Opinion: Just The Facts

Photo by Joshua Ross

January 2, 2024 By Mary Power

The late journalist Tim Russert once said, “You have a right to your opinion, but a responsibility to know the facts”. That phrase has stuck with me. Hearing and reading comments related to education contract negotiations, I decided to gather some facts. The most available information is related to teachers, so that is the focus. I recognize these topics are also relevant to paraprofessionals but could not locate all necessary comparable data. Here’s what I learned.

Are Hingham teachers underpaid compared to market rates?
According to the Massachusetts Dept. of Education and Secondary Education (DESE), Hingham’s average teacher salary of $102,031 is the 7th highest among benchmark communities and the 27th highest in the state. The benchmark average salary (19 communities excluding Hingham) is $97,123.

The chart below shows the amount of the salary difference for each community and for the benchmark average as compared to Hingham. The average Hingham salary is $4,908 higher than the benchmark average.

Because average teacher salary amounts are affected by the number of teachers at each step and lane, another way of comparing salaries is to look at actual salary amounts from negotiated contracts. Below is a summary of information contained on the Hingham School Department website:

Don’t Hingham employees pay more for health insurance?
Hingham employees who purchase health insurance through the Town pay 50% of total premium costs. According to the School Department website, the monthly employee cost for a Family Plan is the 6th highest among our benchmark communities: $1,108.22 per month or $13,298.64 per year. The benchmark average employee cost is $863.97 per month or $10,367.64 per year.

The chart below shows the difference in the annual employee cost of a family plan for each community and the benchmark average as compared to Hingham. On a yearly basis, Hingham’s employee cost for a family plan is $2,931 higher than the benchmark average.

Do higher teacher salaries offset higher employee health insurance costs?
Yes, in all but in six communities. Here’s an example using the Benchmark Average. The average Hingham salary is $4,908 higher than the Benchmark Average. Annual Health Insurance Premiums for a Family Plan cost $2,931 more for Hingham employees than the Benchmark Average. Combined, higher Hingham teacher salaries exceed higher employee health insurance costs by $1,977.

Applying this same approach to each benchmark community shows that Hingham’s combined salary and health insurance offering is ranked #7th highest out of 20:

What about another override or using excess free cash?
Between the April 2023 override, tax increases allowed by law, and the approved borrowings for Foster School and the Public Safety facility, property taxes will increase by 24% between 2023 and 2026.

Prior to the override votes this past spring, School and Town Administration, the Select Board, School Committee, and Advisory Committee all signed a document – “The FY24 Override Framework and FY24-28 Financial Management Plan”. This document (also referred to as an MOU) establishes an annual budget growth rate cap of 3.5%, defines maximum yearly budget amounts for municipal and school budgets, and commits not to seek another override until at least Fiscal Year 2028. Town citizens have every reason to expect each of these commitments to be honored by all signing parties.

Even including the override, forecast deficits total over $15 million over the next four years. This means there is not sufficient revenue to support the 3.5% budget growth contained in the forecast. As a result, the Town will likely need to use excess unassigned fund balance (free cash) to both balance budgets and meet the MOU commitment regarding the timing of another override.

Forecast deficit (Town Meeting 2023 Warrant Page 17)

FY 2025 (begins 7/1/24)

FY 2026

FY 2027

FY 2028

Spending in excess of 3.5% would increase deficits and a future override amount. It would also violate the terms of the MOU.

Where are we today?
The current teacher contract and salary schedules include 13 steps and 7 lanes. It includes cost-of- living adjustment (COLA) increases, 3-5% annual step increases, and 3-8% lane increases.

Teachers at the top step receive longevity payments, with two longevity payment options. Teachers can receive stipends for mentoring, lead teaching, coaching, and supporting clubs.

Recently settled teacher contracts in Braintree and Quincy include salary increases of 9% over 3 years. The Braintree contract also includes a 2% market adjustment over the last two years of the contract. Weymouth and Andover settled their teacher contracts for 13.5% and 15.5% salary increases respectively, both over 4 years.

Hingham’s latest offer is an 8.5% salary increase over three years. The Hingham Education Association has proposed a 19.5% increase over three years.

In this new year, I hope that all parties can come together in fact-based, constructive dialogue to find a path forward that honors the budgetary commitments already made to the Town’s citizens and applies available funds for the maximum benefit of our students.

Mary Power

Mary Power is a former member and Chair of the Advisory Committee. She served two terms on the Select Board. In 2021, she authored the Inside Town Finances series.

9 thoughts on “Opinion: Just The Facts”

  1. Thank you Mary. This piece summarizes helpfully where we are now and reminds voters and taxpayers of promises which were made as part of the recent override as well as the impact to taxes from that override

  2. Just to clarify one of the facts , not all teachers at the the top step receive longevity . Longevity is based off of years of service in the district , not step.

  3. With a few exceptions, only middle and high school teachers have the opportunity to collect stipends for clubs and coaching. Elementary schools do. It have the same extracurricular opportunities for students as secondary does. Regardless, the stipends are less than teachers’ contracted hourly rate.

    • Typo correction: Elementary schools do not have the same extracurricular opportunities for students as secondary does.

  4. Wow, this is a truly great data-driven analysis. I’ve done similar work in California, check the link for an example of that.

    Just a note, I’d recommend using median rather than average to characterize pay. It’s better because it’s less affected by outlier data, the US Census Bureau generally uses it for things like “median income by educational attainment” and such.

    For example…. Suppose someone asks you “how much can I expect to be paid working at WidgetCo?”

    WidgetCo has 10 employees. 9 of them make $50,000/year, one makes $500,000. The average salary is $95,000, the median is $50,000.

    You could answer “the average pay at WidgetCo is $95,000” and that would be true, but would greatly overstate what the employee would likely be paid. Only one WidgetCo employee makes that much.

    Or you could answer “the median pay at WidgetCo is $50,000”, which would be far more accurate given that’s what 90% of the employees there make.

    Thanks for your analysis, keep up the great work!

  5. Steps and lanes are not the same as raises. Steps and lanes are earned through continuing education and years of experience. There is a maximum or top step, beyond which no further advancement is available. This means that the longest-serving, most highly educated Unit A educators do not receive step and lane increases. Their only raise comes from a percentage increase or the addition of steps.
    Educators in the Hingham Public Schools have spent much of their own money(our course reimbursement is $849-)to improve our practice and the education of our students.

  6. May we please get this analysis for others who contribute to our kids education?? Paras, special ed, speech, OT? Love our teachers but it takes a team ❤️


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