At the end of 25 contract bargaining sessions between the Monroe County School District and the United Teachers of Monroe, and a letter of intent signed by all parties, then rescinded by the union, people on both sides expressed regret that the superintendent threw in the towel. But who could blame him?
Twenty-five sessions at six hours on average per session. There is a calculated cost to the district for our superintendent and his team doing this work. They spent an inordinate amount of time attempting an in-house solution.
Enter Mr. Bob Norton, labor attorney and three-time successful defender of the district against challenges by the union. These union-initiated challenges also cost the district money. Mr. Norton is not as expensive as committing our superintendent and his staff for 25 days. In fact, I expect Mr. Norton, an expert on this process, to cost far less and to be far more effective over the rest of the process.
The reason the board wants to keep "permissive" language in the contract allowing for unpaid furlough days is that it allows us to have impact bargaining if revenue comes in drastically below budget instead of declaring a fiscal emergency. The option of declaring a fiscal emergency has been used only once that I know of statewide, and you invite state intervention when you spend down your fund balance to a meaningless cushion.
This language in the contract is more than 40 years old. We used it for the first time in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, the Legislature passed a law that prohibited us from continuing to raid our fund balance to give raises. So in response to the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, we imposed furlough days after the union walked out of the impact bargaining to immediately balance the budget.
The language in the contract allows us to cut pay in an emergency without forced layoffs of employees. If the state intervened, it would have no problem forcing layoffs.
While other school districts held tight on raises from 2006 to 2010, the Monroe County School Board gave raises year after year by dipping into our reserves, hoping each year that property values would improve. After seven years they finally have. For the first time in seven years, we have extra money.
Since the board did not need to negotiate a contract to restore the employees' pay cut due to the furlough days, we did it as soon as we had the money last September. It was the right thing to do.
When cities and counties suffer property-value declines, they can raise the millage to generate a steady revenue stream. School boards do not have this option. Their millage is maxed out.
And with 80 percent of our operating budget going to people and the rest for utilities, supplies and insurance, our only option is to have fewer people or cut pay, or both -- a terrible choice. We did a little of both without violating the class-size amendment to the state Constitution.
The latest offer the union turned down on our teachers' behalf was a 2.49 percent raise. Plus, an extra day for training at the rate of $290 plus all teachers (the great majority) in Title One schools would receive an extra $450. They currently get $50, not reflective of the extra work in Title One schools.
To explain that in real dollars, a beginning teacher making $43,177 would get $1,075 (2.49 percent raise) plus $290 (an extra day) plus $450 (Title One increase) for a total of $1,815. A senior teacher with a bachelor's degree at Step 26 who makes $71,669 would get $1,785 plus $290 plus $450 for a total of $2,525.
Unfortunately, the governor's advertised $2,500 raise requires more money than his mandated tax brought to us. We have to allocate part of that money to the charter school teachers and it doesn't include the 14 percent cost of benefits that go along with that raise.
The total salary package for teachers is just over a million dollars. The total package for non-teachers is roughly just under $250,000. These are our lowest-paid people, in many cases. Their raise is 2 percent and the union wanted them to get 1 percent so more money would be available for the teachers. This is on record, and remember, those employees also had furlough days.
It's all moot now, as an impasse has been declared. In order to get our teachers the governor's raise, we recommended bringing the impasse directly to the board since that's where the decision is ultimately made. But here again, the union said no and that will delay the process and put it at risk of having the money being taken back by the governor.
Andy Griffiths has been a member of the Monroe County School Board since 1992.