird negotiating, particularly where collective bargaining rules are concerned.  Massachusetts adheres to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which requires closed bargaining unless the parties mutually agree otherwise. Insisting to the point of impasse on a “ground rule” that requires bargaining in public is a prohibited practice.

The law is clear that if either party proposes lawful ground rules, the other party is obligated to bargain in good faith over these proposals. If after a period of good faith negotiations the parties remain in disagreement over ground rules, the impasse may block or delay the commencement of substantive contract bargaining.

Here, the GTA did, indeed, insist to the point of impasse that the negotiations be public.  The parties went to mediation, the situation was resolved and substantive bargaining commenced.

Now, here we are a year later and the GTA took the unilateral step of bargaining in public anyway by posting the offer and counter-offer on line.  Incredibly, Elaine Najemy claims that no “ground rules” ever were agreed upon, so this is a “non-issue”.

Ummmm, if you say so.  Doesn’t seem like a non-issue to me.  Seems like bad faith bargaining.

At the very least, it’s kind of a dick move.  For you business owners out there – would you negotiate a contract with someone who did that?  Me neither.

For my part, I kind of like being able to go through the proposals and get the real numbers.  But if I were a teacher, I’d be worried that the GTA was needlessly poking the bear.  Whatever doesn’t help you in fact finding is only hurting you.  I can’t see this helping.

GTA Posts Fake News! Sad!

Admin salaries fake
Fake news!

This “chart” – posted Sunday on the GTA’s Facebook page – appears to indicate that GPS administrators are receiving large annual raises that, by percentage, dwarf the raises that GPS teachers get yearly.  The implication, obviously, is that the Superintendent is content to pay administrators at the expense of hard working teachers.

Unfortunately, though, these numbers are almost entirely made up, as the people who made this chart accrued salary increases over several years, added the percentages together, and declared there to be enormous single year salary increases – to the detriment of teachers, of course.

Here are the actual numbers from the actual budget, which you can view here on Budget Book pages 26-30:

The assistant superintendent was paid $120,438 in FY15 and $122,755 in FY16, which is a 1.9% increase.

The executive secretary made $58,860 in FY15 and $60,037 for a 1.9% increase.

The curriculum director made $109,416 in FY15 and $111,604 FY15 for a 1.9% increase.

The Special Ed director and the director of buildings and grounds both made about 2% more per year.

I followed up with Director of Finance, Dan Gale about the GTA’s post to ask them why he thought the GTA had got it so wrong.  Here’s what he told me, and what he also told the GTA a couple of days ago when they posted this picture:

We budget for admin raises in a different line, so what you see in the budget line is the previous year’s salary.  So, what the GTA posted on Facebook was actually the FY14 salary, which the GTA labeled as FY15 salaries, because they saw it in the FY15 budget line.  On the flip side, the amounts posted as FY16 salaries were the actual FY16 salaries because they were derived by the GTA from the expenditure report instead of the budget line.

The post, then, actually shows FY14 and FY16 salaries.  As such, if an increase says 4%, that is really 2% one year on top of 2% the next year.

Dan also points out that there is no reason to have Administrative Secretaries, Special Ed Directors, and Directors of Buildings and Grounds on this post as they just got normal 2% raises, the same raise as the teachers.  And these people don’t move any steps.  Teachers, on the other hand, moved up steps from FY14 to FY16 , which would result in their salaries increasing between 5-15% over that period.

Incidentally, the only position on that list that did get a decent raise during that time was the Director of Finance, now occupied by Dan Gale (6% or so, but still lower than what the GTA had).  Dan’s a relatively new hire, and if I had to guess I’d say the position gets more now because we were trying to be competitive and hire Dan. Hence the pay bump on that line.

Dan’s worth every penny.  I can wake up at 3:00AM with a budget question, and I’ll be legitimately surprised if he doesn’t email me back within 20 minutes.  That’s good government working for you.

But it’s irritating that the GTA was given the facts, but still chose this lame stunt to get teachers all fired up.  The Facebook response was predictable. “Wait until the public finds out!”  Right.  Just wait.

Incidentally, hours after I posted on their Facebook page that their numbers were wrong, they banned me from their page.  So much for public negotiating.  I guess it’s only fun when people buy into your misinformation.

The GTA Gets Down to Substantive Issues – and Then Abandons That Approach

So, there I was enjoying some fine adult beverages and colorful language on Saturday night when I saw that the GTA actually had gotten down to brass tacks, and presented on their Facebook page some substantive, budget-oriented, data-driven questions for the school committee to answer, and for the public to consider.  They were hard to read, but hey, A for effort!

And yet, twelve hours later, those questions were deleted in favor of the fake news.  Sad!

Luckily, I thought to copy and paste all of the questions before they disappeared (What?  Is that weird?).

They are as follows:

Below are the questions we have regarding the FY16 Expenditure report, specifically overruns to the budget.  We have submitting them to the school committee in writing per their requirement.

  1. (page 1) Why were there overruns to the superintendent, asst. superintendent. exec. assistant’s salaries? Why weren’t these increases reflected in the proposed budget?  Is it accurate to say that there was a 6.65% for the asst. superintendent, 4% for the exec. secretary?   How were these overruns covered,? Where did the money taken from to cover these overruns?
  1. (page 1) There was a $39,189 overrun for legal services. Why did the district only budget $60,000 for FY16 when the FY14 actual expenditure was $78,111 and the FY15 actual expenditure was $137,263.   Are we sending Mirick O’Connell work that should be done in house?
  1. (page 2) The curriculum director salary was budgeted in FY15 as a new position at $103,416, and was projected to be $109,416 in FY16. However, the actual expenditure for that line item was $111,604.   How  did the curriculum director’s salary increase 7.79%  or $8,188  from FY15 to FY16?  Where did the money come from to cover this overrun?
  1. (page 1) On the FY16 Proposed Operating Budget the business manager salary rec’d a .86% increase over FY15 (from $96,669 to $97,500). On the FY16 Actual Expenditure Report did the salary increase an additional 7.5% to $105,000 for a total increase of $8,331 or 8.55%.?
  1. (page 2) On the FY16 Proposed Operating Budget the SPED director salary rec’d a 2 % increase over FY15 (from $105,420 to $$107,528) ). On the FY16 actual expenditure report the salary increased an additional 2% to $109,678. Why doesn’t the Expenditure Report reflect the true 4% increase over FY15 from FY15 $105,420 to FY16 $109,678 for a total increase of  $4,258 or 4%.
  1. Page 44 of the Proposed Operating Budget FY16 reflects a new .5 asst. principal position in FY16. However, when that position was filled, it was done as a 1.0 FTE. Where did the additional funding come from to cover this cost?
  1. (page 12) The Proposed Operating Budget FY16 reflects a 2% increase to the salary for the director of bldg.. and grounds while the FY16 expenditure report reflects an additional 2% increase. Did this position receive a 4% increase from FY15 to FY16?
  1. (page 6) The FY16 Expenditure Report Reflects a $109,965 overrun for textbooks. Why wasn’t this purchase planned in the budget? Which line item was this money taken from to cover the overrun?

Those are the questions, precisely as written.  I took them to Dan Gale and he responded as follows:

In response to questions 1,3,4,5, and 7 about 2% raises for administrators and non-union staff, please let us explain the budgeting of these salaries.   When you look at the FY16 budget, administrator and non-union staff will show the FY15 salary in the FY16 budget column and it will show the FY14 salary in the FY15 budget column.  The budget will show a 2% increase but it is actually showing the increase from FY14 to FY15.  The FY16, 2% increase is actually budgeted in another line.   Because at the time of budgeting, there has been no official raise decided upon, we don’t budget for it in the specific positon’s budget line.  When you are looking at the FY16 Expenditure report, the budget is reflecting the FY15 salary and the actual spending you are seeing the FY16 actual salary.   You are comparing the expenditure report to the budget so most of the time you will see a 4% increase because you are comparing a two year span of 2% in each year.

For example:

If an administrator salary in FY14 was $100,000 and he receives a 2% increase, his FY15 salary would be $102,000, and then his FY16 salary would be $104,040.  In the budget you would see, FY15 budget would be $100,000 and FY16 budget would be $102,000.  The FY16 budget line item on the expenditure report would be $2,040 lower than the actual expenditure in that FY16 line item because the $2,040 amount is budgeted in a different districtwide budget line.  If you compare FY15 budget to FY16 actual expenditures on that position’s budget line item, it will look like that position went up by $4,040 in one year.

If you compare the FY15 budget column to the FY16 actual expenditure and it is more than 4%, then Superintendent made a decision to increase the salary of that position more than 2% with support from the School Committee.   Additionally, the amounts budgeted in the districtwide budget line for admin and non-union raises in the FY16 budget were sufficient to cover the FY16 actual expenditures, therefore these did not cause budget overruns.

In regards to question 2, the FY15 actual expenditure of $137,263 included settlement expenses of $75,000, so ordinary legal expenses were $62,000.  Legal costs can vary significantly for year to year, but we attempt to budget what we think is reasonable.  In FY15, our total budget had lower than expected spending in other budget lines which compensated for the overrun in legal costs in FY15.  In FY16, the district had greater legal issues than expected, but the school budget at the end of the year was not over-budget.

Regarding question 6 about a .5 new assistant principal at Millbury St School., the FY16 budget has a .5 assistant principal and a .5 psychologist for Millbury St School.   After being unable to find a .5 assistant principal, it was decided to hire a .7 assistant principal and a .2 psychologist.

Regarding question 8, in FY16 we were in the process of implementing a new math curriculum and the math committee chose a new book to go with the new curriculum.  We had a choice to fund these books over three years but when ending balance projections were done in the spring, it was determined the FY16 overall budget would have funds available to purchase the books in one lump-sum purchase.

Dan’s statements regarding budgeting, echoed in two places on this post, are illustrative of part of the issue here: teachers believe that there is more money in the budget than the administration is willing to admit and that it’s all going to administrators rather than teachers.  This understanding appears to be formed, at least in part, from a misunderstanding of how public school budgeting is done, which is distinct from budgeting for a private entity.

And all that would have been understandable, except the GTA was told all of this already.  And yet they’re putting the director of buildings and grounds on blast because the SC is offering them only $2.4 million dollars, and not $2.6.

This is not okay.

The 2014 Override Was Actually More Fun When I Was Trying To Pass It

I’m talking directly to the GTA leadership now:  You guys didn’t campaign for it.  Stop trying to say you were secretly there.  Like you were some kind of override campaign ninjas, hiding behind bushes and knocking doors when no one was looking.  Campaign tip: if no one knows that you’re campaigning for something, you’re doing it wrong.

And do you know how dumb it sounds when you say that money was intended for this round of raises?  That makes no common sense.  How would we raise money for your next contract in 2014 when you just entered into this one?  What are you even talking about?

And yet, you keep going back there.  Doxing me all over the place for having the audacity to tell you that you’re wrong.

You’re going to have to try harder.  I’m still here.

8 Comments

  1. Ed –

    Near the top of this blog, you discuss the GTA proposal and write “Grafton would be paying an additional $2,646,630 in teacher salaries”. 2 paragraphs later you discuss the school committee offer and write “would cost the town $2,496,058. The difference between the two proposals is $271,061 over the contract’s term”. The difference between those two numbers is $150,572, not $271,061. What am I missing?

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  2. Sorry I’m new to this but still can’t find the answer I’m looking for. Just trying to see if we pay our teachers a competitive salary to neighboring towns? I don’t have a position one way or the other but want to understand the starting point.

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  3. IF you go back a few posts in this blog to the “Don Corleon” post, Ed has a chart comparing local towns. But whether the teachers should be paid more isn’t the question (I think everyone agrees they should be paid more. Much more.). The question is, where does the money come from. (and Ed’s earlier blogs do a very good job explaining that problem)

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  4. I was just going to get to this. Start here, Looking: https://planetgrafton.com/2017/02/26/don-corleone-says-you-should-take-the-offer/

    I also would, however, urge you to ask a couple more questions after you find this answer. And they are: while we may want to be “competitive” with neighboring towns, what does that mean? Which neighboring towns should we be competitive with? Westborough and Shrewsbury have twice our income. And Shrewsbury is facing its own budget problems with another override fight in the offing. Should we be “competing” with them?

    Everyone wants to pay teachers. People keep asking me why I’m against paying teachers, which is ridiculous. They should be paid competitively with communities in our situation. The 2.4-2-2 offer does that.

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