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Sunday, June 12, 2011

For the record 2, pension boogalloo

by folkbum

By popular demand!, I bring you an addendum to the post I wrote last March urging my union, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, to sit down with the Milwaukee Public Schools and work out something to make the cuts imposed by Governor Walker's budget a little less devastating. (I did comment on twitter Tuesday during the Board meeting, but apparently my critics hanging on my every word to learn my opinion haven't figured out how to work the tittums machine yet.)

The backbone of this conviction of mine that something else needs to be done is simply this: Neither MPS nor the children of Milwaukee are the enemy here. Under different circumstances, I would agree with former MTEA president Mike Langyel when he says, bluntly, that we did the negotiating once already, and we're done.

And Mike is right about the first part, even if he's wrong about the next step: The union stepped up last fall and made concessions that squared the district's finances based on a reasonable prediction of what MPS's money situation would look like, using, in fact, a reduced prediction for revenue limits, rather than what the statutes projected. At the time the contract was signed, the outlook for 2011-2012 was good, with few layoffs or cuts predicted in large part because of the union concessions. The concessions already made will save nearly $100 million over the next two years. This on top of a negotiated pay freeze for this year and last.

At the time we signed this contract, no one in the union or at MPS expected the size and scope of the cuts that have materialized under Walker's budget. The cuts to schools seem to have been a huge surprise to everyone, in fact.

So let me be clear: Anyone who says that MTEA hasn't been willing to make concessions to save jobs or help out the district's finances (or "share the sacrifice") is just plain lying.

But still. I do think the union needs to step up again, because hurting our kids or our colleagues is a piss-poor way to move forward, even with the excuse that Scott Walker is the real enemy. Blaming larger class sizes on the governor's intransigence may be a decent rhetorical strategy, but practically it still leaves me with larger class sizes.

So I'm going back to what I wrote in March. The union should offer concessions, starting with taking furlough days and killing the "sweetener." The 2011-12 calendar includes required professional development days in the place of the former WEAC teacher convention days. Those should be made regular school days (or optional PD days), and MPS should end the school year two days earlier, paying teachers for two fewer days of work. And the sweetener should be discontinued or, at least, made into an opt-in supplemental pension. As I noted in March, that's a solid $20 million in additional concessions.

Teachers could also give back a portion of the scheduled raise next year--as noted, the first we're getting in a while. The raise is set to be 2.5%. At the same time, teachers will be kicking in 2% of our base salary for health insurance, which is part of how MPS is getting nearly $50 million in savings next year. If we give back the other .5%, and take, in effect, no raise for the third year in a row, that alone would pay for every school nurse and then some. A more generous offer might be to give up the full 2.5% raise on top of the insurance premium share. This also keeps the base salary steady, making the raise scheduled for 2012-2013 smaller on net for the district. Combined with the furloughs, that amounts to between 1.6% and 3.6% of salary; the district is seeking up to a 5.8% cut in salary, masked as a pension contribution.

And that's part of the key here for me: giving back something more without setting the precedent of teachers' paying doubly for their own deferred compensation (i.e., pensions).

I understand MTEA's point that opening any part of the contract could subject the whole contract to legal challenge pending various court actions. However, it seems the legislature is set to provide some cover for a concession like this if it is done quickly, which is what I encourage MTEA to do.

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