Cranston Teacher’s Alliance: “Stop Runaway Train!”

UPDATE #2: Tonight is the night of the big meeting. The vote will be at Cranston West Auditorium at 7 pm. More people have raised important issues in the comments below.

UPDATE: School Committee member Andrea Iannazzi has provided some more information:

- The School Committee will be voting on two separate resolutions. The first, scheduled for a vote on Monday (1/14), states “SPONSORED BY THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE AND ADMINISTRATION NO. 08-1-2 ­ RESOLVED, that the 6th grade classes be housed in the elementary schools and that the middle school model will consist of the 7th and 8th grades commencing with the 2008-2009 school year.” After this vote, the School Committee will then discuss and debate curriculum (most likely at a future work session).

- Cost savings from this move range anywhere from 300,000 to 1.8 million dollars, depending upon which “Scenario” the School Committee votes for.

- The cost savings are achieved from reduction of FTES (teachers, administrators, and itinerants) and the closing of five of our nine portables. There are “add-backs” for additional elementary level itinerants.

- Each “Scenario” proposes eliminating the Family and Consumer Science program.

- Despite what may have been implied by the opposition, this topic was extensively studied. The subcommittee held a dozen plus meetings over a five month period. Additionally, many of the School Committee members involved discussed the potential move in other forums. For example, I attended Open Houses at six elementary schools (Garden City, Glen Hills, Orchard Farms, Peters, Stone Hill, and Woodridge), met with parents upon their request, and met with teachers at the elementary schools in my district.

ORIGINAL POST

The teachers are lining up with the parents in Cranston on one side of a battle, with school administrators and school committee members on the other side. The fight is over whether the 6th graders should be moved back into the elementary schools, to solve some of the overcrowding problems in the middle schools. Today the teachers sent a big mailer of a racing supermodern train on the front and an unfortunate-looking train wreck on the back. The text on the front reads “Stop This Runaway Train…” (train labeled Cranston School Committee Express) and on the back reads “…Before It’s a Train Wreck!” The rest of the text is as follows:

The Cranston School Committee and Cranston Schoool Administrators want to railroad through changes that will move Cranston’s 6th graders from their middle schools back to elementary schools and dismantle important educational programs, such as family and consumer science, arts and music classes. They say these changes will save money, but the savings will be less than 1% of this year’s school budget. Worse, they fail to tell you that it will have a profoundly negative impact on our children. In fact, the majority of the parents on the committee to study this issue were adamantly opposed to these changes.

This proposal will:

–put important educational programs at risk
–create minimal savings — with maximum disruption
–more temporary classrooms — increased class sizes

Don’t Let Our Children Get ‘Railroaded’

Attend the Cranston School Committee Meeting
January 14, 2008, Cranston High School West, 7 pm

An email I received from my elementary school listserv said that parents are targeting Steve Stycos and Deb Greifer as members of the committee most likely to be sympathetic to their concerns.

I was initially in favor of this proposal to move the 6th grade back, since some of our elementary schools have been closed for lack of an adequate census. However, the parents who have studied this issue are probably the best ones to listen to, and they are indicating many ways that this may cause problems for educating children in Cranston.

But it’s interesting that the teachers are coming out so strongly. One issue for teachers is the 6th grade teachers needing to be certified to work on the elementary level. I don’t know the details of how this was going to be worked out, but I know it was flagged as a problem early and often. I have heard people talk about how this will force a healthy number of retirements in the middle school teacher population, but I don’t know how true that is.

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22 responses

  1. Jesse from Cranston

    This is one of the oldest plays in the school board playbook: create a highly charged issue where there was none before, and use it as a diversion from the real problem — higher and higher budgets. (Anyone remember the ’99 bus fee proposal?)

    Now, to be fair, it looks as if CTA has played right into the committee’s hands — the union can be blamed for “holding up progress” or some such nonsense.

    Plus, the timing of this issue becoming so prominent is, shall we say, suspect — isn’t the city still under threat of a Caruolo action?

    So, it seems as though the majority of the school committee is stirring up controversy to, in some perverted way, justify its argument for even more funding — “See what we had to do to try and cut the budget?”

    Kiersten: Elementary and middle school teachers have different certification; current sixth-grade (i.e., middle school certified) teachers would not be allowed to teach “elementary school” and would have to retire and/or move. This raises a question: Just how much will be saved by having a rash of retirements (and the subsequent pensions) followed by a rash of new hires (with no co-pay, etc.)?

    I tend to trust the CTA’s estimate of less than 1% this year — it couldn’t be much more than that next year, either. And with the potential of pensions kicking in, there may not be any savings at all.

  2. To start, I want to state flat-out that I am semi-ignorant on this topic. I believe I have a tree-top level understanding of the situation, but by no means am I aware of everything that’s happening down in the dirt.

    So, FWIW, and IMHO, this is a classic example of “who are we supposed to root for?”

    The bottom line is that this is about money, for both sides. The School Commmitee is trying to save it, and the teachers are trying to preserve the jobs of the current teachers.

    In short, what’s best for the kids doesn’t seem to be an agenda item.

    On the one hand, we face budget shortfalls and need to conserve. OTOH, I somehow suspect that the School Committee has not really considered how this will actually impact the kids. My first (completely uninformed) reaction was that this was a good thing, since I think a lot of sixth graders aren’t ready for the big time in middle school.

    Has anyone come up with numbers, as in how much would this actually save the city?

    As I’ve said many, many times, the real problem with school funding is that the median wage is stagnant in the private sector, and has been for a decade or two or three. The median for households has improved–slightly–but only because both spouses working is the norm.

    This means that we simply cannot continue to pay higher salaries for public employees. In a better world, we would solve this problem by enacting national policies to benefit the working class, instead of benefitting the economic elite as we’ve been doing for the last 27 years.

    Unfortunately, we don’t live in a better world. Perhaps an overwhelming Dem victory in Nov will help turn things around. Until then, we need to look long and hard at our spending priorities. In which case, we need to ask if this plan is the most effective way to save money.

    That’s a bit harsh, and probably more than a little cold, but we need to face reality. Everyone does.

    Jesse, I wouldn’t trust numbers from either side. There is too much incentive to fudge. Where did you find them?

    OK, I am fully prepared to take a lot of heat for what I’ve said, but I’m equally prepared to change my mind upon hearing good reason to do so.

  3. I would like to hear more on the stats for exposure of the 6th graders to the middle school. Such as this link provides.
    “Our results complement the recent finding that school systems that move sixth grade from elementary to middle school experience a 1-3 percent decline in on-time graduation rates (Bedard & Do 2005).�

    �Most obviously, middle school brings sixth graders into routine contact with older adolescents who are likely to be a bad influence: older adolescents as a group are more rebellious and more involved in delinquency, sex, illicit drugs, and other activities that violate school rules.�

    “One greatest concern is that the negative influence of middle school on sixth graders appears to linger through ninth grade.�

    I agree that we need to show more research on the stability of children. With such a small profit margin to implement this system (at the expense of children and screwing up an already delicate structure in the 2 parent working house)I feel they cannot rush this. I am like Klaus and not a novice in the children’s social and mental maturity area. We should not be just hearing from Parents, teachers and administrators…but they need to ask an expert from Bradley Hospital that works with children or social workers etc.

    My kids are 4 and 5 so I do not have the knowledge on this subject, but it seems there is some information on the web as Cranston is following/contemplating what others have already tried.

    If I were a teacher or parent of a 4,5 or 6 grader…I would try contacting one of these groups (ex: Hopkington, comment #9.) and weigh in with these folks that have been fighting this for months now.

    I am like Klaus, show me the proof and I am prepared to vote for the right reasons…my main focus is the children and not the numbers.

  4. Suzanne, thank you for that link. As the parent of a 4th grader, I am trying to get up to speed on this issue. As a taxpayer, I am trying to evaluate the fiscal prudence of this issue. too.

    From “teacher friends” of mine, their take seems to be that this is just a quick fix by the administration to address the overcrowding at Western Hills, the filling up of Park View, and the unused classroom space at Orchard Farms and Hope Highlands.

    Personally, I’d love to have my child stay in elementary school one more year. However, I do not trust any proposal so openly endorsed by the Administration and the School Committee. Honestly, our school system has not done well by them in recent years.

    While I’ve heard from Mr. Stycos on this issue via e-mail, I’d love to hear from some other School Committee folks on this blog (which is now my 2d stop after the ProJo for “Cranston News” – thanks Kiersten!).

  5. Jesse from Cranston

    Folks:

    Here’s the link to the report on 6th grade plans:

    link to plans

    You’ll find the estimate of $1.8 million in “savings” under Scenario 4 on page 27. I put savings in quotes because, just after making this claim, the report goes on to explain that “add backs” of staff and “one-time costs” will lower this number to about $1 million.

    (klaus: this is clearly where the union got its number.)

    I don’t believe that 15.8 positions will simply disappear (as page 18 suggests). Also, as I explained previously, you’ll have to hire someone for the elementary positions — this seems to be missing completely from the proposal.

    If the school committee really wanted to, it could identify 10 upper-level administrative positions (not in the schools) and save the same $1 million. Here’s one example: there are three fill-time clerks in the personnel office. Why does the district need more than 1?! Or consider the finance office — again, far too many staffers (I think there are 4) than necessary.

    Now, beyond the numbers: I agree with Kiersten, klaus, and CaptainQ that “what’s best for the children” is being lost in this situation. And at the risk of sounding over-cynical, this is what happens when you put this kind of money on the table, inject decision-making with local (read: parochial) politics and build a legal firewall to protect school districts from direct municipal oversight.

  6. Captain Queeg,

    I was struck by your statement:
    overcrowding at Western Hills, the filling up of Park View, and the UNUSED classroom space at Orchard Farms and Hope Highlands.

    Part of this problem is the fact that Permits (allowance for a child from Western Cranston to come to Glen Hills Elementary) and the Kindergarten is full. I had this happen last year when I went to enroll my son and the class had 20+ and my son’s class at the YMCA would have 8-12 max. It was a no brainer for me, as I wanted him to be successful. But I am pissed that my kid can’t have a better ratio to succeed in a class up the street. My neighbors moved 3 years ago to their million dollar home, yet their 2 kids go to Glen Hills not their million dollar school…which is not that crowded. WHY?

    I know 2 other parents in other parts of Cranston whom have grandparents in my neighborhood and they go to Garden Hills. I questioned the School System and they said to write to Mr. Nero (which I am in the process of) as to why this is acceptable ~ as it is not! My State Senator Gallo agrees that it is not okay either. Obviously we have our work cut out for us, but getting educated through Kiersten’s story is a start.

    This process will hopefully include more on the pro/con’s of the children’s development rather than as heavily on the $$$

  7. Jesse, I think the way the proposals are written, it is with the assumption that we will go from 38 6th grade teachers to 37, with a net reduction of 1. The cost savings is going to come from the other positions being eliminated.

    There is an update to the original post above, with some general comments from Andrea Iannazzi about the proposed changes. She has responded to a lot of parents and teachers about this issue over the past five months. Andrea is willing to answer questions about the proposed 6th grade move by email. Her email address is available on this page:

    http://cpsed.net/schcom/members/

  8. The reality is that the school committee is unwilling to undertake in a city wide redistricting which would alleviate overcrowding and eliminate some positions. That would provide for proper utilization of facilities. Is there anyone on that committee with the courage to do that, I doubt it.

  9. Jesse from Cranston

    Kiersten:

    Oops. I erred in reading the proposal. Thanks for correcting me.

    I hereby withdraw my previous statement: “you’ll have to hire someone for the elementary positions — this seems to be missing completely from the proposal.”

    This error notwithstanding, I am still not convinced that 15.8 positions will be eliminated. I also still believe that the potential “savings” will be wiped out by the cost of hiring new elementary teachers while having to pay pensions and health care for those who retire.

    More to the point, if 37 new teachers are hired at an average of $60,000 (salary + benefits), that’s $2.2 million. Without knowing the costs of the teachers to be replaced, the $1 million estimate based on staff reductions becomes questionable.

    The same goes for the guidance counselor and assistant principal jobs — even if they don’t get pensions, there will be unemployment costs, etc., that simply aren’t mentioned in the plan.

    Maybe someone can ask Andrea about this.

    Otherwise, we’re looking at a fiscal time bomb — the information gap can only create a disaster down the road. I can just see this plan going forth (I oppose it, btw) and the school committee being “blindsided” by costs they should have predicted — and just passing the bill along to the city, again.

  10. Oblomov, Why is there unwillingness to do redistricting? Seems the school committee should be totally in favor of that, in order to maximize use of teachers.

  11. Because it would result in a loss of teacher union jobs and it would show that the construction of Orchard Farms was not necessary. Redistrict from east to west and there would be no new elementary school. That should have been the first attempt rather than a dramatic plan that will severely impact the educational model in the city. What happened to the idea that the middle school concept was the best for our children? This is an attempt to be political on the backs of the students nothing more, if this was a great concept it would have been done last year rather than an election year. Wouldn’t the population model have shown this previously rather than now?

  12. But how is this scoring points in an election year? It seems to me a lot of people are going to be angry if this change goes through. And there is going to be a loss of teacher union jobs on top of it. Are you suggesting that this is how political points are going to be scored?

  13. Jesse from Cranston

    The way to real reform is to end the practice of having a separate school committee and bring the schools under the direct supervision of the city, just as the recreation and public works departments are.

    Consider: every year, we (and our neighbors in the other 36 school districts in this state) hear our school board and city/town councilors say they’re dedicated to education — only to have the school board approve an irresponsible budget with no public input and plan to sue the city if they don’t get what they want.

    Direct city council oversight will also bring the union negotiations into the light a bit more, so that the city is not blindsided by future costs. Plus, the union will be dealing directly with the “check-writers,” not a group of middle men.

    To me, the real issue is that school boards have become renegade groups with little to no consideration for the actual financial impact of their decisions. So, I say, change Title 16 of the state constitution, bring the control of schools under the city councils, end the potential for Caruolo actions, and streamline educational funding so the money actually goes to educating kids.

    It can be done — and Cranston should lead the way.

  14. ghost of christmas future

    History in the making. I agree with Jesse.

  15. So, please, someone write some legislation so that Cranston gives the control of school funding to the city council, if that is truly a good idea. Maybe this could be Emilio Navarro’s ticket to political stardom. Don’t they have something like that in Providence?

  16. Jesse from Cranston

    Kiersten:

    In Providence the school committee is appointed by the mayor; not quite the same thing.

    I hope Emilio will support the idea. The only other thing I’ll say is, Stay Tuned.

  17. Last year I took a graduate class for Middle School endorsement. I looked at the book “The New American Middle School…Educating Preadolescents in an Era of Change by Jon Wiles and Joseph Bondi (2001, Prentice Hall, Inc.).

    The section that deals with where does sixth grade belong brings up interesting issues and considerations that I believe need to be reviewed further before 6th graders are moved in Sept. 2008.

    Quoting from the book (p. 94):

    Issues
    *Does placing sixth grade with middle school force children to grow up too fast?

    *Do sixth grade students have more in common with seventh and eighth grade students than with first grade students>

    Considerations
    *There is no one right answer. Communities need to take into consideration the following factors in deciding whether to use the junior high school, middle school, or separate sixth grade center strategy:
    *Number of students
    *Transportation costs (at the last meeting Jackie White brought up the fact that this was not even included in the presentation!)
    *Socioeconomic backgrounds of their students
    *School districts’s goals for student achievement
    *Effects on other schools
    *Number of transitions for students
    *School building design
    *Effects on parent involvment

    I plan on speaking tomorrow night to express my concern that this move is being rushed and the above considerations have not properly reviewed and evaluated.

    Donna Mooney

  18. I have heard that hundreds of letters like the ones above have been written to school committee members about this. If you’ve written a letter or know of someone who has, I encourage you to put it in the comments of this thread. It helps to “enter into the record” the issues that people are concerned about, and it also can serve as a reference in the future, for people who want to go back and see which predictions of problems or benefits came true.

  19. You have all made some great and insightful comments. as far as where the sixth graders belong, the jury is out. You could contact 10 different child specialists and they would all have varying opinions.

    The bottom line is, and Deb Greifer sadi this at the meeting I attended at Eden Park, this is not about education, it’s about money. And that, my friends is pathetic. The school committee plans on using scare tactics to win support for this move. They will tell us that if we don’t move the sixthgrade, more teaching positions and programs will be cut. They will also talk about a flat rate tax increase. Enough is enough!

    We have one of the highest tax rates in the state, and the fact that every year education funding gets cut is unacceptable. We, as parents and as tax payers must demand from our elected officials to know where the money is going! The city hired a mayor who’s entire campaign was based on “holding the line on taxes”, only to raise them! We must demand fiscal reposnsiblitity from our officials, as well as accountablitity for their word!

    We are in this financial crisis because the city was given away to the unions by the Traficante administration! Everyone knows it and is talking about it behind closed doors, but no one wants to say to say it. How could you when he heads up the school committee???

    As far as teachers salaries, in an ideal world, I’d like to think that teachers should be the highest paid professionals around. But the reality is, I am a tax payer, and I can’t afford to give my own raise to the teachers each year in the form of higher taxes.

    We all need to make our voices heard. It may not make a difference, as many people feel that the committee’s mind is made up, but we should speak up, nonetheless. But we can voice our opinions even further in November!

  20. I have a few more thoughts to add. Has the committee given any thought to the fact that Kindergarten will go to a full day format in the very near future? How will schools be able to accomodate 4 additional classes? Have they done any research to see if the actual physical infrastructure can support such a large volume of students?

    It’s been my experience in speaking with many parents at schools across the city, that those who are in favor of the move feel that sixth grade belongs in the elementary school because they are young and at a tender age. Like Liz said, we’d all like our children to stay little forever, but IMHO, sixth graders today, are very different from when we were in sixth grade. And while I feel we have a responsibility to our children to protect their innocence for as long as possible, we can’t shelter them from everything. I’ve heard stories from middle school teachers, and as much as some parents don’t want to admit it, these kids are wise about the world. It may not be true for all sixth graders, but the innocence that once was is fading. Do we want elementary school children exposed to this?

    There will always be a shift in capacity. Some years, the elementary school will be overcrowded, other years, the high school. I don’t feel the way to alleviate the congestion lies in restructuring the middle schools. I don’t even feel condident that redistricting will help. What we really need is accountablity and honesty from our elected officials!

  21. Jesse from Cranston

    Stephanie:

    Sorry to poke holes in what seems to be a well-thought-out position, but I have to ask:

    First, where’s this talk of a “flat rate tax increase” you mention? What does that term mean, anyway?

    Also, state aid was held level; so was the city’s payment to schools. That’s not a cut. Maybe you’re thinking of the $4 million the school district wanted this year but isn’t getting. Again, that’s not a cut.

    And as for mayors raising taxes when they campaigned with the opposite message, I’d refer you to Steve “I’m a Financial Expert” Laffey who proposed 4 straight budgets with tax increases (the last two were stopped by the Council).

    I’m also skeptical that “everyone” is somehow too scared of Traficante to blame him for his policies as mayor, which, by the way, ended 10 years ago. And isn’t just a bit contradictory to your claim that the teachers’ union is against this proposal? How do you explain Traf’s apparent change of heart in supporting the possible elimination of nearly 16 positions?

    Again, don’t take this the wrong way; you seem to mean well, but I’m curious about most of what you’re saying.

  22. What we really need is accountablity and honesty from our elected officials (E.O.’s)!

    Stephanie, I couldn’t agree with you more. I heard on Talk Radio (Helen Glover 920) the other morning that she quoted Rep. Peter Palumbo saying elected officials are lucky if they get 12 responses from the public (via correspondence or calls) because people don’t take the time and are more willing to take their soapbox to the bubbler at work.

    I agree with Kiersten’s suggestion to e-mail ALL the School Committee Board on your position either way. I have heard this complaint before from public officials. If everyone picked one issue they were passionate about and involved some others and then contact their E.O.’s then we could influence and possibly change the outcome to our benefit.

    I am still not clear on this subject and I think it warrants a Study Commission of 3 parents/3 teachers/3 student bodied students / 1 Board member = solution at meeting between now and the summer and have a decision before the next round.

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