February 7, 2024 By Carol Britton Meyer
The School Committee presented the proposed $68 million Fiscal 2025 school operating budget during a public hearing Monday night.
About 72 people joined the meeting via Zoom, but there were no budget questions or comments by any parents.
The initial $2.8 million earlier budget gap has been reduced by Supt. of Schools Margaret Adams and Director of Business & Support Services Aisha Oppong to $678,417 by in part applying revolving funds to the deficit and in consideration of some planned retirements in positions that will not be replaced and through the technology budget.
None of these changes impacts the current structure of how the curriculum is taught, according to School Committee Chair Nes Correnti.
The Hingham Education Association is proposing higher increases for all teachers (Unit A) and paraprofessionals (Unit B) than are included in the FY2025 school budget.
The difference for FY25 is $4.7 million. The difference for the life of the contract is $6.2 million, according to Correnti. (See details below.)
Possible cuts in positions outlined
If salaries were to be increased for teachers and paraeducators as proposed by the HEA, a minimum of 44 positions would need to be cut to remain within the currently proposed school budget, according to Oppong.
“However, that figure would likely be significantly higher than that since we would likely reduce less experienced staff first. They tend to be the lower paid individuals,” Correnti told the Hingham Anchor in response to an email inquiry following the meeting.
The School Committee’s latest offer includes an 11.5% salary increase (cost of living adjustment) over four years (2.5%, 3%, 3%, 3%) for all teachers.
Those increases would be in addition to automatic annual step increases already built into teachers’ contracts with fewer than 14 years of service.
“The increases proposed by the School Committee are already embedded in the budget, including the current year, FY24, which was supported by the [$7.8 million] override that was approved by the voters last spring,” Correnti explained in an email.
More than a quarter of Hingham teachers are at the highest step on the salary scale and are M+60, meaning they have a masters degree plus at least 60 graduate credits.
“Today these educators earn an annual base salary of $115,000. Under the School Committee proposal, these salaries would increase to $125,000 by July 1, 2025,” Correnti explained.
The HEA has proposed a higher salary increase for teachers — 19.25% over three years (6%, 6.5%, 6.75%).
“Those increases would require [roughly] an additional $3.1 million in the current school year alone, and a total increase of $9.8 million over the life of the contract — which is approximately $4 million higher than the latest School Committee offer, Correnti said.
There is a similar issue with Unit B paraprofessionals. “Unit B is currently being mediated as we reached impasse back in early December. The School Committee has proposed an increase to the hourly rate of an average of 27% over three years (19%, 4%, 4%),” according to Correnti. “The total cost of this proposed increase over the three years is approximately $1.3 million and is currently included in the proposed budget. The HEA has proposed nearly doubling the hourly wage for paraprofessionals over three years, by an average of almost 90% (43%, 43%, 3.5%), an estimated cost of $3.4 million over the three years of the contract.”
‘We are working to get paraeducators to a livable wage’
Correnti noted that the School Committee and administrators acknowledge that the Hingham Public Schools paraeducator pay is low, “and we are working to get the paras to a livable wage. As a reminder, the definition of a living wage comes from an MIT living wage calculator. For Plymouth county it is calculated to be $45,860. That is based on 2,080 work hours per year. That works out to be $22 an hour; therefore we are using the $22 per hour as a guideline on living wage.”
HEA President Jacqueline Beaupré spoke during the hearing, and the Hingham Anchor reached out to her for comment after Monday’s meeting. She provided the following statement from the HEA:
“The Hingham School Committee has made it perfectly clear that they are willing to accept staffing cuts rather than continue to fight for the funding our schools need. At the last meeting we noted that the unassigned fund balance was in excess of even the incredibly high amount set by town policy, yet no timely request was made to use it. At this point the students of Hingham Public Schools are being set up to sacrifice services and a quality education while staff are being told fair wages and benefits will need to be sacrificed to cover the other major budget drivers. Why is staff pay being used to cover the increasing cost of natural gas and electricity?
On Tuesday night, the School Committee wasted everyone’s time in mediation with the paraeducators. After six months of demanding mediation so they would have the space to make ‘creative proposals,’ they showed up with only the language already offered to other units on parental leave and closing schools on election days. In all that time, they failed to think of any way to get paraeducators closer to a Living Wage — no counter proposal at all. They were given an extension and still didn’t do their homework. By not taking the negotiations process seriously, they are repeatedly showing an astounding lack of respect for our time and effort to address needs for a Living Wage for paraeducators, fair COLAs to account for inflation, humane parental leave, adequate prep time for SPED staff, and typical class size limits.”
In further remarks to the Hingham Anchor, Correnti said she recognizes “this is really hard for the staff, students, parents, administrators, and School Committee members. I always like to ask people to remember we have nothing but good intentions when doing the work we do,” Correnti said. “The passage of the override last spring was years in the making. It took much work to determine what a sustainable budget looks like and to socialize the need for an override here in town. Initially, the town believed it needed an override of $5 million. That number increased throughout the budgeting phase last winter and ultimately got to a nearly $8 million figure. We had a successful Town Meeting and ballot vote for the override. The ballot produced 60% support. I am really proud of the work done to get the override passed last year. It was the fifth largest override in Massachusetts history.”
The School Committee and other supporters were successful in advocating for a fully funded school department, according to Correnti. “Included in that was finally putting in place our multi-tiered system of support. We had been discussing the need for that model for some time before the pandemic and were finally able to build our MTSS during the pandemic and retain it with the passage of the override last year. We have seen the success of the MTSS through current test results of our students. It would be a tragedy to tear it down, because it is a cost that students will pay the price for.”
As a cautionary note, Nes pointed out that that Andover “had to lay off 4% of their staff to fund a contract they couldn’t afford.”
Upcoming School Committee meetings
The committee continued the budget discussions until their next meeting on Feb. 26, with a likely vote on the budget on March 12.
The budget presentation is posted on the Hingham Public Schools website.
- Wednesday, Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m. — Meeting with Select Board and Advisory Committee
- Tuesday, Feb. 13th, 7 p.m. — Advisory Committee meeting and possible vote on the budget
- Thursday Feb. 29, 7 p.m. — joint School Committee, Select Board, and Advisory Committee meeting
- March 12, 6:30 p.m. — School Committee Vote on the budget
- April 24 — Town Meeting (school budget will be voted on as part of the overall FY25 proposed town budget)
- April 27 — Town Election