Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Unsettled contract is about economics, not performance

I wrote the following editorial for the Rochester Eccentric. It ran on December 7, 2006.


Unsettled contract is about economics, not performance

Things have taken an interesting twist in the ongoing negotiations between Rochester Community Schools and the Rochester Education Association, the teacher's union.

Somehow teachers have been misled into believing their contract is tied directly to the level of satisfaction board members have with their teaching skills and dedication. Or, viewed from another angle, some teachers seem to feel the fact that a contract hasn't been reached implies that board members view them negatively.

Nothing could be further from the truth, at least from my perspective.

While I cannot speak for the board, I believe this is a most worrisome concern.

Recently, I received nearly 200 letters from RCS teachers outlining the many wonderful things they do for the district. This is an inspirational reminder of their commitment to their profession, and to our children. I enjoyed reading each of them, and have responded to every letter I've received.

While these letters share many interesting details, they didn't change my impression of our teachers. I continue to have the utmost respect and appreciation for the employees of Rochester Community Schools -- teachers and support staff alike.

Other district officials and administrators frequently echo this sentiment with sincerity -- both publicly and privately.

Obviously it was neither spontaneous nor coincidental that hundreds of teachers chose to send letters to my home, and to the homes of six other board members. This was clearly an organized effort. One cannot help but wonder if a divisive message was used to motivate this campaign.

Additionally, I am also concerned about the tone and content of teacher speeches at recent board meetings. The common theme is that teachers work hard, and feel unappreciated. It's true teachers work hard, but it's completely false they are not appreciated.

In the short-term, making teachers believe they are unappreciated may work as a rallying cry, but this ill-conceived and troublesome strategy has the potential of causing long-term damage to the relationships between the district, the teaching staff, and the community.

It's crystal clear that most Rochester teachers do a great job. They want -- and deserve -- the most this district can provide. But this is not a merit-pay system, and increases are not based on the level of board satisfaction with employee performance.

Many teachers have spectacular achievements. Fortunately, the really great teachers are driven by their own individual professionalism and their commitment to excellence.

And while they certainly deserve our praise, the existing "one-size-fits-all" contract that governs this system doesn't provide the flexibility to financially reward those teachers.
Sadly, these contracts are about economics, not results.

The simple reality here is that there are spending limits. These limits are not created by or based on performance. They are based on the available dollars.

This is all about financial balance, and it is entirely inaccurate -- and irresponsible -- to have some characterize present negotiations as some sort of performance evaluation.

Teachers, administrators, and support staffs alike all work hard for this district and are respected. Any suggestion to the contrary serves no useful purpose, and is insulting to the fine men and women that serve our community and our children.

Mike Reno is a member of the Rochester Community Schools Board of Education.