The Two Alternatives Before Us: Educational Programs & Teacher Jobs OR Excessive Adult Entitlements
Valerie Forti, President of The Education Partnership, wrote these words yesterday in a ProJo editorial:
This year, the Rhode Island General Assembly sent a very clear message to school districts and to unions.
In level-funding state education aid, after passing a Senate bill last year that checks property-tax increases, legislators sent the message that school committees and unions should not expect to get more money if they cannot appropriately account for what they are spending. The legislature is (finally) noticing that, under the current approach, simply sending more money to the districts increases salaries and benefits — but does not necessarily benefit the children in our public schools, particularly in our urban school districts.
…it is encouraging that some school committees are resisting union pressure to simply give more and more to teachers in salaries and benefits while programs that directly benefit students — sports, arts, etc. — are being under funded or cut out altogether.
In several recent contract negotiations, unfortunately, school committees agreed to a quid pro quo for unions’ paying part of their health and dental benefits. In a number of new contracts, any savings were completely offset by a shorter school year, special stipends and increased “buy-backs”…Instead of helping students, the money continues to go for excessive adult entitlements.
…Students are suffering because of over-generous contract obligations. The legislature has begun to understand that fact — and this year, did not see fit to send more money to schools to simply increase salaries and benefits…
The Education Partnership honors good teachers. We want good teachers to have good salaries, health and dental care and a retirement benefit. But what our school committees are currently negotiating into teacher contracts in Rhode Island is not sustainable, and vastly outstrips the resources that we have for our children, and should be devoting to them.
When are we going to start to talk about real reform to help support our students? For almost a year, The Education Partnership worked closely with the legislature, the Rhode Island Department of Education, and various advocacy groups (including teachers unions!) to help increase public understanding of why Rhode Island needs a permanent school-funding formula, and to help design the formula. (Only one other state, Pennsylvania, does not have a permanent funding formula.)
At the end of the legislative session, though, after it became clear the formula was being distorted to support bloated and unrealistic spending, The Education Partnership felt compelled to withdraw its support for the formula that was ultimately proposed. Thankfully, the legislature refrained from passing a school-funding formula and it level-funded school districts, sending a clear message that it’s time for a change.
This state needs to think about real financial reform and ways that truly bring resources into school districts for students. For starters, when are we going to work on changing the pension system for teachers (and all municipal and state employees)? We should not be distracted by talk about consolidating school systems and redesigning the funding formula — which could cost enormous political capital while doing little to help students directly.
Let’s talk about a real reform agenda and pass legislation that redirects education spending more toward students.
Require that every school district (as well as municipal and state) employee who is more than three years away from retirement to be part of a defined-contribution plan — and take that issue off of the negotiation table…
Additionally, we need one statewide health-care plan for all school district employees — taking that issue off the local negotiation table. Let’s end sick-day abuse that is costing taxpayers so much. The state law should set a cap of 10 sick days for all school-district employees (how about adding municipal and state workers?) with assignment beyond that to Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI). There should be no more insurance buy-backs of any kind. The state should mandate teacher and principal evaluations in every district, every year, to measure outcomes and bring accountability to our school systems.
…This year’s decisions indicate that our legislators now understand something: Rhode Island does not have adequate public-education performance, and increases in funding have been going to excessive adult entitlements, rather than toward improving student achievement.
The citizens of Rhode Island need to work now to send a message to the unions and the legislature. We need a strong new pension-reform plan that seriously gets to the heart of the problem, a statewide health-care plan, no more insurance buy-backs, 10 sick days and TDI, and a research-based evaluation system in every district.
What we are doing is not working for our children and is not sustainable. Unfortunately for our students and the taxpayers of Rhode Island, that is eminently clear.
This ProJo editorial has more on health insurance issues.
Forti’s recommendations highlight one of the under-addressed issues in teachers’ union contract negotiations: One side of the table has 7 unpaid, part-time citizen volunteers and the other side of the table has professional teachers’ union negotiators plus some teachers who are union representatives. And all it takes is for the union to find one weak district and then those contract terms are pushed as the norm for subsequent negotiations elsewhere in the state.
Having the state legislature pass bills which would take some of the issues off the table at the local level would begin to level the negotiating playing field – and benefit our childrens’ education.
The power of the tax cap legislation is that it is forcing more and more economic terms of teachers’ union contracts into the public eye. Once public, things will never be the same.
Or, to put it in more tangible terms for East Greenwich, based on information in this post:
- 68 out of 231 teachers received a $5,000/year cash bonus last year for not using the district’s health insurancee program. A $340,000/year cost for this buyback program.
- 110 teachers had the family health insurance plan and 37 teachers had the single health insurance plan, at an estimated 2008-09 cost of $1,860,624.
As the School Committee negotiates a new contract with the NEA now, it knows the underlying issues which it will face after the contract is signed:
- The tax cap will limit the allowable increase in spending.
- If the new contract maintains the status quo and does not eliminate the cash bonus for the buyback program, then the budget will be $340,000 higher.
- If the new contract maintains the status quo of a 5%/10% co-pay mixture and does not yield at least a 20% co-pay, then the budget will be about $200,000 higher.
- If the new contract only tweaks the status quo, the tax cap will likely force school budget cuts next year. And the “price” for maintaining the current excessive adult entitlements will mean the School Committee has only two other alternatives: Cut educational programs or cut teachers – or both.
As Ms. Forti asks in her editorial, how do either of these two alternatives benefit our children’s education?
Educational programs and jobs for teachers OR excessive adult entitlements. The power of the tax cap law is that it is finally forcing everyone to make conscious tradeoffs between these two alternatives so towns can live within the financial means of their taxpaying citizenry.
Which alternative will the School Committee choose? Which alternative will the NEA choose? Which alternative do individual teachers prefer and will they speak to the NEA about it? Which side of the debate will you personally choose to be on? And are you going to speak up about your opinion right now – when it matters?
We will learn a lot in the coming weeks and months about the priorities and values of the various stakeholders, won’t we?
Remember: Anchor Rising is THE place to go for information on the teachers’ strike and contract issues in Rhode Island. See the Extended Entry for all relevant links.
To get up to speed, here are the links – in chronological order – to all Anchor Rising posts about the East Greenwich teachers’ strike and the NEA:
Saying “No” to Legalized Extortion
Education Partnership Reports: Learning a lot more about RI teachers’ union contracts (The reports linked to in this post make an important contribution to understanding how teachers’ union contracts are about adult entitlements, not the education of our children.)
Reflecting on Labor Unions on Labor Day (This is a particularly important post for understanding the NEA’s political agenda and financial resources.)
Update on the East Greenwich Teachers’ Contract & Suggested Future Actions
Breaking News on Anchor Rising: East Greenwich Teachers to Strike on Tuesday
More on the Issues in the East Greenwich Teachers’ Union Strike (This is a particularly important post on the substantive issues in dispute in East Greenwich.)
The NEA’s Latest Disinformation Campaign in East Greenwich
Sometimes What is Old is New: Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation
East Greenwich School Committee: Press Release & General Update
Mr. Subliminal Must Have Written the EG Teachers “Open Letter”
The Continuing NEA Disinformation Campaign in East Greenwich: Lies, More Lies & Even Some Melodrama
News Flash: Judge Orders East Greenwich Teachers Back to Work on Friday, September 7
Another Lie by the NEA: East Greenwich Teachers Would Take Pay Cuts Under School Committee Proposals (This is an important post to read as it torpedoes another critical lie by the NEA.)
The NEA in East Greenwich: Reflections On The Week That Was (This post includes some important comments on the issues underlying the debate about the unresolved statewide education funding formula issue.)
Other relevant posts on Anchor Rising include:
Burrillville Teachers to Students: Let the Pawns Skip School
Crowley, You Charmer
Researching from Outside the Library
Children Are Their Life? No, Children Are Their Leverage.
Citizen Context for Negotiations
One Side of the Phone Conversation
My Favorite Samuel Gompers Quote
The Guidebook to Public-Abuse
Not Quite Breaking (Except of Taxpayers’ Backs)
The Other Side of the Conversation in Tiverton
The Rhode Island Right’s Bizarro Politics
A Case of Crossed Hands
Best We Can Do Is Get Involved Every Time
The Continuing Saga of the Funding Formula Distraction — A Tale of Two Cities
(These three posts immediately above in this section address the important questions of (i) what RI law and court decisions say about teachers’ strikes; (ii) the tax cap and level funding of education; and, (iii) statewide education funding formula.)
This Is the Way the System Works, the System Works, the System Works
A Mere Suggestion for the Teachers’ Unions
Tiverton School Committee Shuffles Its Offer
Hold on, hold on. Keep the money coming!
These Are Professionals?
Other Public Education News