School budget proposal includes raises and $3.2M increase from city
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the raises were specifically for administrators. The 2 percent raise proposal is for both administrators and teachers.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Lundsten presented her proposal last week for a $140 million district budget, representing a $6.2 million increase from last year. With that increase, Lundsten recommends that the School Committee request an increase of $3.2 million in new city dollars.
Initial reaction from the committee has been skeptical, and in particular, when it comes to proposed raises for administrators.
“It’s a difficult economic climate in Cranston right now, and all of our bargaining units have stepped to the plate in dramatic fashion. Given the monumental concessions that our bargaining units have offered, I personally think it’s unconscionable to offer raises to administrators making in excess of $100,000,” said Chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi.
Lundsten has proposed a 2 percent raise for staff. For the 884 teaching positions supported by the district (those not paid for through grants), that amounts to approximately $1.6 million. For certified administrators, the raise would require $84,034; for non-certified administrators, another $21,806.
That does not include the additional $977,000 in step increases, which are required by contract. Some of those administrators have not seen a raise since 2007, and the superintendent worries that if the trend continues, Cranston Public Schools could lose out on top prospects.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to hire the best and the brightest,” she said. “Teaching is learning ... we are demanding that our teachers learn new strategies. The list is endless of what we need to ask our teachers to do.”
“If we are to make curriculum and instruction work, we need to look at our staff,” she added.
The raise comes at a time, though, when custodians have agreed to a 15 percent pay cut and the committee is negotiating with secretaries right now.
“Perhaps our wages at this point are not fair with the labor market in Rhode Island, but that does not mean, in my opinion, that we should give lateral raises across the board,” Iannazzi said.
Freshman committee member Jeff Gale understands where Lundsten is coming from but questions if the timing is wrong.
“I think that, from what I heard at the last executive session meeting, is that our pay schedule for administrators is not competitive with the market. That being said, I also have concerns about giving raises when we asked janitors...to take a 15 percent pay cut,” he said.
Lundsten recognized that her request would likely be met with skepticism but said that the demands of teachers and the changing landscape of the district require additional investments. Student population has decreased by 509 students since 2005, but the number of English Language Learners has grown by 406 students. The percentage of students using free and reduced lunch has also skyrocketed, increasing by roughly 18 percent in the same time period.
“In no way, shape or form do I think we can see these challenges as negative,” Lundsten said. “We need to talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and how we move forward with all the demands that we have.”
Still, she was prepared for the pushback resulting after last Tuesday’s presentation.
“This won’t be a popular budget with many of you,” she said.
The question remains whether the city is willing to foot the bill for these increases. The increase in city money is 3.59 percent, closing in on the 4 percent cap set by state law. Mayor Allan Fung hadn’t yet looked at the proposal, and was reserving comment until he spoke with Lundsten, but the School Committee has doubts that the city can support such a request.
“I think that, based on history and based on the compounded pension problem that the mayor’s had to deal with, I don’t know that an additional allocation of that size is realistic,” Iannazzi said.
She and Gale agreed that much work lie ahead as the committee discusses and amends the budget. The initial work session was scheduled for this past Monday but was postponed due to the pending snow. The session is now rescheduled for Thursday at Western Hills. Executive session begins at 6 p.m. with public session to follow.
“I’m eager to start that work,” Iannazzi said.