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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

For the record

by folkbum

THURSDAY UPDATE: The MTEA position here is, apparently, "hold firm, no concessions." It sounds like this is in part because getting the contract re-opened and closed again by next Friday's deadline is asking too much, and in part because of long history of inflexibility, especially in the current leadership. I think it's the wrong decision. Read on for Wednesday's post:

I have been working on this post for like three weeks now, but this is not an easy one. Not because I have some kind of compunction against doing this sort of thing, but because the answers are not easy to come up with. MPS has a $74 million hole for next year's budget. That's a lot of cheddar.

(And, note, MPS estimates that the "tools" Walker provided to give MPS "maximum flexibility" would save MPS less than $50 million. He pretty clearly lied when he said school districts would make up in savings what he proposed in cuts.)

We have a limited amount of time to do something, anything. Starting next Friday, the ability for the union and the district sit down and hammer out a deal like this becomes illegal. As in, against the law. And the contract, absent any change before next Friday, will be locked in, as is, $74 million behind next year and $90 million behind the year after. With no ability to bargain a way out of the contract--and no legal way to break it, either--that could do some real damage to teachers, schools, and, worst of all, students.

So I keep making lists, running numbers, and puzzling over the possibilities.

But, for the record, this is what I passed on to several MTEA folks who attended a must-go meeting earlier tonight about, well, What To Do.
1. Furloughs. I've said it before, and I'll say it again--furlough teachers on teachers' convention days. Savings? About $4 million. If we made it three furlough days--give teachers the option of skipping the August organization day or the June record day (though I bet most of us would just work it free)--that gets us closer to $6 million.

2. The supplemental pension, aka "the sweetener." This is a 30-year-old anachronism, begun in the heady days of the Reagan administration, for reasons that no longer remain relevant. And I have made this argument repeatedly before, too. Dump it. At most, let teachers opt-out (no change to their salary) or stay in (with the cost of the pension plan deducted from their salary). In recent years, the annual MPS investment in the sweetener has ranged from $4 million to $19 million. Savings? Assume around $15 million.
For those of you playing along at home, that's about $20 million. Which is not chump change, I grant you (and all out of teachers' pockets), but it is not $74 million.

However, it is a pretty bold statement. And cuts beyond these, which will be hard for some to swallow, get really tricky. More on health care? The contract already calls for stepped-up contributions starting in June this year. Another year of wage freezes? We just did two years in a row frozen. I have heard rumors of a four-day school week (like they're doing in Hawaii this year), but we still have to put in a minimum number of hours with students.

I don't know--haven't heard yet--what was decided at that meeting earlier. I am hopeful that it was something like or as big as the cuts I offer here. And I hope it's something that can be sealed quickly, before all our hands are tied.

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