The School Committee plans to vote Thursday on a fiscal 2013 budget of $50.5 million, but before doing so, members expect to consider an eloquent push for longer-term thinking presented by a leader of the teachers' union.

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Linda Hanson, second vice president of the Arlington Education Association (AEA), urged the committee on Thursday, March 1, to "take a multiyear look at your vision for where you are taking this school district, and what the sum of your priorities are, weighing out the total impact." Her lengthy statement, made during the budget hearing, took aim at a plan to increase positions by 22.

"Simply carrying forward this large number of new positions over the next four years," she said, "significantly constrains the revenue available for any other priority. Future increases in staffing in subsequent years will erode that capability even further."

Proposed fiscal 2013 budget >>

She also addressed the wage gap among Arlington public-school teachers when compared to comparable communities. She said:

"I don't think we will attract the best talent to these positions at a compensation level that is 3 percent to 9 percent below the prevailing rate for similar positions in similar towns. And if we aren't going to ask our administrators to take this kind of discounted salary, we need to ask ourselves what message this sends when we ask our teachers to accept it."

Read the full text of Hanson's remarks here >> 

The union and administration are negotiating a new contract this year.

School Committee members Jeff Thielman and Jud Pierce thanked Hanson for her presentation, particularly for her plea to look ahead a number of years. Thielman asked CFO Diane Johnson whether she could project the impact of the proposed additions to staff, and she said she would try.

Thielman also said the administration should formalize the training of new teachers beyond mentoring, long a process in Arlington's public schools. His goal, he said, is encourage teachers "to stay in our profession -- and with us longer."

Member Kirsi Allison-Ampe, chair of the budget subcommittee, said she believes that data show the number of full-time equivalents projected in the proposed budget at close to 19 positions. She also said that, when health-costs savings via GIC insurance are taken into account, the numbers reflecting Arlington teacher pay may "look somewhat better." She said she was "not trying to take away from Linda's point."

Allison-Ampe wrote March 5 that she Hanson's data sheet listed 7.3 social workers to be added; instead, she wrote, seven half-positions would be added, accounting for three fewer positions.

In addition, she listed both the $224,000 that Finanace Committee had added to the School's nonoverride budget and the $600,000 added with the June override budget. The schools got the $600,000, not the other.

Member Leba Heigham noted the concern she had heard about reducing special-education teaching assistants, which was discussed at the February meeting. SEPAC's leader has raised the issue

Committee Chair Cindy Starks praised the data Hanson presented with her remarks, calling her work "unbelievable." 

Johnson noted that Hanson's numbers correctly reflected the override amount but not the $224,000 to which she referred.

"Conversation starter"

Hanson called her presentation a "conversation starter," which could be a reference to contract talks. She said her larger point involves three recommendations. They are:

1) That the CFO and superintendent model the effect of these proposed staffing increases to the level-service budget on available funds for the next four years the current duration of the override funding.

2) That the school department consider creating a "personnel trend" chart similar to the town's "Personnel Trends" bar graph, showing total position changes with each successive year by department or however you think it would be best to capture the changes.

3) That the School Committee considers formally addressing the issue of comparable wages, and come up with some language to capture the extent to which you consider this value or a priority. Along these same lines, I hope that as a committee you will undertake to review and inform yourselves of the data that shows how Arlington stacks up against other similar communities.

Peirce added other points to the budget discussion, saying concerns he has heard from repeatedly parents include lack of space and the need for more professional development for staff.

He said that he would appreciate seeing a budget presentation with charts or graphs showing comparative data, as is the case in the town's annual budget report.

Budget criticism

Pierce's comments reflected some of those by resident Stephen Harrington, who, at the start of the meeting, gave a presentation using budget numbers projected on a screen.

Saying he was providing a critique of the fiscal 2013 budget, Harrington said the 148-page .PDF file was not public-friendly and lacked consistent pagination. He called for a spreadsheet of the numbers presented.

He called the 11-page executive summary too long and said the document needs visual displays of data, comparing, for example, year to year.

He pointed to confusions about numbers in the athletics budget, saying there is "no way to know how much is spent by sport."

He said the issue with the athletics budget reflects a pattern throughout the budget, though he did not provide evidence.

Harrington asked the committee to carefully review the budget before accepting it.

He left the meeting before hearing Johnson say that "Mr. Harrington is right," that the athletics budget had issues with it and was a challenge for her to present.

She said the fiscal 2011 budget was the first full year that actual detail has been provided and that she is working toward a more accurate picture. She called presenting the athletics budget as "a tricky process," because of multiple sources of funding and three seasons involved.

Johnson suggested making athletics a separate cost center. She also noted that the 148-page .PDF is searchable.

Seven people attended the March 1 budget hearing, including Ian Jackson, a candidate for School Committee who did not speak. Carl A. Wagner, a Precinct 11 Town Meeting member did speak. He asked whether Arlington has previously had an assistant superintendent and was told it had. The proposed budget would restore the position to full-time status.

Wagner called for a "bulletproof budget," one that did not have a problem, such as the $1.5 million shortfall discovered in 2011.

Numbers reported to School Committee on March 1:
Fiscal 2012 budget  (current)
Town appropriation $42,681,436
* includes 1% midyear contract increase for staff
Grants $2,480,805
* includes one-time U.S.stimulus funding
Revolving $3,615,647
Total budget $48,778,194
Proposed Fiscal 2013 revenues
Town appropriation $44,642,598
* includes 3.5% increase on all non-special-education items
Grants $2,166,941
* U.S. stimulus funds eliminated; all other funding reduced 8%
Revolving $3,724,985
Total budget $50,534,524
Total revenue increase

Jan. 26:First glimpse of fiscal 2013 budget

This story was published Sunday, March 4, 2012, and updated the next day as well as March 13, to publish revised numbers from Linda Hanson.