The NEA’s non-serious proposal on the meaning of ‘balance’ in teachers’ union contracts
The opinion page of the February 21, 2008 edition of the East Greenwich Pendulum carried a letter from the co-presidents of the East Greenwich Educational Association, the local branch of the NEA teachers’ union, in which they wrote (not available on-line) the following under the heading of “Teachers union heads seeking ‘balance’ in contract”-
We, along with everyone else are very frustrated that a “contract” is the prominent education story in East Greenwich when there is so much excellent in our schools to be reporting on. Teachers contracts should be settled well before the first day of school.
We all want East Greenwich schools to remain one of the best in the state. On these points, we think everyone can agree.
To that end, we are focusing on finding balanced terms for a settlement that is fiscally responsible for the town, yet not too far below the national cost of living adjustment or the RI state average for teachers. We need to look at the big picture down the road so we will be able to attract and keep highly qualified teachers in East Greenwich. This has become a problem in recent years.
New teachers look at and compare numerous contracts before accepting a position. The entry level step in EG is the 6th lowest in the state. Additionally, EG does not offer such things as social security, longevity, sick day buyback incentives as many other towns do, yet we currently contribute above the average healthcare cost shares found statewide for teachers. We are very mindful that the “structure of the contract” remain at least average in terms in terms of salary. We have put a well below average request on the table and tried to balance that with acceptable healthcare costs. There have not been any “high salary demands” at any time during this negotiation process, as we have been very cognizant of the budget issues all along. We would like to find a fair medium that won’t completely erode the contract as a whole even more to ensure we can be competitive in the future.
Judi Cavanaugh/Donna Hayes
Well, isn’t that touching.
Today’s Pendulum carried my editorial response:
I was delighted to read that EGEA Co-Presidents Cavanaugh and Hays are seeking “balance” in the teachers’ union contract.
They claim to seek a cost of living adjustment not too far below the national average. Great, we accept their offer! How kind of them to unilaterally give up the 8-12%/year salary increases embedded in contractually-defined increases for 9 of the 10 job steps – which EG residents have been generously funding every year throughout this entire decade, increases that are still incorporated in all current contract proposals by both the School Committee and the EGEA union.
Now it does seem rather silly for the EGEA to describe the existing 5-10% healthcare co-pays as “acceptable” when the EG residents funding their healthcare are typically paying 20-30%. Surely somebody has advised the EGEA that knowing your audience is a good idea when trying to persuade taxpaying residents to accept contract terms which are not in their economic self-interest. And perhaps in their next letter the EGEA can also explain how EG town employees represented by the NEA can pay 20% co-pays but EG teachers represented by the NEA can’t pay 20%? (Also note that their letter describes 5-10% co-pays as above the average for RI teachers; some “balance” across the state, no?)
As to their argument that EG has to pay at or above average teachers’ salaries in RI to retain or attract the best teachers, take a step back and contemplate the absurdity of that argument: Suppose a teacher has the opportunity to teach in EG or Barrington, arguably the two nicest towns in RI. Is there really any rational person who thinks EG has to match salaries paid in places like Central Falls or Providence in order to keep teachers from leaving the EG teaching environment for those other communities? Please!
Then there is the broader issue of whether the EGEA’s claim about EG paying below average for job step 1 is even true, a reasonable concern given the EGEA’s history of spreading disinformation – such as last Fall’s now-disproven “pay cuts for teachers” nonsense. Here is a reason to be skeptical: While I don’t have recent RI data, third-party data from the 2003-2004 Rhode Island Association of School Committees’ teacher data report showed East Greenwich salaries ranked as follows: The top job step 10 salary was the 7th highest out of 36 districts. The job step 5 salary for teachers was 9th highest out of 36 districts. So I find it hard to believe that EG teachers suddenly became poorly paid only several years later.
At a minimum, the EGEA is misleading EG residents when it talks only about job step 1 – who are then on a track likely to give them 8-12%/year salary increases for the next 9 years – as it knows that over 60% of all EG teachers are at job step 10 and only 1 of 231 teachers is currently at job step 1.
By the way, in the spirit of advancing the cause of “balance,” did you know that the median total cash compensation for EG teachers this year is between $69,000-70,000? That means 50% of EG teachers earn at least $69,000/year. And the ones who earn less than the median are receiving 8-12%/year salary increases. While all of them currently pay only 5-10% healthcare co-pays.
By golly, the EGEA is right! We do need some “balance” in the teachers’ union contract. Balance on key financial terms just like the rest of the taxpaying residents who fund the schools. It’s all we ask. It’s all we have ever asked for.
Donald B. Hawthorne
Former EG School Committee member
Same old, same old. As a reminder, here are links to some of the key prior postings on this year’s EG teachers’ union contract silliness:
East Greenwich Pendulum Viewpoint: Clarifying the Teachers’ Union Contract Debate With Facts
The NEA in East Greenwich: Reflections On The Week That Was
More on the Issues in the East Greenwich Teachers’ Union Strike
East Greenwich Teachers’ Union Contract Negotiations Update: School Committee Stays Focused on Priority #1, Educational Programs for Children