School salaries excessive?

Schools would save $8.1M in under Cranston contracts, report finds

Warwick Beacon ·

If school faculty and staff in Warwick were paid under the same contractual rates as those positions in Cranston, Warwick would save about $8.1 million in salary costs. Including fringe benefit costs, that number creeps closer to $9.7 million.

That’s according to a recently reported analysis that came off the wake of a larger program audit conducted by Robert Hicks and Thomas Conlon that was finalized in August of 2018. In addition to being tasked with assessing the district’s financial situation, the two were charged to take Warwick’s staffing budget for FY19 and “re-price” it according to the salary terms within Cranston’s school department.

To be clear, the analysis does not make a direct comparison to Cranston in terms of the number of staff in each category and which city had more or fewer. It merely counted the staffing levels within the Warwick school system and its corresponding cost, then calculated how much an equal level of staffing would cost under salaries, step raises and other provisions outlined in Cranston’s collective bargaining agreements and contracts. To do this, Hicks and Conlon compared similar staff positions, taking into consideration things like career longevity and step increases.

Top level administrators in Warwick (comprised of 42.5 full time equivalents, or FTEs) and mid-tier administrators constituted a combined $111,000 in higher costs compared to Cranston’s structure. The overall budgetary cost is around $5.6 million in Warwick and $5.5 million in Cranston for these two groups.

Professional personnel united under the Warwick Teachers’ Union account for the vast majority of differences in costs, as shown by the report. The FY19 budget allots over $72.6 million for WTU staff, whereas they would be paid only $67.2 million under Cranston’s contractual figures – a $5.4 million difference.

Personnel in the WISE union account for $13.7 million in Warwick’s budget, but would cost $2.6 million less with Cranston’s contractual figures. All combined, staffing costs $8.19 million more in Warwick than it would cost in Cranston, according to the analysis.

The major differences are further broken down in the report. For example, Cranston actually pays principals at the junior high/middle school and elementary levels more than in Warwick. High school principals are paid about the same, but assistant principals account cost about $40,000 in Warwick than they would in Cranston.

Union positions highlight more extreme differences in pay for similar roles. The 14.8 FTEs for department supervisors in Warwick cost about $1.48 million in Warwick, but would cost about $370,000 less in Cranston. Every other position, from guidance counselors, librarians, psychologists, reading teachers, school nurses, social workers and general education teachers all cost more in Warwick than they would in Cranston.

General education teachers would cost nearly 7 percent less using Cranston contracts than in Warwick, a total difference of about $3.36 million.

WISE Union staff, similarly, has a majority of positions being paid more in Warwick than similar positions in Cranston. Some notable figures represented in the analysis include Warwick paying $22,000 more for one “admin software liaison,” nearly $40,000 more for three groundskeepers, around $36,000 more for three “maintenance helpers,” and more than double the $83,000 it would cost in Cranston to pay three painters approximately $168,000 in Warwick.

The analysis did not include what it would cost to provide fringe benefits for these positions, which finance director Anthony Ferrucci calculated to cost around $1.52 million on top of the nearly $8.2 million in salary costs, the total calculated difference between Warwick and Cranston – which does not pay into social security pensions for its school staff – amounts to about $9.72 million.

“I’m hoping this data answers some of the City Council's questions as to why we're not closer to Cranston,” Ferrucci said during an interview Tuesday.

Also attached to the report is an analysis conducted by Ferrucci on the pay increases received by Warwick Teachers’ Union members, WISE members and Warwick administrators. From FY11 to FY19, Ferrucci shows WTU staff have received a compounded 14.2 percent pay increase, while WISE staff have received a 13.8 percent increase, and administration employees have received the lowest raise at 10.1 percent compounded since FY11.

Warwick Teachers’ Union president Darlene Netcoh said that she would have to look into the numbers as provided in the report, specifically the final page which shows the percent raises given to each group of employees. She contented that teachers effectively received a 2.75 percent raise instead of 3 percent in FY18, as they went a month before the raises took effect in October that year.

“I would also dispute these admin zeroes,” she said, referring to the years where the administration was listed as getting 0 percent raises. “I'll have to go back and look.”

When asked what she thought about the comparatively high salaries received by WTU and WISE staff, Netcoh responded by pointing out that the district’s administration receives higher compensation as well – although this is not true across the board, as demonstrated earlier in this article.

“I take anything from them with a grain of salt,” she said. “If they say the teachers' salaries are higher or WISE positions are higher, well so is the salary of our superintendent, our director of human resources, all of them too. Why are our administration salaries higher than Cranston’s?”

“Both reports speak for themselves,” Ferrucci writes in the report summary, which was presented to the Warwick School Committee during their recent meeting on Feb. 14.