The Same Old Local Political Roundabout
As circumstances deteriorate, it’s instructive to observe the varying reactions and strategies for handling them. In Tiverton, the established order, so to speak, has redoubled its efforts to keep the negative focus on Tiverton Citizens for Change in the hopes that people won’t notice that the plans for improvement bear a striking resemblance to the plans that got the town into its current mess. I’ve got a letter pointing out the ’round-and-’round nature of the debate:
On January 27, 2009, the school committee approved a largely retroactive contract for teachers that ate up about $300,000 of that year’s budget, added approximately $150,000 to the current year’s, and is contributing more than that to the $600,000-plus increase in salaries and benefits budgeted for the next fiscal year. At a November 2008 meeting, Ms. Pallasch argued for approval, saying, “Let’s start working on the new one, and give ourselves a little bit of room to refocus on the classroom and away from the adults.” The argument was that we should resolve the running dispute while there was still time to negotiate the subsequent contract amicably.
At the time, I spoke up to predict that the union would not negotiate. Rather, it would wait out the recession based on the obvious reasoning that it could avoid concessions during hard economic times and — as we’ve taught its members to expect — receive retroactive raises when times improved. I also handed out a chart showing that there had been no abatement of the increases in teacher salaries and benefits in the past decade. Indeed, the per-pupil dollar amount had gone up more (54%) than the same number for the state as a whole (40%). Over the same period, the chart showed that most other expenditures had hardly moved.
Well, negotiations did not resume with an amicable tone. Indeed, in August, the union pointed out a clause in the contract extending it for another year. The school committee had somehow missed the trick that it was supposed to notify the union of its intention to negotiate the next contract a full month before the previous one was actually approved. Changes in healthcare copayments for which the committee had budgeted went out the window. So did negotiations.
And the usual suspects are back, making all of the union’s arguments for it in advance of the debate. Wealthy people wanting to increase taxes rather than stand firm with the organized labor behemoth that has soaked up a growing portion of our educational and municipal funds.
The system is broken. Revving it up for another season is not the solution.