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Substitute Teachers Cost Providence $13 Million

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The City of Providence could save nearly $9 million next year by cutting the pay and benefits for substitute teachers—whose compensation is among the highest in the state, according to a new report from the Internal Auditor.

The estimated savings— a maximum of $8.9 million to be exact—is nearly a fourth of the estimated $40 million deficit in the school budget and exceeds the amount of money the city hopes to save by terminating 40 to 70 teachers next year.

The report—compiled by Internal Auditor Matt Clarkin—found the following:

■ The average cost of substitute teachers in the state is $185 per student per year. In Providence, the cost is $545 per student per year.
■ The district spent a total of $13 million on substitute teachers in fiscal year 2010.
■ Substitute teachers receive health care benefits—unlike the vast majority of substitutes in other district. None of the other large cities—North Providence, Cranston, Warwick, Pawtucket, and East Providence—offer health benefits to substitute teachers.

“It is high when you compare it to other districts,” said Councilman Bryan Principe. “It just seems like it’s something that might be onerous.”

Some of the most expensive substitutes are regular teachers who lost their jobs and are put in a special pool of substitutes. Their average salary is $62,176 and the highest paid teachers in this group currently earn as much as $87,977 a year—including longevity, FICA, and retirement benefits.

The high cost of these regular teachers-turned-substitutes was the driving force behind the mass terminations the city issued to all teachers last month. Had the district instead laid them off, the cost of paying them as substitutes would have been as high as $20 million—assuming only 200 teachers ended losing their jobs.

‘The worst contract in the state’

The data was released as part of a comprehensive report on possible improvements to the teachers’ contract, which expires this August.

The study also found that teacher base pay—not counting longevity and other benefits—is among the lowest in the state.

Providence also has the lowest expectations in the state—it is one of two districts that does not require parent-teacher conferences and the teacher work days and school years are among the shortest in the state, according to Councilman Sam Zurier (pictured right). All those things, he said, “make our contract the worst contract in the state of Rhode Island.”

He said the purpose of the report was to find a way to increase pay and increase expectations of teachers—without increasing the budget.

The report pointed to the high compensation for substitute teachers as the biggest area where the district can save money. Clarkin said the district could save up to $8.9 million by making the following cuts to the pay and benefits for substitutes:

■ $3.4 million—by capping the pay of long-term substitutes to a per diem rate of $125.
■ $4.4 million—by limiting the pay of regular teachers who have become substitutes to $125.
■ $1.1 million—by eliminating health care benefits for long-term substitute teachers.

Councilmen endorse changes

Ultimately, the teachers’ contract is hashed out between the school board and the union. But a special education committee made up of councilmen is hoping to weigh in with a series of suggested improvements to the contract. The final report of the committee, which is chaired by Zurier, is expected in April.

In the meantime, several councilmen are already endorsing some of the changes outlined in the auditor’s report—including a suggestion that teachers do their first 15 hours of professional development without compensation and six more hours of teacher meetings without additional pay. That would save the district a total of $2.2 million in the first year.

“If they’re savings to the Providence taxpayers—and it’s evident they are—then I do endorse them,” said Councilman David Salvatore.

Principe was especially interested in reforming the substitute teacher system. “I think it’s something that definitely needs to be looked at,” Principe said. “If this is one of the things that’s changed, I wouldn’t be complaining.”

Total of $18.3 million in savings identified

Clarkin identified a number of other areas where the district can save money in the teacher’s contract:

■ $5.6 million—by switching all teachers over to the same health plan.
■ $250,000—by eliminating health care benefits for retirees.
■ And $1.4 million in other miscellaneous changes.

Including the cuts in substitute pay and compensation for professional development and teacher meetings, that all adds up to as much as $18.3 million in annual savings. That would allow the district to increase its pay for teachers by $6.6 million and still save as much as $11.7 million next year, according to Clarkin.


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