Friday, March 30, 2012

What is the solution at Potsdam Central?

Rachel Wallace, a well-regarded PTSA officer posted the following comment in response to a blog posting by Sandra Morris about spending priorities in the school district. 

What is the solution? I don't know enough about how contracts are negotiated to understand what the options are. Mr. Brady had mentioned something to the effect that he "had nothing to negotiate with", and I have had teachers tell me that they had offered to pay more for insurance AND not take a raise to save their colleagues' jobs, but the union wouldn't allow it. If the Superintendent's hands are tied (?) and the union won't budge, what are we left with other than increasing costs, year after year? How can we fix this locally?

I would like to take the opportunity to address Ms. Wallace's questions. First of all, there is the issue of how contracts are negotiated. 
  • Superintendents are given the legal authority to negotiate and sign collective bargaining agreements with school district unions. Boards of Education are given the responsibility to ratify the contracts. If the union members also vote to ratify, then the deal is firm. Board ratification is legal approval to release the money to cover the costs incurred in the collective bargaining agreement. In the PCSD, the two BOE members on the Personnel/Negotiations Committee (and sometimes the BOE president) are  part of management's negotiations' team along with the Superintendent, the Business Manager, and a labor relations specialist (from BOCES). Attorneys for the school district occasionally show up but generally they answer questions via e-mail or telephone conference calls. 
  • It is worth noting that legal experts have repeatedly advised BOE members to use attorneys to negotiate these contracts. Why? Well, first of all good attorneys are trained about the Taylor Law (formally known as the Public Employees Fair Employment Act). "It refers to Article 14 of the NYS Civil Service Law that outlines the rights and limitations of unions for public employees in NYS." Lawyers are also trained in the use of precise language which helps districts avoid unintended consequences. Such unintended consequences can result in major problems. For instance, because the word "tenured" (in front of the word "teachers") was omitted from a PCSD contract with the teachers' union, the District had to give due process to untenured teachers. In other words, as soon as the District hired a teacher, the teacher had all the same protections as a tenured employee. The consequences for this mistake were significant for the BOE and Superintendent as it negatively impacted grievances and negotiations. Hiring someone with knowledge of labor law and with excellent writing skills is a must if BOE members are to protect the public's interest. 
The next issue - teachers who have offered to pay more for insurance and not take a raise to save their colleagues' jobs but the union won't allow it.
  • I know, too, of teachers who have expressed this sentiment. They are to be commended. However, the union is not a separate entity from its members. If union leaders do not reflect the wishes of their membership, then the members should elect colleagues who do reflect their values and priorities. 
The final point- Mr. Brady  stated that he "had nothing to negotiate with."
  • If this were true he and the BOE would not have been able to settle the Teachers' Contract on October 11, 2011. Teachers were given a 3.25% raise for this year, 3% for next year, and 3% for 2013-2014. In addition,  "The District agrees to continue paying 100% of the premium for teachers who retired on or before July 1, 2013 and their dependents, plus the Medicare payment. This insurance benefit extends beyond the term of the contract...". (The Medicare payments also go to spouses of retired employees.)  These contract provisions do not speak of money being tight. To agree to pay 100% of health insurance, when Mr. Brady has repeatedly expounded on the skyrocketing costs of health insurance premiums, is rather amazing.  As I have said before, contracts such as this lead directly to teachers and support staff being laid off, programs being cut, and class sizes increasing. What is the solution at the PCSD? It lies in deciding just where to spend the $25 million dollar budget.

No comments:

Post a Comment