Thursday, February 25, 2010

Take-Home Pay in the School District

I’m still formulating my thoughts on the budget but here’s a little nugget of some interest.

The APP maintains a database of all salaries for district employees. We all know that salaries aren’t the full story. Health benefits ($19,000 for a family plan) and pensions are the other major cost components.

However, there’s one more tidbit. Salary isn’t the same thing as take-home pay. Teachers have the opportunity to earn a bewildering array of stipends. The big ticket stipends are athletics. At the opposite end of the scale, this past Monday, the school board voted 6-3 to pay high school and middle school teachers $50 a head to attend their students’ graduations. (O’Connell, Gambino, and I dissented.)

Click here for an Excel download of the 2009 take-home pay for the Matawan-Aberdeen school district. Bear in mind, there are two flaws in the file. First, I had to compile it from a scanned document. Second, the list shows earned income, not salaries. Therefore, the incomes for those who only worked part of the year may be significantly less than their salaries.

In 2009, the top five earners were

Superintendent Of Schools
Deputy Superintendent
Martucci Joseph
Director of Athletics/Assistant Principal
Olsen Kathleen

In 2009, the top five earners among teachers were
Turner Samuel
Driver Education (Fall – Spring)
Geran John
Pre Calculus
Kaye John
Physical Education & Health Education
Stead Thomas
Principle of Chemistry BD Class
Friedl James P.
Principle of Lab Chemistry ICR

Among full-time teachers and administrators, 43% of staff earned over $80,000.

After teachers, the next largest category of full-time workers is secretarial at 34. They’re also the lowest paid, earning a little over $40,000 on average.

The next largest group is custodians, 31 employees at an average take-home pay of $59,026 (excluding the 3 individuals who didn’t work a full year).

Including part-timers, the district employs 49 teacher aides but only 6 earned more than $30,000 last year.

Nationwide, over half of all unionized employees work in the public sector. In other words, the primary purpose of unionization is to protect workers from the public. Between their salaries, benefits, and job security, I’m not surprised. >>> Read more!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

O’Malley’s Record

Given February’s publication of test scores across the state, now is a good time to review Dr. O’Malley’s record to date. If I neglect to cover any important topics regarding education, finance, or management, please let me know and I can edit this page to include additional topics.

Dr. O’Malley’s contract states “Whereas, the Board seeks a Superintendent to meet the District’s objectives to raise student performance in order to place in the top 25% in state testing within the District Factor Group . . .” (page 2)

Of course, the contract fails to offer any metric for actually defining the “top 25% in state testing” but, for simplicity’s sake, let’s use the APP’s method to determine whether there’s been any progress towards reaching that undefined goal. The APP’s website,, displays a chart of test scores and indicates whether the district scored above or below average in its DFG (district factor group).

To give the data more meaning, let’s use the Quinn years as a baseline.

According to the APP, the following chart shows Matawan-Aberdeen’s record in surpassing the DGF average is:

# Above

So, after one year under Dr. O’Malley’s direction, the district did better than in any year under Mr. Quinn.

Last year, for the first time ever, all six schools made AYP (annual yearly progress) under the NCLB (No Child Left Behind Act) with significant advancements by our African American students.

Although the high school academies have yet to prove themselves, the intent is praiseworthy - to encourage students to enroll in more academic challenging courses. Presently, about 13% of 9th and 10th graders are enrolled in the academies. Most of those students would have gravitated towards challenging courses regardless of the academies and the participation rate is still far below the 19% who enroll in AP courses. Still, I'm thrilled to see us investing in our top performing students and I believe the academies will ultimately encourage more students to excel.

However, this year the school board established a new goal –
Our district, at all tested grade levels, shall rank among the top fifteen in the below group on the state assessment exams for total proficiency and advanced proficiency.

The “competing” twenty-five districts are the top K-12 districts in the DFG above ours. Manually compiling the data is a bit time consuming so we don’t have a history but here are the results for 2008-09. (Click here for the full Excel report.)

3rd LAL TP 18 70 72.6 -2.60
3rd LAL AP 19 5.8 6.4 -0.60
3rd Math TP 9 87.2 85 2.20
3rd Math AP 13 43 40.6 2.40
4th LAL TP 18 69.2 72.5 -3.30
4th LAL AP 11 9.6 7.3 2.30
4th Math TP 15 80.2 80.1 0.10
4th Math AP 14 37.2 36.2 1.00
4th Sci TP 23 92.4 94.6 -2.20
4th Sci AP 18 53.6 54.2 -0.60
5th LAL TP 25 69.2 75.9 -6.70
5th LAL AP 19 9.5 11 -1.50
5th Math TP 19 82 85.3 -3.30
5th Math AP 18 35.5 38.5 -3.00
6th LAL TP 22 74.3 80.3 -6.00
6th LAL AP 18 7.9 9.1 -1.20
6th Math TP 20 75.6 79 -3.40
6th Math AP 18 27.7 28.7 -1.00
7th LAL TP 22 77.8 83.1 -5.30
7th LAL AP 23 20.7 24.1 -3.40
7th Math TP 17 74.2 75.2 -1.00
7th Math AP 9 34.2 27.7 6.50
8th LAL TP 18 89.2 89.8 -0.60
8th LAL AP 19 11.7 13.1 -1.40
8th Math TP 9 83.2 80.5 2.70
8th Math AP 8 41.8 37.8 4.00
8th Sci TP 16 91.2 91.4 -0.20
8th Sci AP 25 27.6 38.3 -10.70
11th LAL TP 21 86.9 91.4 -4.50
11th LAL AP 21 10.4 14.7 -4.30
11th Math TP 24 73.1 82.1 -9.00
11th Math AP 26 16 27 -11.00

By this measure, our district only has a 25% success rate. It will be interesting to see how well Matawan-Aberdeen does by this measure in the upcoming years.

Most troubling are the HSPA scores. They’re dismal. Dr. O’Malley has implemented writing programs and an accelerated math curriculum (in total, 60 new curricula have been written) but for our current high school students the only remedy is to force any student with insufficient math or English skills into elective programs that develop those skills. The high school should not be waiting for students to fail the HSPA before taking action.

Last year, Dr. O’Malley was one of the only superintendents in the state to cut spending below the prior year’s budget. Yes, Quinn’s budgets were inflated but so are many other districts. That only a handful of superintendents reduced spending is a mark of distinction for Dr. O’Malley.

With Ms. Irons, we also had a virtually unblemished financial audit. The board has also been made aware of previously “hidden” expenses, allowing us the discretion of whether to support certain programs or not.

All of the schools' cafeterias have been upgraded without any cost to the taxpayers or price increases to the students. Enrollment is up and our profit is six times the guaranteed level.

The administration has also successfully reduced the cost for subscription busing.

The tougher problem is finding alternative sources of revenue. Grants are a problem because they generally only fund new spending and, when the grants disappear or costs rise, you’re then left with an unfunded program, as we were with RTI.

The obvious places are new programs that attract students, such as special ed programs. Others include before-after school programs, adult education programs, and district-teacher ventures. Whether any of these will be developed remains an open question.

Director of Special Ed
Since Mr. Schweitzer’s appointment, we’ve been able to negotiate every request for an out-district placement and avoid the huge legal bills and some of the pricier placements. We’ve also reduced out-district placements by 10%, including one out-district placement that returned to the district at a savings of $100,000 per year.

Mr. Schweitzer has implemented 5 new in-district programs. Hopefully, we'll begin attracting out-district students and generate some desperately needed revenue.

School Board Attorney
At $160 per hour, our board attorney, Mr. Rubin, charges about 20% more than our prior attorney. Yet, our legal costs have dropped by half.

2009-10 (mid-year)

When we eliminated our Director of Security, I said I would resign my seat if the level of crime rose above the Quinn period. At January’s BOE meeting, I asked if crime had increased since we terminated the position. The answer was no.

Quinn created the position at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year. As can be seen from the chart, creating the position did not reduce the level of reported crime. (There are allegations the numbers during the Quinn year were underreported.) Yet, Dr. O’Malley cut reported criminal activity by one-third in his first year.

2004-05 43
2005-06 41
2006-07 51
2007-08 41
2008-09 27

At the time we eliminated the position, there were stories of the director saving the district money by ascertaining that some students were not actual residents. However, I have been unable to substantiate these reports.

Director of Technology
There’s a scheduled tech expo for Wednesday, February 24th and we’re scheduling a meeting of the tech committee. I’ll come back to this after those events.

Strathmore Principal
Moving Ms. Bera from Cliffwood to Strathmore was controversial at the time but I’ve not heard any complaints since beginning of the school year. We’re still waiting to see the impact of the move. >>> Read more!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Note: In addition to the projected $6 million hole for next year, we just had a million dollars cut from this year's budget. Here's the list (page 10) of the state's cuts, district-by-district.

Your taxes are about to go up again. This week, Dr. O’Malley presented his initial draft budget proposal to the Matawan-Aberdeen school board and he recommends raising school property taxes by 3% to help close a projected $6 million budget hole for next year. Today, I emailed the board my budget proposal that entails a small tax decrease. It’s all about what you’re willing to cut.

Between salaries, benefits, and the like, total expenditures are projected to increase by $3.5 million. State aid will likely be cut by $2.5 million. Hence, the $6 million budget gap.

To cut expenses, Dr. O’Malley has recommended eliminating 39 staff positions, ending summer school, and using one-time measures such as paying our health insurance bill two months late. The $1.2 million in one-shots means we could still be looking at another $4 million budget hole next year, depending upon what happens in the state legislature. So, even with $3.5 million in permanent spending cuts and $1.3 million in tax increases, we’re still looking at more cuts and more tax increases next year.

The argument is tax increases are natural and necessary because costs increase and wages increase and the only significant sources of revenue are government aid and property taxes. But that assumes we’re operating at near maximum efficiency, that there’s no more fat to be cut.

So, let’s talk about what the recommended tax increases will help fund. High school students can take the following classes to meet their credit requirements for graduation – drivers ed, ceramics, acting, computer applications (i.e. Excel and Access), sports marketing, TV production, stock market analysis, food fashion & family (meal prep and sewing), business technology (i.e. working in the school store), stage acting, children’s literature, SAT prep, and choir.

The administration objects to cutting any of these programs, all of which could be done as after-school activities, especially considering that one-third of seniors have failed to score 50% on a HSPA exam and may not graduate.

In the elementary schools, we have three full-time computer teachers teaching six to eight-year-olds how to surf the web and do PowerPoint presentations.

We have custodians earning more than teachers with masters degrees.

We have school psychologists earning supervisor salaries even though they don’t do any supervisory work.

We’re spending over $60,000 a year on student work-study programs.

Among the sports teams, we’re funding golf, bowling, tennis, and volleyball.

We could cut all these programs without impacting our school mission one bit, namely educating and preparing our students to “achieve success as honorable members of society”.

My proposed budget calls for the following:

  • Outsource all staff members and departments that can be outsourced. This will allow us to remove unwanted personnel, take staff off the salary guides, and give them benefits on par with the private sector
  • Eliminate one pre-kindergarten position. This will raise class size but we are not required to provide pre-school programs to the general public
  • Postpone textbook purchases for one year. This is a one-time measure that doesn’t bend the cost curve but we’re in a bad year
  • Eliminate all work study positions
  • Replace elementary computer teachers with self-guided software tutorials
  • Raise class sizes up to 22 students except in Strathmore where overcrowding already has class sizes at 26
  • Eliminate the TV production class
  • Eliminate high school computer instruction. Astonishingly, the school district does not teach any computer programming. (Web page design refers to page layout, not data processing.) Excluding graphic design, the computer courses have very little commercial or educational value
  • Eliminate ceramics
My proposed budget would slightly reduce taxes without adversely impacting our core mission or undermining our future. However, I acknowledge that I am also using $1.7 million in one-time spending measures, which means expanding next year’s budget gap by $500,000 above Dr. O’Malley’s proposal. Even so, from a financial perspective, over the next two years, we’ll be spending $2.5 million less under my proposal. I would also argue from a strategic perspective that my cuts preserve more core services and are more aligned with our long-term goals than Dr. O’Malley’s.

The one other possibility that has been discussed but not seriously considered is for the board to declare it will not consider any adjustments to next year’s teacher salary guide. The issue is whether the district can reasonably budget under the assumption that we won’t cave into pressure and increase funding for salaries.

None of this is easy. We’re talking about terminating high-valued employees to retain unwanted tenured employees. We’re talking about people losing their jobs. But this is what it takes to keep taxes from rising.

The current proposal calls for a 3% tax increase and eliminating positions and services that I consider core to our mission. I have offered an alternative.

For everybody complaining about their high property taxes, remember this - The government didn't raise our taxes all at once. They did it bit by bit. Voting against the budget won’t stop our taxes from increasing. The only way to do that is to contact your representatives on the school board and to do it now. >>> Read more!