The teacher contracts approved by the School Committee and yet to be ratified by the union membership would require an additional $12.6 million in local funding over the next three years, according to Anthony Ferrucci, school director of finances.
Of the total, $4.6 million is needed in the current budget, $1.3 million more than the school budget approved by the City Council in June. Ferrucci anticipates that will be an issue when the committee comes before the council for the release of the $3.3 million the council agreed to release with settlement of a contract.
What puts the department in the red, assuming the council approves at least the $3.3 million it withheld to settle a contract, is a 2 percent retroactive pay increase for last year at a cost of $681,000. This effectively amounts to a 4.7 percent increase in teacher salaries for the first year of the contract.
While the terms of the tentative contracts – one to cover the two years the teachers were without a contract – and the second for the next three years beginning this August have not been made public, the findings of nearly two years of arbitration have been released. With some amendments, the contracts follow the arbitration.
The School Committee approved the contracts last Tuesday and set a 10-day deadline for the Warwick Teachers Union to ratify the agreement.
WTU President Darlene Netcoh did not respond to a request for comment when asked yesterday when the union membership would see the agreement and have the opportunity to vote on it. According to sources, however, a meeting has been called for today at 4 p.m. at Toll Gate.
In anticipation for the financing of the agreements, Ferrucci drafted an “economic impact” for Superintendent Philip Thornton that was made available to the Beacon on request.
Ferrucci bases his projections on 896 full-time equivalents (FTEs) and takes into consideration the effect of raises on step increases. Furthermore, it is adjusted by an additional eight full-time special education teachers. Ferrucci said the agreement would set a cap of no more than 30 percent of special education students in a class. He said some classes are running at 32 percent at this time.
There is no adjustment for possible reduction in school enrollment. Naturally, if there was an influx of students, the district could be required to add classes and teachers boosting the current projected additional costs. Similarly, a decline in enrollment could mean a reduction in teachers although, like the previous contract, that number is limited to 20 teachers in a year.
The projections are based solely on known additional personnel as required by the contract and pay raises for those in current pay steps. The system provides for 10 steps and more than 70 percent of the system are at the 10th, the highest, pay level. Breakage, the difference between the cost of replacing a 10th step teacher – it could be a retirement or leaving the system to work elsewhere – and hiring the replacement at a lower step will result in a $250,000 savings this year. Without those savings the cost of the new contract would be almost $4.9 million this year.
As it is unknown how many teachers may retire or leave the system in future years, the saving of breakage is not part of the calculation going forward.
What of other saving that could lower departmental costs in the current year or, for that matter, a surplus in the past fiscal year that could be used to offset the added cost of the contract?
Ferrucci doesn’t foresee a surplus in the past year or the current year.
Furrucci is hopeful in presenting the request for release of the budget funds, the council will consider what went into arriving at a contract and the administration’s attention to cost.
“I assume folks will understand why it took so long,” he said.