Last year on May 23 the Menomonee Falls School Board approved what I hope will be the final contract ever for the district. At the time I was opposed to the decision and felt it was a serious mistake. My wife, who is now running for the School Board, disagreed with me. At the time the Teachers Unions were leading the fight to restore collective bargaining and attacking the best leader I have seen in politics in a long time, Scott Walker.
This clouded my opinion into thinking our side might be losing the battle in our very conservative community. Now I want to explain in this blog some reasons my wife may have been right.
Before I begin, I want to say despite my opposition, I was not happy with the behavior of some on my side. Mark Belling and others, attacked the school board members personally. I amost understand the protesters shouting shame as my wife and I enter the Lincoln-Reagan Dinner for the Waukesha GOP, last April, but I would like to see conservatives take the high road. I took the opportunity to have a discussion with a current school board member. They are not career politicians, but rather people who serve because they want to see that our children get a good education. They may have mis-read the likely future outcomes of the legal challenges to Act 10 putting more pressure than needed to accept what they felt was a favorable deal for the district.
First, we need to look at why they felt the need to do anything before the court settled the Act 10 legal battle. Contract negotiations were initiated in the fall of 2010. Included in the negotiations with the union, the School Board had been working to switch health providers, even before Scott Walker took office. Through a health care study, the district was determined to move Humana, and would start July 1, 2011. If my memory is correct, the district needed to give WEA Trust a thirty day notice on cancelation. They were coming close to the time and needed to make some decision. The district had an 18 month lock on price for the new carrier that gave the district $700,000 in savings. The next week was Memorial Day meaning time was short to make the decision and give the 30 day notice to WEA Trust.
Still my big concern was the second year of the contract. You could argue with tougher negotiations and union knowing it only had months, at most, left before their power would be gone, that they could have got a one-year deal, but there is no way of knowing that. This point is irrelevant by the time of the vote since it would be very difficult to get that change made quickly enough. My concern with the second year of the contract was that they would have trouble with the budget for this coming school year. However, with the deal last month for more concessions from the union before the window expired to do so, provided by the legislature and Scott Walker, that took away that argument.
Included in the contract, in addition to switching health insurance carriers the teachers are making the same 5.8% contribution as state employees, they are paying 8% to 15.8% of health insurance premiums depending on the choice of plans which did end up less than state employees based on the larger numbers choosing the plan with the smaller network. In addition, they cut post-retirement healthcare by more than half. I asked if the School Board would have taken more if Act 10 were in place in time and the answer was no. These changes are actually similar to what other school districts achieved that did not make contracts and went solely off Act 10.
On the mind of the members of the School Board were several other points:
- The contract locked in the savings giving stability for the administration to prepare for the coming school year even if the courts took months more to make the decision.
- If we failed or fail in the future to keep Act 10 in place, the Menomonee Falls last contract is a much more favorable place to start from than the one they had.
- The school board and administration now have time to put the handbook together and plan a well thought out transition.
Some have claimed if they had implemented Act 10 fully that they would not have laid off teachers. This statement is ignorant in two ways. First there is no such thing a full implementation of Act 10, since for instance, you could eliminate health coverage all together under Act 10. Second in a district with declining enrollment at several levels like Menomonee Falls it would not be prudent to keep more staff if you felt could deliver the needed services with less staff.
The contract is actually a success of Act 10. Without Act 10 there is no way the school district would have got anywhere near the savings they got. There are districts that waited until Act 10 was settled and had teachers sacrifice less. If our district waited and did the same thing it would have been used as an example of how Act 10 was working. It is unfair to compare Menomonee Falls School Board passing a contract to Milwaukee where they irresponsibly did a deal for four years knowing big budget cuts would come, a new governor promising to cut spending, and federal money to stimulate public unions going away. It is also not like Kenosha where they are firing large numbers of teachers because of the deal they made. Those contracts should be serious election issues and those board members should be held accountable for their lack of concern for education in their communities.
I have read through the contract and it has positive aspects listed above in addition to creating an opportunity to implement merit pay in the coming school year. I see several options for balancing future budgets using Act 10. First, like my wife suggests on her website, larger deductibles which fit well with going self- insured that the district moving toward at as it gets data from Humana, which is something WEA Trust refused to do. Second, currently the district pays the whole cost of long term disability insurance, this could be an option for the employee at some cost to the employee. Third, the contract allows 12 sick days per year, I have not used 12 sick days in my last 10 years. This could be lowered to 8 and still be more than fair.
The last thing I would point out is the two other conservative candidates are making a big deal about the contract and use of Act 10, basically the main point of their campaigns. Yet when asked what they would do differently they had a Rick Perry moment, but a least Rick Perry just forgot his plan, these two never had one. They have not prepared themselves in any way to do better than the people they are complaining about.
For the School Board elections here in Menomonee Falls we should not make support of this contract the big issue. My wife is not “sold out” to any union nor would she ever “sell out” to the unions. She does want to work with all employees, as any leader should, to achieve better results. She will support using the tools given in Act 10 to control costs and has put the effort in to be the “Competent Conservative” in this race.