Prepared Notes for Board Meeting Ė WEA Offer
Marc A. Schare
The issue before us is whether to accept the offer from the Worthington Education Association. For months, we have received numerous emails and constituent contacts asking us to get the WEA to come back to the bargaining table. Tonight, I want to share my views on the overall situation and then discuss the specifics of the WEA proposal.
Let me first address the issue of concessions in the generic sense. This is the second time this decade that our district has determined that a three year agreement was underfunded and would result in program cuts and the requirement to directly or indirectly ask for union concessions. Everybody on both sides of the negotiation table understood that without a levy passing, there would need to be significant cuts in the district to pay for the contract. If this was a concern, we could have jointly structured an agreement such that contract terms were contingent on levy passage, the CPI and so forth. We didnít do that. If the ramifications of that contract result in program cuts, so be it. It may be fashionable to blame the teachers, their union or the state but at the end of the day, we agreed to the contact and we should expect to live with it. Maybe weíll be more careful next time, but, for now, I would no more expect the WEA to offer a concession than I would be willing to offer one myself had the district received unexpected revenue. I know this is not a popular view, but in business, you donít go back on contracts. The willingness of the WEA to even entertain this gesture is very much appreciated.
That said, the WEA has made an offer that does not amend the current contract and is therefore not a concession. †It is more properly labeled as a pre-negotiation on a contract that would have been negotiated in the spring or summer of 2011. The pre-negotiation would result in no base salary increases in the first year after the current contract expires with all other conditions remaining the same. I believe the WEA is sincere in their desire to be fair to both the taxpayers and their membership.
To properly evaluate this offer, there are two interrelated questions that must be decided. The first is whether any pre-negotiation is desirable and the second is whether this is a good deal for our district.
As to the first question, all things being equal, I see no reason to rush the negotiation of the 2011-2012 union agreements. Just to put some context behind this, during the 2008 negotiation cycle, I participated in dozens of meetings and discussions over a 6 month time horizon and my colleagues were equally engaged. This time, Iíve been part of two meetings totaling approximately 45 minutes. To say that this action has not been thoroughly vetted would be an understatement. We are apparently contemplating this action because we believe it would help pass a levy and it would satisfy community requests for shared sacrifice. Even if it does help pass the levy, in my opinion, it is bad policy to rush our most significant contractual obligation in hopes of picking up a few undecided voters.
As to the second question, there is simply no way to evaluate this proposal because we have no way of knowing the climate we will face in 2011-2012. While there is clear upside in a zero percent base salary increase, there is also clear downside in the unlimited risk we take with health care as the taxpayer percentage contributions for both premiums and HSA contributions will be unchanged. The proposal also commits us to no changes to the salary index or to the step raise schedules. Finally, there are a great many unknowns with regard to both state funding and new mandates in the next biennium. To be truly helpful, what was needed here was the option of taking this proposal that the district could exercise or not in 2011. As it is, any attempt to weigh the pros and cons of this proposal would be guessing. We simply cannot anticipate contingencies out that far in advance and as previously noted, two out of the last three times we negotiated three year agreements, which is what this is, we or our constituents wound up asking for concessions less than a year after the agreement was finalized. †
I expect to have policy differences with the administration and my colleagues from time to time. Indeed, the fact that we are not carbon copies of one another is one of the strengths of our board. One area where I had hoped we would find broad consensus is transparency in district operations, and that is something I find very troubling about this evening. We are voting on a union contract, arguably, the third most important vote we can ever take next to hiring a Superintendent and Treasurer. The vote was not on the agenda. Indeed, as of last evening, I still did not have confirmation from our board President that there would even be a vote. Transparency can not be abandoned when inconvenient for levy politics. Indeed, thatís when our commitment to transparency must be at its strongest.
What will be the results of this action? By locking in our structural deficit for another year, we are setting ourselves up, assuming Novemberís levy is successful for an 8+ mill levy in 2012 that would last for two years under current assumptions. Given what we know about the state budget, that would seem to be a best case scenario. There are other ramifications of this action. Many of our constituents believe that we should jointly work with the WEA on having a performance component in the compensation system. The Treasurerís Advisory has called for structural change in the compensation system. The contract contains numerous provisions that interfere with our ability to provide a quality education. All of these items are fair game for collective bargaining. This contract extension delays any such efforts by an entire year.
For all of these reasons, Iím voting against this contract extension but I want to be crystal clear. My overriding concern is for the programs that we might have to cut in order to fund even this one year extension and our willingness to enter into a three year agreement in this time of great uncertainty. I very much appreciate the WEAís willingness to make the proposal and I regret having to vote no for the reasons mentioned above.