and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

A CLT Work-In-Progress

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The Boston Globe
Sunday, July 3, 2005

Teacher raises surpass US rate
Localities cite budget strains
By Maria Sacchetti, Globe Staff

The average salary for Massachusetts teachers has been rising faster than the national average, setting off concerns that local school committees have given in too easily to teacher unions' demands and squandered limited money on salary increases.

Footing the bill for hefty salary increases already has depleted some local school systems' budgets and led to layoffs of the newest, and lowest-paid, teachers. The pay increases also have sparked finger-pointing between some town and school officials over whether they raised salaries too quickly. State officials say they are also upset that unions and school districts have made no move to link teacher pay to performance.

"It makes no sense to give raises and then turn around and lay off teachers," Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll said. "I wish we could pay teachers more, I really do. But we have to deal with the realities of the economy."

Average teacher pay in Massachusetts jumped 37 percent during the last decade, to $53,529 last year, according to a Globe analysis of state education records. Average pay for teachers nationally climbed 31 percent during the same period to $46,752, according to the National Education Association.

Boston topped the list in the state, with an average salary of $69,022, up nearly 60 percent in the last decade. It's one of the highest-paying urban school systems in the nation, but also located in one of the most expensive areas to live, according to a national teachers' union that represents many urban school systems.

School systems, in part, ratcheted up teacher pay over the past decade because they received billions of dollars in state aid as part of the 1993 Education Reform Act. The act, in turn, pushed school systems to demand more of teachers, who are expected to hold students to higher standards.

Driscoll and others say the extra money did not necessarily always go to the right places. Teacher contracts grant raises to all employees, good or bad, instead of giving more money to the teachers who deserve it most, they said.

But union leaders say increasing teachers' pay was long overdue in an expensive state that pressures teachers to perform at high levels -- and gets results, since Massachusetts is nationally known for high achievement. When the amounts are adjusted for inflation, the increase is not as dramatic -- 7 percent over the last decade, according to the National Education Association.

"We've got to attract the very best and the brightest -- new, energetic young teachers who are highly qualified," said Kathleen Kelley, president of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers. "If you're going to have the high standards, you are going to have to pay them."

Kelley predicts that Boston's average teacher salary will plummet next year as many older, higher-paid teachers retire.

Boston, which used to lag behind affluent suburban school districts in teacher pay, has not laid off teachers, but has left hundreds of teaching positions unfilled as its teacher pay rose to the top in the state, said Richard Stutman, president of the 7,000-member teachers' union.

"Boston is suffering under the state's failure to adequately fund local aid and public education," said Stutman. "We make no apology for seeking adequate wages. It's about time we've caught up to some of the other communities."

Michael Contompasis, the Boston school system's chief operating officer, said he does not "begrudge the teachers what they get because it happens to be what I think is an extremely difficult job." Contompasis said he started in the district making $13 a day as a substitute teacher in 1965.

"The truth of the matter is that for years we didn't pay people in this profession the money they should have received," he said. "But what we have to do is be vigilant and make sure we get a return on an investment that's worth the salary that we pay."

In other communities, town officials say playing catch-up has carried too high a price.

In Southbridge, one of the lowest-scoring school systems in the state, Ronald J. Chernisky, town councilor, asked the School Committee to renegotiate the teacher contracts because the town could not afford the 5 percent raises and other increases teachers received. The School Committee kept the contracts in place, and on Tuesday, voters rejected a tax override that would have covered a nearly $2 million deficit. Now the town may lay off nearly 70 teachers.

"Everybody's going to have to work harder if we have all these layoffs," Chernisky said.

The union and the School Committee could have found a compromise, a less generous pay increase that would have at least preserved jobs, he said.

Mary Ellen Prencipe, chairwoman of the Southbridge School Committee, said the teachers deserved the raises because they were making so much less than peers in neighboring districts and communities with similar demographics.

Also, they were being asked to do more, including teaching an extra period a day because the school system eliminated study halls in middle and high schools, she said.

"I stand by that 5 percent increase. We were way off the mark and we're barely competitive now," Prencipe said.

"When you're not competitive, what teachers would you attract? I don't believe you would get top teachers," she said.

On average, Southbridge teachers made $43,962 in 2004, up 21 percent since 1994.

In Saugus, the School Committee raised teacher pay after years of offering less than surrounding towns. Before, prospective teachers would put Superintendent Keith Manville on hold to wait for a better deal from another school system. Now, he said, he often gets teacher candidates to sign contracts on the spot.

Yet around the same time the raises took effect, the state's economy went into a tailspin. Faced with the contract demands and less state and local aid, Saugus had to lay off more than 40 teachers and increase teachers' workloads. Elementary class sizes rose to about 27 students from 22.

"I don't think anybody anticipated the bottom dropping out as quickly as it did," Manville said. "We've had to tighten things up."

School officials say average teacher pay does not tell the whole story of what teachers earn. Stutman, of Boston, said an average teacher making $69,000 would need at least a decade's experience, a master's degree, and additional training.

Lowell school officials say the average salary may reflect additional stipends teachers pick up from teaching summer school or coaching other teachers.

Average teacher salaries can vary by the number of years the teachers have been in the school system -- the longer the service, the higher their pay -- and the provisions of teacher contracts.

Nationally, Massachusetts ranks eighth among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., on average salaries and 13th in average increases.

Average salaries range widely in the Bay State, from a low of $34,504 in tiny Florida School District in North Adams to Boston's high of nearly $70,000. In Springfield, the second-largest school system, the teachers earned about $22,000 less on average than Boston teachers last year.

"Nobody ever got rich on a teacher's salary," said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. "The raises haven't been obscene."

Tracy Jan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

State House News Service
Monday, October 3, 2005

September tax collections surge,
stir debate anew over spending priorities
By Cyndi Roy and Michael P. Norton

The Department of Revenue collected nearly $2 billion from Massachusetts taxpayers in September, setting a new record and prompting Gov. Mitt Romney to re-issue his call for tax relief.

"It's pretty clear, Massachusetts is back and firing on all cylinders," Romney told reporters he called inside his office after learning about the revenue numbers.

Receipts for the month of $1.94 billion exceeded last September's collections by 14.3 percent, or $242 million, and provided proof that sales and use taxes grew despite a two-day sales and use tax holiday in August designed to boost consumer buying and the economy.

The September numbers are good news overall for state budget writers and legislators, who are trying to restore services slashed during the recent recession, build rainy day reserves, and create an environment where tax cuts are more likely to receive bipartisan support.

Romney said the numbers show it's time to deliver on an income tax rollback approved by voters in 2000. Voters statewide approved a ballot law calling for the rate to be rolled back to 5 percent. The rate was dropped to 5.6 percent, and then to 5.3 percent before the Legislature froze the rollback in 2002 when state tax collections plummeted in concert with a recession. The tax rate now stands at 5.3 percent.

Romney says the rollback would cost the state $220 million this year, and close to $600 million in following years.

"We can't keep walking around the building with long faces like things are terrible," Romney said. "They're not. The economy is back."

But legislative leaders and some interest group leaders said a tax cut is premature.

Citing rising energy costs and the potential loss of a Medicaid funds that would cost the state between $450 million and $600 million, Sen. President Robert Travaglini (D-East Boston) said the state is unprepared to issue a tax cut.

"We face a period of uncertainty financially and that I think it would be prudent on our part to wait to entertain what the governor suggests is in order presently," he said. "Before those variables take on a value, I'm not willing to make any determination on a tax rollback and it would be unwise to do so."

House budget writers also resisted the governor's latest call for tax relief.

"We need to look at September's revenue collection numbers for what they are - an encouraging sign, but certainly not cause to dramatically alter course," House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said in a statement. "Given a temperamental economy, rising energy costs, and the fact we utilized $600 million from our Rainy Day fund to balance this year's budget, it would be irresponsible to use today's developments as a political device to undue the fiscal prudence we have worked so hard to achieve."

The September collections marked the second largest monthly take ever, surpassed only by the $2 billion collected this past April. For the first three months of this fiscal year, state tax collections are up 7.9 percent, and are beating budget benchmarks by $194 million.

Romney also announced that the state has collected $1.215 billion above what lawmakers budgeted in fiscal 2005. Meanwhile, the state's stabilization fund is nearing its highest level ever, just $5 million shy of its peak in 2002.

According to Romney, the stabilization fund balance now stands at $1.710 billion.

Sales and use tax receipts were up 3.4 percent, despite the two-day sales tax holiday in August that was reflected in the September numbers. Income tax collections were up 12.9 percent for the month, withholding receipts rose 8.2 percent and corporate and business tax receipts shot up 35 percent.

"No matter how you slice it this was a very good first quarter," Revenue Commissioner Alan LeBovidge said.

Some in the business community say a strong first quarter doesn't mean the state can afford to cut the income tax.

"We're only three months into the fiscal year," said Michael Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "Regardless of the '05 surplus and '06 numbers, any income tax cut is a permanent change."

Widmer suggested that the state should first help residents in cities and towns where property taxes are soaring.

In a corporate tax bill approved in July, the Senate unanimously passed a plan to begin reducing the income tax once revenues return to fiscal 2002 levels. The House did not include the plan in its version of the legislation, which is now being negotiated by the two branches.

House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi said lawmakers trying to determine what to do with the surplus revenue.

"It's good news, it's good news for all of us," he said. "I like it. A lot of the things that we're doing are helping out. We have a lot more to do. I think people have confidence in that we're balancing our budget and putting our revenues where we think can be beneficial. We have an economic stimulus package coming up that people feel very good about. That takes an investment. We have a health care plan that might costs us some money. The energy package we just passed, too, is going to cost $80 million. These are all good causes. These are all good things to help the Commonwealth and our citizens and I think the cities and towns as our partners in government are also going to have something to say about it, as well. So what we're going to do is, we're going to sit down and try to analyze all this and figure out what's the best thing do."

DiMasi didn't respond to questions about whether an income tax cut should be included in the proposals being discussed.

To date, lawmakers have spent $178 million of the fiscal '05 surplus in supplemental appropriations to shore up accounts and fund union contracts. They have also transferred $827 million to the Rainy Day fund, and have an additional $270 million in a separate account to be spent later, Romney said.

The Springfield Republican
Saturday, October 15, 2005

Huge spending plans unveiled
By Dan Ring

With tax revenues soaring again, state legislators yesterday unveiled a huge spending package that includes 15 percent pay raises for judges and money for pet projects around the state.

The House Ways and Means Committee yesterday approved $318 million bill that will be financed by surplus revenues from the last fiscal year. The full House is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday.

Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow, said legislators are striking a balance between spending surplus money and tucking some of the surplus into a rainy-day savings fund. The savings account now totals about $1.7 billion.

"If we have surplus, what better way to spend it than to give it back to cities and towns?" Petrolati said yesterday.

The bill has $800,000 for the Chicopee Riverwalk and Bikeway project, $900,000 for another phase of improvements to East Street in Ludlow, $100,000 for renovating the closed Bing Theater in Springfield, $1 million for preventing pollution at a landfill in Heath, $100,000 apiece for the Partners for Community Corp. and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, both in Springfield, and $125,000 for Bernardston to repair roads damaged by flooding.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the state received about $1.2 billion more than the previous year, a bounty fueled by an improving economy and stock market. Legislators agreed to sock away $691 million of the money and spend the rest.

Legislators this week overrode vetoes by Gov. W. Mitt Romney to spend $42.2 million of surplus money for one year of retroactive pay raises for employees at the University of Massachusetts and state and community colleges.

Barbara C. Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, complained legislators are spending the state into another fiscal crisis.

She called on legislators to cut the income tax rate from the current 5.3 percent to 5 percent. Voters in 2000 passed a phased reduction to 5 percent, but legislators froze the rate in 2002.

The bill approved yesterday includes $7 million for providing about 400 judges with a 15 percent pay hike starting Jan. 1.

The bill falls short of a 30 percent increase sought by judges. The bill would raise the annual salary for a regular judge in the Trial Court from $112,777 to $129,694, while the salary for an associate justice on the state Supreme Judicial Court would rise from $126,943 to $145,984.

Anderson questioned whether the 15 percent judicial raises are needed.

"Is there some kind of shortage of people in Massachusetts who want to be judges?" Anderson said. "If there is, I haven't heard about it."

Rep. Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said judges in Massachusetts "are probably somewhat underpaid" compared with other states. "We have to do what is right," DeLeo said. "We feel this is right."

The spending bill also includes $100 million for renovation and maintenance projects at the five campuses of the University of Massachusetts and for state and community colleges.

The governor filed a bill to spend $413 million of the surplus on renovation and other capital projects for university campuses and colleges. DeLeo said legislators are planning to borrow money for work on the campuses not financed by the $100 million in surplus money.

The bill has $55 million for grants for cities and towns to improve roads and bridges. The governor was seeking $100 million in surplus money for such grants.

Also in the legislation is $25 million to help reduce a waiting list of 10,333 for a state health program that provides Medicaid to the long-term unemployed. The $132.2 million program now pays for health care for about 43,000 unemployed.

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