Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Library Lament

Large crowd of parents/guardians/staff/volunteers turned out tonight to protest library cutbacks

The Amherst School Committee didn't need tea leaves to read the consternation caused by the proposed axing of one paraprofessional library assistant at all three elementary schools, leaving each library with only one full time employee, the librarian.

The cost cutting measure will save $75,000 -- yes, full time paras make only $25k per year --and is being instituted as part of a $429,000 overall cut to the elementary school budget to keep level services within Finance Committee guidelines.

During public comment over a dozen speakers implored the school committee not to gut the library programs at all three elementary schools.  Many parents said the library was the favorite part of their child's school day and it provided a "safe space" for learning to take place.

School Committee candidate and long time Town Meeting member Vince O'Connor told the School Committee that a motion would be made on the floor of Town Meeting to increase the budget to cover the three positions.

O'Connor also argued UMass should step up and pay the town significantly more annual revenues to cover all the children (56) coming from their tax exempt housing into our high average cost per student public schools.

The recent "Strategic Partnership" signed with UMass did include $120,000 in new money to help cover  education costs of those children, but the town threw it into one big pot rather then using it in a line item direct sort of way.

Rick Hood suggested the School Committee simply ask the town for an extra $100,000 since the elementary schools did turn back that amount to the town last year and the year before. 

The idea will probably be brought up at the next Budget Coordinating Group meeting at the end of the month.


Anonymous said...

didn't the Town Budget pick up the cost of choice students?

Anonymous said...

What does "the elementary schools turned back $100K to the town last year" mean exactly?

(By the way, full time paras make $20/hour broken down into hours they work, more if they use their personal and sick days. There are no degree requirements, they have no work to take home, no planning or lesson plans to write, and they are free to take second jobs or July/Aug work to fill the empty 70 work-days per year that other "full-timers" must show up for that they don't. Try finding another M-F 8:30am to 3:30pm job like that! That's a good gig for 180 days a year versus the 250 days a year other full timers work.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anon 9:22. Don't forget the health insurance benefits in terms of financial support for these staff.

If three paras are being cut, where is the rest being cut from? I heard from Central Office. Is that right Larry? That is a pretty hefty amount especially if the Region cuts as much from Central Office as well. What are the implications of that for students, staff and families? Fewer targets for all of the negative energy at the "administration". Oh, no, who will be blamed now?

Looks like the Supt is staying focused on saving teaching jobs. Well done!

Anonymous said...

The full-paras only make $25,000 per year. Are they really all paid $20 an hour? I have heard that some paras & subs in the district make less than that, even below minimum wages in same cases, which is why it's in the budget proposal to bring those employees up to minimum wage. For a school district that talks so much about social justice, it's concerning to me that even some employees are paid under minimum wage, even though it's legal for the district to do so.

Even with the budget reductions to the central office (which do not make up the majority of the proposed cuts by any means), there are still more than enough administrators making $100K+, including positions that have been created or added to in recent years.

And for the record, the librarians are teachers too. The Wildwood principal wrote parents & said that with the loss of the library para, the WW librarian's teaching load would be reduced so that the librarian would have time for the library activities that used to be handled more by the para. The reduction of teaching load comes from saying that some classes/grades won't have dedicated specials time with the librarian anymore. The library specials time is important for all grades, and for some students, it is the highlight of their week. Less access to the library & and the librarian will adversely affect all students especially students for whom their school library is the only library they visit regularly.

Dr. Ed said...

It seems to me a waste to have redundant libraries serving the same cadre (K-6 children.) Would it not make more sense to franchise this to the Jones outright?

Anonymous said...

like it isn't going to be "safe" after the paras are gone? Makes no sense...

Rick Hood said...

“What does ‘the elementary schools turned back $100K to the town last year’ mean exactly?”
Last year Amherst Elementary Schools did not increase it’s budget as much as allowed by the Finance Committee guidelines - $100,000 less last year, and perhaps the same the previous year (I don’t recall the amount in the previous year). All other departments, including regional schools, used the full increase allowed by the guidelines.

Central office cuts are $423,712 of the $533,912 cuts, or 79%. The only (proposed) cuts to the elementary school building themselves are the library paras and janitor cuts.

Quite sure all paras get minimum wage or better - they have to by law. There is $22,000 in the proposed budget to bring some subs up to the increased min wage.

Presentation from last night is here:
See the “FY17 Budget Hearing” PDF.

Anonymous said...

Per the Amherst Public Schools Unit C contract, in 2015-2016, para educator pay starts at $13.81 per hour. After 10 years in the system, under the same contract, a para educator would be making $19.80 per hour. General paraprofessionals earn less per hour, starting at $11.20 per hour and maxing out at $15.28 per hour.

Anonymous said...

Rick Hood:
My understanding is that municipalities, & by extension school districts, are exempt from the state minimum wage requirements. Here is a Mass Teacher's Advisory looking at this question & recent case law & providing evidence that the state minimum wage law does not apply to municipalities.

At the January 2016 Amherst School Committee meeting, I recall, if my memory is not incorrect, the ARPS Finance Director discussing that some ARPS employees currently make less than MA minimum wage, but that wage increases are planned in the FY2017 budget to bring them up to that level, $10 per hour. I also thought that is why in the recent FY2017 budget adds and reductions, there is $ put under the additions, for paying minimum wage.

Also, it seems inaccurate to say that 79% of the proposed budget cuts are for the central office. This would presumably include a number of district-wide cuts relating to supplies, stipends, etc. & will be felt across the district, including at the elementary schools, not just in the central office. The cuts to central office staff & spending directly are much more limited.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the answers and for the place we can ask and receive questions.

My point about para salaries and their per hour earnings are based in the assumption that "full-time" work means 40 hrs/week, 50 weeks a year; paras work 35 hrs/week, 36 weeks a year--that's 2,000 hours per year versus 1,260 hours per year--and the work days only occur between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm on weekdays when it's not or a holiday, which is as sweet as it gets.

Also I think it's interesting that parents only go to bat for employees that their kid comes face to face with, regardless of that person's ed. background, abilities to integrate pedagogy into their simple interactions with kids, understanding of the concept of equity in education, level of work people do that we don't see that's happening in meetings that affect the kids more, etc. The logic of "this person comes into direct contact with my kid more often so she must be very valuable" is a weak one.

Anonymous said...

If para's actually worked the extra 740 hours per year that "full-time" workers do, their pay would increase by about 15K per year based on the 19.80/hour rate mentioned above.

Rick Hood said...

Yes you are correct about state minimum wage; thought you meant minimum wage in general (e.g. federal).
Sure it may not be exactly 79%, but its a lot and by far the main area of proposed cuts.
This conversation seems to be too much about paras, as opposed to access to and use of the school libraries by students, which is the real issue here. Just happens that paras are part of that, but not the only part.
Really worried about the following year.
The real fix is at the state level. Look at the link above (“FY17 Budget Hearing” ) and you will see that state aid is the same now as it was 15 years ago, and over $1.5 million lower adjusted for inflation. If we had just 1/3 of that amount would just about elimnate all cuts. The state has just shifted costs onto towns, exactly the wrong direction to go in. They cut state income tax rates in early 2000s then turn around and cut aid to towns. Nice. Local property tax payers should be really pissed-off at state government about that - make some noise.

Anonymous said...

Rick, where is a link showing that state aid is the same as 15 years ago? When I tried to find chapter 70 funding (is that what you mean?) it has been going up about 2% every year. Of course, our schools have seen a reduction as expected since we have fewer students. Please provide some data (not just supplied by the Admin) supporting the notion that state aid has gone down on a per student basis. thanks, I'd be grateful for the info

Rick Hood said...

It's on page 3 of this: http://www.arps.org/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=8148840
Yes it's Chapter 70 and it's not going up at 2% per year, it's flat over the 15 years (with ups and downs) but same $ now as it was 15 years ago. Graphs like that have been in all the school budget docs for years. Like page 34 of this years regional budget: http://www.arps.org/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=7196737

Anonymous said...

Rick that data just shows the ch70 total $ have gone down. Our ENROLLMENT has also gone down. You should look at the ch70 funding/student for any data of VALUE. When I did a calculation of Ch70/#students it did not go down, rather increased on average ~2%/year. This is the kind of information provided by the Admin that clearly has you fooled Rick. WTH?!? hook line and sinker....The only valuable information is PER STUDENT!!!!

Dr. Ed said...


Cut/pasted directly from Wikipedia because I didn't know the citations, and they explained it accurately:

"National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833 (1976)[1], was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fair Labor Standards Act could not constitutionally be applied to state governments. The case was overruled by Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985)."

Now the question I ask is if the federal fair labor standards can consider a higher state minimum wage. I think it can -- particularly now that state employees are not exempt from medicare.

Anonymous said...

if my math is correct assuming $12,000,000 state aid in 2002 (2067 students) and $10,000,000 state aid in 2015 (1376 students) then state aid has increased by ~2% every year/student. Ch70 $ is estimated from the graph you pointed out and student numbers pulled from MASS DOE site. Not sure how or where school choice might fit in...

I hope this clears up your confusion, Rick. These are the important numbers. Why wouldn't the state decrease aid while the numbers of students drop. Stop letting the admin place our financial woes on "dropping state aid", its a red herring.

Anonymous said...

Telling longtime elected SC members that you are trying to clear up their confusion about "important numbers" when you don't even know if your "math is correct" or "how school choice fits in"?

Anonymous said...

anon@10:27: Pretty sure my math is correct, not so sure of the exact numbers (the Ch70 amounts were pulled off a graph, the exact number could be a bit different). Do you know (or Rick know) how school choice students are included in calculating chapter 70 allocations? How many choice students included are the the total #'s posted on MA DOE? Since Rick doesn't grasp the significance of total ch70 aid vs ch70/student, I imagine he might not know the other answers but I could be wrong...I'm frustrated, however, by the insistence of the Admin and Rick, who has been told this before about ch70 aid NOT decreasing per student, that our economic woes are due (in large part) because of reduced state aid, which is NOT the case. Saying aid has dropped is, at best, a misrepresentation of facts.

Tell me where I'm wrong....

Anonymous said...

Can you give me an equity loan?

Rick Hood said...

You are correct, I was wrong.
In actual $, Chap 70 has risen by around 2.3% on a per student basis since 2002 (for Amherst elementary). It’s 0% adjusted for inflation.
There may be issues with Chap 70 funding, like the foundation budget being too low based on mandates the state has put in place, but not the issue as I presented it.
The video on this page explains Chap 70 funding pretty well: http://www.massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=Facts_10_22_10.html
Really the issue is that declining enrollment loses us Chap 70 funding, and that not all costs are variable. When total Chap 70 funding decreases, we can’t decrease costs by the same amount because of fixed costs such as building costs, fixed personal costs (you have to have a Principal in each school), etc. Also, some of our costs have gone up by more than inflation such as health care and retiree costs. To counter that we have to figure out ways to cut fixed costs, like closing Marks Meadow did. Moving ARMS to ARHS would also do that (if we go ahead on that).