School Committee's Mutter questions if town is complying with BEP mandates

School Committee's Mutter questions if town is complying with BEP mandates

CUMBERLAND - Town Council members appeared baffled last Wednesday when a school board member asked Finance Director Brian Silvia if Cumberland is following the mandates of the state's Basic Education Plan, or BEP.

The question came from School Committee Vice Chairman Jeff Mutter during a joint meeting of the town's two elected boards.

Silvia was silent for moment, but council President Jim Higgins jumped in with, "How would he know? Should he know?"

Mutter repeated his question.

"Are you in compliance with 16-7-24? You wouldn't want to not be in compliance, would you?" he pressed.

The combined meeting had been called under a state law that mandates the two elected boards to share anticipated revenue and spending in advance of actual budget talks.

(See school budget story on page 1.)

Silvia, standing in for Mayor Dan McKee, had started off with news that a 4 percent increase in taxes would yield $3.2 million from taxpayers. The more typical 1.5 percent increase raises an added $1 million.

Councilor Art Lambi seized on enrollment figures - down some 400 students over the past five years while taxpayer support has grown.

And as more and more students head off to the Blackstone Valley Prep and other charter schools each year, about 400 this year, why aren't there corresponding decreases in teachers and supplies needed? he asked.

Supt. Philip Thornton acknowledged one or two staff reductions, but generally the departing students are coming from classrooms across the town, leaving one seat here and one seat there, but not enough to consolidate a class, he said.

A restructured elementary school system proposed several years ago would have optimized savings by clustering grades in one school, but parents strongly opposed it, Chairwoman Lisa Beaulieu noted.

But it was Cumberland's failure to live up to BEP mandates - missing by some $8 million in local dollars - that school board members had come to discuss.

Said Beaulieu, "We have to stop making excuses. The town has to have a sense of what its obligation is."

BEP is based on a per-pupil spending formula that considers a community's ability to pay. Cumberland will be getting 40.5 percent of its dollars from the state and must pick up the remaining 59.5 percent.

If both state and town were meeting the mandate, Cumberland schools would receive $64.8 million this year instead of the $53.4 million, Beaulieu is saying.

As she had during a joint meeting in February, Beaulieu talked about non-BEP spending that Cumberland must fund entirely, such as transportation, out-of-district tuitions and teacher retirement benefits.

Those costs are increasing so fast that even the added taxpayer support of the past two years isn't covering them, she said. The percent of BEP spending has decreased from 70 percent to 67 percent as charter tuitions, busing and utilities have risen beyond the school board's control, said Beaulieu.

The School Department is actually spending less on BEP line items now than before the funding formula was adopted, she said.

Meanwhile, Mutter wasn't giving up on his compliance question.

"I asked the question and it was not answered," he prompted.

Said Higgins, "Wouldn't you be in a better position to answer that. How would we know?" he repeated.

Chimed in Beaulieu, "When would we expect to have an answer to that?"

Pressed for answer in 30 days, Higgins suggested that Silvia and the school business manager, Alex Prignano, should meet to discuss it.

Asked later what Cumberland schools would do with the millions more that state officials say is owed to Cumberland students, Beaulieu provided a partial list:

* Updated supplies and materials that allow students to take the books home;

* Purchase consumable items that we presently waste time copying;

* Expanded courses that presently are limited by cost factors, such as sewing machines for fashion design;

* Programs for gifted kids;

* K-12 world language;

* K-12 STEM, science, technology, engineering and math;

* Expanded music program;

* Expanded wellness program;

* Expanded student/family supports, such as psychologists and social workers;

* Updating/expanding technology that supports instruction.

Comments

We go through this every year. The town council does not understand how schools are funded. It would be nice if they stepped up an attempted to understand the process -- and maintain that knowledge, year after year.

As Art Lambi pointed out; how is it that enrollment has decreased by 400 in the last 5 years, but the school budget has increased EVERY year? That's not "one seat here, and one seat there"! Why don't we STOP playing around! It is not the "schools" that are being funded, it is the people working at the school. Stop using the students as the excuse to pilfer more taxes. To me, there is no one LOWER that uses a child for personal gain and enrichment...NO ONE!

SEWING MACHINES? That's not one I've heard before...

Stuck, have you read the budget?

You might find it enlightening.

See page 12 here:
http://www.cumberlandschools.org/system/files/FY%202015%20REV%20Budget%2...

The major cost increases are not coming from salaries, contrary to what you imply. It's charter schools and pensions. Both of those expenses are REQUIRED to be paid.

Salaries, pensions, bonuses, co-pays...WHATEVER! regardless of what they are called, MOST of the budget goes for funding of benefits for personnel rather than to fund the necessities for the betterment of the educational experience as made glaringly evident by the dismal and ever declining results. I like math, not semantics. Any requirements written in the budget can be eliminated, especially if they are UNFAIR and especially if they are not in the best interest of the student, who just happens to be OUR FUTURE. I wonder what the unions will say when the money is not there to take any longer...which should be fairly soon if nothing changes.

Stuck,

Since everyone's experience differs I’m curious what industry you work in “Stuck”. It has been my experience that for most industries/companies the personnel costs are the largest number on the ledger. It’s very difficult to run a business without people. And it’s especially hard to run a school without teachers. Obviously the facilities, materials, and technology are important but I would be amazed to find a school that spent more on those than it did on personnel costs. You can certainly argue whether good pay or a raise in pay/benefits makes one a better worker but to complain because the balance sheet of a school is skewed towards personnel costs is silly.

Furthermore, your own link illustrates where increases have been spent. Pensions up 5.5% on average. Greater than inflation but that’s from contracts that were signed years ago. You can certainly disagree with the generosity of the pensions but they are sins of the past. It’s hard to change those expenses without spending money in the courts, just ask Raimondo and Chaffee. And of course you’re unlikely to prevail, especially in a labor-friendly state like RI.

Salaries are up 1.4% on average. Personally I’d say that’s a pretty good example of cost containment over a 6 year span. According to the government inflation calculator that’s roughly the same buying power today as it was in 2008 (perhaps a little less). http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=29409&year1=2008&year2=2014 And the US CPI numbers (like unemployment) tend to skew lower than reality.

The single biggest increase as a percentage is for Mayor McKee’s charter school. Nearly $3 million dollars will go to that school next year. Assuming the ability to spread the 400+ Cumberland students who attend BVP across the existing CPS classrooms with minimal personnel increases that $3 million would take care of the School Department’s increase next year and then some. Mayor McKee's pet project is forcing you to pay for two school systems. And the impact of BVP on the CPS budget is only going to increase.

Since we know you don't like the current model can please you describe your ideal school system?

In the S.I.N.T.V. Public School System:

What would the range of teacher salaries be?

What would the average pay increases be?

How many students per classroom would you allow?

What percentage of the budget would be spent on personnel costs?

What would the majority of the budget be spent on?

What category of expenses has the greatest impact on learning and scholarship (assuming this is different than where you spend the majority of your budget)?

Please do not patronize me. My complaint is not “silly”. Your experience is not the final word on the way business operates. It is only your experience. And, although I might agree that there are many businesses that put the emphasis of their budget on “personnel costs”, I know of MANY businesses that do not. It is not mandatory. Many talented employees are motivated by more than money. This has been one of my pet peeves with schools and teachers for a long time. There is little encouragement for students to pursue areas of study that interest them in as much as they are “forced” to learn about subjects that will lead them to a “career”. As the saying goes, “find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Some will become doctors and lawyers, while many others will not. But this does not mean that those who do not go to college will have an unfulfilled life. Public service used to be a noble career that many went into for the fulfillment of helping mankind, but never for the purpose of collecting a “good salary”…until recently. These days, I hear college kids talking about becoming teachers so they can “get the summer off”. I think that teachers should make a fair pay, just like everyone else. But, imho, the unions have become far too entrenched in public education. Politics has no place in the classroom. When the quality of the students’ educational experience became a pawn in the negotiations, that’s when it became a flawed negotiation. EVERY time the school budget is negotiated, the union ALWAYS threatens cuts to the kids’ experience. No more sports, no more band, no more books…if the budget is short, why wouldn’t the educators demand that the money be kept where the students are benefitted and not themselves? The answer is because the politics won’t allow it. You ask me about my “ideal school system”; First off, school hours would be from 8:30 – 5:00 and it would be year round. There would be 2 weeks off at Christmas and 2 weeks off at July 4th with the usual list of holidays off. Teachers would be rotated so that all students would learn from ALL teachers. Teachers would be forced to collaborate by combining classes and after school activities would be privately funded by supporters of those participating. There would be a grass roots effort to hire qualified teachers that loved to teach, loved our children and not those who loved to have the summer off and a fully funded pension. If today’s teachers aren’t careful, they are going to find themselves out of the classroom, replaced by computer generated teachers that will ALWAYS be in the classroom as a student advocate. Results are the goal and parents don’t really care how they are achieved, but I can tell you that we are getting really fed up with MOST of the school budget going to bad tenured teachers who don’t care about our kids’ futures. How do think charter schools came to be?

If you must site numbers, at least get close to the facts. And you don't have to go far; just look at the other article right here on line......

It's not 3 million; it's 2.4.
It's NOT 400 students it's 345

Ok I will say it for you....what a little difference, same point right?

But goes to everyone's attitude.

It's NOT Mayor McKee's school, it's a public school
It's NOT Mayor McKee's pet project, it is the three BV city/towns', along with several towns/cities waiting for their own.

And they are NOT pets, they are students.

You tend to go overboard to prove you opinion.

It's NOT a FACT it's your opinion!

And it's Not just BVP; it's all charter schools.

We have been paying our "share" for charter schools for a long time. Because traditional public schools don't offer it all. I guess as long as the numbers were low; it was cute...here ya go Beacon, go play school. But when the big boys step up and deliver everyone goes off.

It's not BVP it's Great Education!

CumberlandFacts,

Do you agree that the budget is tight in the district schools?

Do you agree that $2.4M is a lot of money to lose, especially when budgets are tight?

Do you agree that the $2.4M Cumberland to send to BVP is much more than it could possibly save by "losing" 345 students to BVP?

Charter funding is a good deal - for the charters. It's a bad deal for the districts.

This has to change. Even McKee said the new funding formula is a "failed financial model."

My sincerest apologies CumberlandFacts. I read that article quickly and saw $2.9M to Charters, read it as BVP and rounded up to $3M. You're correct it's $2.4M to BVP, my bad. And I transposed the enrollment numbers, I thought it was 435, not 345, I was rounding down there. Those are certainly mathematically significant errors on my part though I don’t believe they significantly alter the underlying premise of my argument (as you predicted). My apologies for not being as precise as I should have been. No deceit intended, thank you for keeping me honest.

Regarding the pet project comment, I wasn't being literal. I was using the colloquialism to mean a thing that one devotes special attention to or feels particularly strongly about. For the record, I do not actually believe Mayor McKee, or anyone else for that matter, views the students at BVP as pets. Wow, I never thought I’d have to say that out loud. Sorry for the confusion there. As for calling it “McKee’s Charter School”, he was the driving force behind its creation and he is the chairman of the board of the RI Mayoral Academies. I’m giving him credit there and taking a bit of poetic license. My words, my opinion. Your words, your opinion.