Budget Cuts Update
David Fleishman’s announcement this week that the district will have to cut up to 74 positions next year was a shocker, and has sent many of you, as well as many parents, into a panic. After everything we have been through for the past two years, the last thing we needed now was the announcement of yet another crisis. What is so exasperating is that, unlike the many crises COVID-19 put us through over the past two years, this one is the result of choices being made by city leadership. The mayor is choosing to underfund the schools. No one in the School Committee meeting on Monday, March 14th challenged her on that. Nor has Superintendent Fleishman. (In all fairness, and to her great credit, School Committee Chair Tamika Olszewski did say the schools need additional funding from the mayor to Globe reporter John Hilliard. See the article here.) What we instead heard were euphemisms: “The budget is tight due to ‘contractual obligations’; NPS has a ‘structural deficit’ caused by these obligations; we cannot use one time (ARPA) funding to close this budget gap, because that’s just kicking the can down the road.” It’s the same old, same tired rhetoric. Bottom line: That “structural deficit” is our salaries and benefits. So what the school committee members really mean is that they think they pay educators too much. This gap is not just about next year’s budget; it is about next year’s contract negotiations. We cannot buy into this narrative. Many NTA building representatives have reported hearing from members who think we should give up the stipends we just won. They believe that these funds could then be used to narrow the budget gap and save their colleagues’ jobs. The willingness to sacrifice out of solidarity is admirable. We need to save those jobs. But this logic buys into the narrative that this is a problem that should be borne by the educators of Newton -- that the reason for the problem is that we are just paid too much. It saddens me when people accept this narrative. We earned those stipends through two years of hardship, fear, and sacrifice. I believe that the best form of solidarity with our colleagues at risk is to join together to fight these cuts, now, before they happen, not only to protect these members jobs, but also to protect all of our futures. Let’s look at this supposed structural deficit, these contractual obligations. In 2019 the NTA entered into one year and three year collective bargaining agreements with the Newton School Committee. Those agreements did indeed include higher salary increases and better benefits than we had won since the great recession of 2008. So yes, these contracts do produce greater contractual obligations. The day we finalized those negotiations, the mayor was there. We all shook hands on this agreement, glad that we had reached a conclusion to our bargaining. Our members ratified the agreement, as did the members of the School Committee, of which the mayor is a member. As a back of the envelope calculation, over and above the budget increases the mayor gave in her allocations during the period covered by the 2015-2018 three year contract and the 2018-2019 one year contract, to meet these new obligations, the mayor would have had to allocate an additional $2 million each year. That never happened. In fact, her allocations to the schools trended down. Another back of the envelope calculation: If the mayor had increased her allocation each year by $2 million more, the current allocation would be about $6 higher than it is right now. Superintendent Fleishman reports we have a $5.2 million budget gap. There you go. The district cannot meet its contractual obligations if the mayor does not provide the funding to do so. When you agree to pay people more you should expect to pay them more. Some other interesting budget facts:
This budget gap appears in the last year of our current three year contract, and Superintendent Fleishman estimates to fill that gap he will need to cut staffing levels by 64 to 74 FTEs.
In school year 2017-2018, the last year of the 2015-2018 contract, Superintendent Fleishman also had a budget gap to fill, and did so by reducing staffing levels by 26.6 FTEs.
However, in school year 2013-2014, the last year of the 2011--2014 contract, the district increased staffing levels by 52.6 FTEs. Notwithstanding, the school committee bargaining team's initial offerings in the spring of 2014 was 0% cost-of-living adjustments for the next three years. They said they just couldn't afford to pay more.
Budget gap and staffing cuts, or budget surplus and staffing additions, district leaders always want us to pay for them. We must say no--we do not earn too much!
What do we need to do?
Well, first of all, we need to not fall victim to the narrative that we should give back our stipends in order to close the gap. The mayor currently has $38 million in unallocated ARPA funds that she can use to temporarily close the gap, until city revenues and expenses normalize. That’s what ARPA funds are for. Second, we need to take back the narrative. There are already people in the community saying the budget gap is due to the stipends. That kind of narrative will only get worse when we begin to negotiate a new contract next year. We’ve already had two favorable news stories, one in the Globe and one on NBC channel 10 news, that are fair to our perspective. Third, we need to do direct outreach to the community. The Parent/Educator Collaborative will be hosting a meeting next Thursday. I will send out more information about this on Sunday. Plan to come; think about a giving a testimonial about the consequences of these severe cuts on students. Fourth, NTA leadership must remain diligent in getting more information about and scrutinizing the superintendent’s budget. (We pushed send on (yet another) information request per our rights under M.G.L. Ch. 150E today.) Fifth, we have to campaign—we have no choice. We must join with our allies in the parent community to advocate for more funds from the mayor. We must also insist that the superintendent and members of the school committee stop presenting this issue as our fault because we “make too much money.” Sixth, we must be prepared for more actions. In the NBC news report, the reporter included footage of our rally at city hall from the fall of 2019. Be ready. Finally, we must recognize that this fight is likely a prelude to what we will face in contract negotiations next year. We won’t go quietly.