Thursday, March 11, 2010

End School Board / Union Negotiations

It's hard for a conservative like me to believe that government can be the solution, but when it comes to schools, it's even harder to picture it getting any worse.

During my five-plus years serving Rochester Schools, the school board did not pass one single budget that was balanced. Every year they approved deficit spending.

Of course, there was plenty of hand-wringing, but the facts speak for themselves.

Even today, the board is in negotiations with their local teacher's union, and have been for nearly a year. Yet despite losing some $900,000 per month this year -- and projecting a $14 million dollar deficit for next year -- the board continues to plod along with no sense of urgency, passing contract extensions again and again.

Rochester is not unique. I know many "rebels" on school boards across the state, and their experiences are nearly identical.

The current system fails students and taxpayers alike.

Local control is currently "out of control." With local control comes responsibility and accountability. School boards have shown none.

I wrote the following editorial proposing a reduction in school board responsibilities, which ran today:

Detroit News: Let state negotiate teacher contracts (03/11/10)

I've pasted below the article in case the link doesn't work.

==> Mike.

Let state negotiate teacher contracts


Michigan spends more than $13 billion -- roughly one-third of the state budget -- on K-12 education, with an estimated 85 percent going to salaries and benefits.

Most of that $11 billion is doled out in piecemeal negotiations between a well-financed and organized Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, and more than 500 school boards around the state. When school boards square off against the MEA, they are out of their league.

Local boards lack financial acumen. I should know; I used to serve on one. At best, they attempt to tweak the nearly identical, outdated contract model governing nearly every district in the state. Even with innovative alternatives, boards lack the resolve or skill to bargain them into practice.

This mismatch could be fixed by removing the amateurs and putting state negotiators at the table with the MEA and AFT Michigan to create a single statewide teacher contract.

The illusion of "local control" is a fallacy. Union locals get their bargaining script from regional MEA Uniserve directors, who are well-financed, seasoned negotiators with a bargaining vocabulary dominated by "gimme" and "no." School board members are an often-changing group of elected community volunteers.

To further taint the process, the teacher union sits on both sides of the bargaining table. It influences local school board elections with a tangled web of state and county political action committees and gets union allies elected. It conducts membership training seminars titled, "Elect your Own Boss."

When negotiations stall, mediators and so-called "fact finders" intervene, the result is often the status quo.

Even state laws have become meaningless. In 2008, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Macdonald refused to hold striking MEA Wayne-Westland teachers accountable for their illegal actions. Another Wayne County judge let Detroit teachers illegally strike for 11 days before ordering them back to work in 2006. The Detroit school district failed to file a complaint with the state, so the union and rank-and-file members were never fined for their apparent violation of the law.

"Local control" is the euphemism that is supposed to make us feel good about this unbalanced contest.

The state already sets school funding, retirement plans and tenure laws. They're setting the framework for teacher evaluations. They've tinkered with the school calendar. Why not add labor negotiations?

It would be far more productive and honest to pit state negotiators against the MEA. It'd be a complex undertaking, requiring a multi-year, phased-in approach. But it would be more efficient, transparent and more equitable to teachers statewide.

Local superintendents and administrators could focus more on education and less on negotiation. More local education dollars could be shifted from negotiators, lawyers and human resources personnel back to the classrooms. Significant savings could be found by consolidating business functions, such as payroll.

Perhaps the biggest improvement would come from making the state responsible for establishing affordable commitments to our teachers and then being accountable for funding those promises.

The bargaining process needs to change, in part, because educators receive exceptional benefits, including premium health care coverage and a defined-benefit pension plan. A step system contractually guarantees significant annual raises for newer teachers without regard to merit or funding. They receive various stipends, longevity pay and even accrue sick days, which they can cash in at retirement.

While there was nothing inherently wrong with offering this level of compensation in the past, these contracts are now unaffordable. Anticipated revenue cannot keep up with the guaranteed cost increases.

Health care costs increase 7 percent or more annually. The blended affect of "step system" pay raises increase payroll costs by 4 to 5 percent a year. The generous pension system is funded by a payroll tax on schools, and it just increased from 16.94 percent of payroll to a staggering 19.41 percent.

Local school boards don't have what it takes to address a problem of this magnitude. As scary as it sounds, the state may be our best hope for achieving fair and affordable school employee contracts that balance the interests of children, teachers and taxpayers.


Anonymous said...

Mike: you know full well that even if they did NOT extend the contract, the meter on the last contract keeps running. You write this AS IF the board could cut costs immediately.

The stubborn fact remains that until a new cost saving contract is in place, we tax payers are stuck with the old terms and conditions. Bla Bla Bla.

So the ceremonial extensions are just that. It is a ploy indeed. One intended to send the message that the board is willing to negotiate.

So the latest hallway gossip has the union mad because the board hired a "lawyer" to help negotiate.

Great! Now the tax payers have some representation. MEA has a full time "hired gun" for their side of negotiations that ONLY serves Avondale and Rochester. Yes well funded.

From the rumblings both sides are diggin in on concessions. The union of-course will think of none and the board is running out of money and must get relief on health care at a bare minimum.

Some union members are putting together cute little buttons that read. "We are'nt broke YET".

So in other words the union wants ALL the fund balance before they will consider ANY cuts. They would bankrupt the district and only then consider concessions.

But you know all this and publish this B.S. anyway.

Mike Reno said...

Good to hear from you, Marty.

I'm glad you raised the "woe is me" position that boards take whenever this issue is raised.

They profess to be powerless, further reinforcing my point that local school boards should be removed from the equation.

And for what it's worth... they are not helpless. They just act helpless.

Anonymous said...

Right back at ya Mike. You had a great opportunity while on the board to make changes but pulled the "they all hate me" card at every chance with your "my way or I'll whine to the paper" behavior.

Completely innefective and now relagated to TEA parties.

Some of us are still engaged and trying to work within a glacier slow system to make the best possible changes under the circumstances. Interesting that your ONLY solution is bigger government.

So keep throwing stones and grenades. I was here long before your carpet bagging rear end and I will be here long after you dry up and blow away.

Marty. :)

Mike Reno said...

Great opportunity... right. All I needed to do is accept the silly notion that it's OK that change -- if it happens at all -- is glacial.

If that's what makes you feel productive, then you just keep coddling. I'm still engaged... I just don't accept the premise that we need to move at glacial speed.

Whining? Never.

The carpet bagging comment is absurd. I've lived in my community since the 80's.

Finally, you've had your shot at me. Stick to the topic, or go find another blog.

Dorothy said...

Great to see you back online again, Mike!

Your proposal for cost effectively managing school employee contract talks statewide is timely, constructive and student-focused.

Not to mention rarely seen in these parts.

When do you figure Lansing's reform-minded legislators will take it up?

BTW, your troll is a dull, vacuous pest who leaves nothing but messy droppings for you to clean up. What’s the point?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Reno said...

Hello Dorothy. Politics has a big influence on everything in Lansing, and this sort of idea would be a political hot potato. We'll keep tossing out ideas, and see if we can make something stick.

(And by the way, please stop calling Marty a troll.)

Anonymous said...

You didn't answer her question. When will the legislature take it up? While you toss off some of us are working.

Mike Reno said...

Marty: I will not publish your rants, and did delete your post.

You do toss out a few relevant points, but you then pepper them with irrelevant insults. I don't think that people come here to follow your drama.

Having said that, there were a few points in your diatribe worth repeating:

“So no acceptance for deliberate change? Just blow up all the contracts statewide with the MEAT fisted hands of big government. That's what you are proposing?

I'm still on topic. So pull it if you want. Lansing won't act fast enough and when they do it will look like the health scare debacle.”

Unfortunately, you blend three arguments into a few sentences, and don’t develop an idea. It would be much more productive for your posts to be more focused, and less wandering.

So, pick any topic, and I’d be happy to exchange ideas.

1) I do support the idea of deliberate change… but that is not what we see school boards doing. They don’t even seem to realize that they are nose-diving into the ground, and at their “glacial pace”, there is no way they’ll pull up in time to avert a crash and burn. And that “crash and burn” doesn’t mean the end of public education, it instead means reduced academic opportunities for our children, or excessive taxes for our citizens.

2) Lansing might not act fast enough, but it’s hard to argue that they won’t act faster than school boards. They don’t always get it right, but at least they try SOMETHING. Boards do NOTHING. For example, Lansing wasn’t perfect on RTTT, but at least they made an effort.

3) Finally, the “health scare debacle” is indeed a good analogy, and merits further discussion. For now, I’ll point out that the state’s compensation, healthcare, and retirement plans for its direct employees are BY FAR more “normal” than those that our “deliberative” school board folks support.

Jack McHugh said...

Yeah, I made a similar argument last summer related to potential advantages of a single health insurance package for all school employees statewide:

"Most school boards are like 98-pound weaklings boxing against a powerful union that's rippling with political muscle . . . (The bad outcomes) are the inevitable result of the asymmetric balance between the union and most school boards at the bargaining table. In short, the union has 'captured' the process . . ."

"Local control" is a means, not an end. Sometimes it contributes to good government and liberty, and sometimes it diminishes these. Those who worship local control for its own sake bow to a false idol.

Practice Smart Blog Hygiene: Ban the Troll said...

Anonymous said...

Love the idea of an 800 pound gorilla negotiating on behalf of the kids...going toe-to-toe against the MEA's thugs!

If the pol's are too afraid of the MEA to do this for the kids, let's start a statewide petition to get it on the ballot.

Call it the 'Michigan Promise' and keep it!

Anonymous said...

Spread collective bargaining's wealth around to benefit Michigan schoolkids!

GREAT idea!

Anonymous said...

Added bonus:

No need for MEA to spend their hard-earned money on local school board campaigns.

They can use it to fund more MESSA ads!

(Has anyone else noted the Orwellian irony that while Obama and Pelosi are railing against insurance companies to inflame the public into supporting their health'care 'legislation' disaster, in Michigan, MEA is FLOODING the radio airwaves with syrupy ads evangelizing their own insurance company?)

Anonymous said...

Mike: back to this post and the your statement that the board "continues to plod along with no sense of urgency, passing contract extensions again and again."

When you and I both know that they (MEA) are sitting crossed arms glaring at our board and the "laywer" they hired for negotiations. This contract is at loggerheads because the board has set goals and the union flatly said NO. You may know what the "secret" strategy (if any)was as of December. I don't because no one is talking. There are bits and pieces in the hallway or at a budget task force meeting that come out.

So until impass and or fact finding, what would you do NOW to break the log jam? Can you make the calendar go faster?

The extensions are only a wilted olive branch offered until then.
One that we tax payers pay too much for.

So again. What could the board do NOW to impose a meaningful cost cutting contract? What would you do?

Lastly: the union "leaders" are very unhappy that the district "spent tax dollars on a lawyer". LoL

Well it is about time the kids and tax payers hired their own high dollar representation. (gun fighter I call him)

So it is not a "buisness as usual" negotiation this year.

Mike Reno said...

Hello Jack... great to hear from you!

I do recall your suggestion. You (and the Mackinac Center) have floated MANY worthwhile, commonsense suggestions.

Don't give up! :-)

Mike Reno said...

Hello Marty.

I disagree... it is still "business as usual".

In my opinion, the lawyer has done little or nothing to help the process. He's just another "status quo" guy.

Enough Already said...

I really like the idea of statewide school contract negotiations, yet it's unlikely our politicians will work to make it happen. What about putting this on the ballot for a public referendum?

Mike Reno said...

A ballot initiative is an interesting idea... and as I think about it, would probably be the only way to make this happen.

Big undertaking.

I'm not sure what's involved. I can try to ask around.

Anonymous said...

Ballot initiative in 2010!

This sounds like something the PTA should support.

Anonymous said...

The devil is still in the details. So instead of all the MEA gun fighters spread across the state, they rally in Lansing. We are still at loggerheads and the status quo. We just have a bigger circus tent.

Who pays for that circus tent?

Mike has said for years that unions influence local board elections. They do. He has said that this makes the local office holders beholdin to the union.

1) So what does a stand up to the union board member do that is not "buisness as usaul" at the table?

Back to my question. Since Rochested is in this status quo situation. "Buisness as usual" log jam.

2) What CAN be done that the board is not doing NOW?

3) What secret have I not been allowed to see Mike?

4) What can you tell me that I can use community pressure to finish this?

5) What labor negotiation move do you know that you will share?

6) Can the board impose better terms right now upon the expired contract?

7) Can the state?

8) Can the board fire all the teachers and start new? PATCO

9) If the board does NOT extend the contract any more? How much money will we save?

4) Can the board force anything to break this log jam?

I'm not playing any "helpless" card here. I am attempting to get answers you must have.

You obviously know or have ideas about something that can break the "buisness as usual" cycle.

What is it please?

Yes and No and specifics are welcome.

Thank You


New Lansing laws need the above answered and/or written into the bill.

TROLL ALERT! said...


YouHaveGOTtobeKidding! said...

The kids are paying for the circus tent, Marty.

They've paid for it in lost opportunities for many, many years.

Not all of them, of course, but far too many who were offered and bought into a weak curriculum because they didn't know any better, and the local experts weren't offering better guidance.

When Mike was on the school board trying to re-direct the discussion from union interests to students, you were front & center lobbing personal attacks and accusing him of all sorts of crazy nonsense, and now you want him to help lead this board out of the woods?

Why don't you ask your current board and the MEA what hope and change they have to offer besides eternally organizing the PTA to march on Lansing?

Chutzpah of the worst kind.

AMEN said...

AMEN to that!

Timekeeper said...

A very stimulating op-ed and a topic fit for intellectual discussion and apt comments; but, not on the company's clock. Big brother has been watching its servants for over a decade now and it appears that some blowhards (sorry employes) are spending more and more of their desk time not at work, but on very personal matters. Maybe it is time for the timekeeper to collate all the past postings?

Anonymous said...

To kidding: No I do not want nor expect Mr. Reno to lead this board.

What would be good is that he share what he knows with everyone regarding my questions.

Right here right now, what would a "stand up to the union" board do to break the "buisness as usual" cycle?

I have asked for specifics not demagoguery and hyperbole.

Enough of the Troll said...

That is great, Mr. Marty.

It appears you fought Mr. Reno during his time on the board.

You "do not want or expect" him to do anything now. Yet you now want specifics?

For what purpose?

You yourself have all but admitted that your questions are rhetorical. You are not in search of answers.

You are simply trying to bait and nit-pick, hoping to attach and-or discredit. You are just trying to be the he-man defender of your pals on the board.

And even if you were not, You have deviated from the topic of the post, and quite frankly are ruining any chance of a meaningful discussion on the topic.


Anonymous said...

The answers to those questions are the heart of breaking "the buisness as usual" contract negotiations. This whole topic is about getting Lansing to do what locals won't or can't. The same labor laws and contracts apply regardless of geography.

So why won't anyone come out and show the specifics of why the local board won't or can't break the log jam. What labor relations tactics have not been used? What tactics can be used? By Lansing or local?

The lack of any response suggests that the answers don't exist.

Mike Reno said...

Marty… I’ll ignore the advice this time, and will “feed the troll”.

Negotiations are difficult, no doubt.

But the “silver bullet” you seek does not exist.

"Negotiations" is driven by a mix of strategy, resolve, and effort. And leadership. And guts. And innovation.

It requires communication during the process. It requires flexibility and the willingness to adapt along the way.

When professional labor negotiators go into bargaining, they have a detailed and comprehensive understanding of their labor costs, and their potential revenue. They look at things short term and long term. They develop a strategy that takes all of these factors into account.

My experience is that none of that goes on in education.

Furthermore, education is managed by a public body, but there is little or no meaningful communication with the public. The importance of building support with the public cannot be underestimated. The MEA is doing it right now with their “pro-MESSA” ads.

And finally, you need to have effective people in the bargaining chair. Simply hiring a lawyer is not a solution.

I put forth an idea. You call it “hyperbole”. No checklist of action items is going to change your mind. You’ll just pick apart the checklist.

This discussion is going nowhere.

I can accept that you are content that the current board is doing everything they can. How about if YOU write something supporting that thesis and get it published.

Maybe YOU can make an effort to influence public opinion?

Anonymous said...

"...The importance of building support with the public cannot be underestimated. The MEA is doing it right now with their “pro-MESSA” ads..."


The MEA is building support for the MEA, NOT the students - even though they routinely use "the kids" as human shields to promote the union's interests.

In the rare case when a school board member has enough spine to advocate for STUDENT interests, the angry horde is summoned - by the MEA and the 'special friends' the cultivate in every district - to squelch the offending dissident by any means necessary.

The time-tested battle cry:

"You're not a team player..."

"You're bargaining publicly..."

"You're divisive..."

They whisper this nonsense into the ears of bus drivers and parapro's and cafeteria ladies, who are encouraged to show up at the next school board meeting in their solidarity shirts to give the stink-eye to the misguided schlub that dares to exercise a fiscal vigilance on behalf of the kids.

The ONLY way around this is to level the playing field:

Spread the wealth of collective bargaining around to benefit Michigan school children.

Hire a single statewide negotiating team to represent the students!

Anonymous said...

Lest you think the scenario described is absurdly juvenile - think again.

The PTA is a willing partner to the political goals and ambitions of the NEA - not just in Rochester, but in districts everywhere.

Plain and simple, the PTA is a political arm of the NEA.

Un-affiliating is a good place to start if you're looking for local control.

Anonymous said...

But what about the local school board? If Michigan hired a statewide negotiator what would they do?

Anonymous said...

No worries.

They could still wear their robes & tiaras and even bring their special school board gavels and scepters to regularly scheduled meetings with the commoners.

The BIG difference is we wouldn't have to rely on their financial management skills.

BIG difference.

Anonymous said...

Mike: NO I am not content that the board is doing all it can.

I didn't expect a "silver bullet". But your original article might lead someont to believe that negotiations are not that "difficult" and that our board is just "lazy" and "bought off". That is all I wanted to point out.

Troll, tool, whatever name you call is fine.

And no I won't pick apart your answers. Something needs to be done different. I have posted ideas to you before about going directly to the rank and file.

Why? Because the union leadership is not representing the best interest of their members let alone the students and community.

So as long as the union digs in and the board refuses to cave in, we wait.

Thank you for that expanded and informative response.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Troll @ 12:10 PM:

Where do you get:

"your original article might lead someont to believe that negotiations are not that "difficult" and that our board is just "lazy" and "bought off"."

You're making that up.

He said no such thing and if you can't recognize that, you need to work on "reading for meaning".

Mike's article proposes the exploration of a state negotiator to bargain on behalf of all students and all school districts.

It's a great idea. Michigan certainly has nothing to lose by examining its merits, and may just gain a great deal.

Pandermonium said...

Don't pick on Anonymous Troll @ 12:10 PM.

He's just pandering to his pals on the board.

Mike Reno said...

RE: Ballot Initiative

This came from my crack research team:

Signature Deadline in 2010:

May 26, 2010 (statutory initiative);
July 5, 2010 (constitutional amendment)

Number of Signatures Needed to Qualify:
304,101 (statutory initiative);
380,126 (constitutional amendment)

Rebels With a Cause said...

Let's fan out to see what we need to do!

Statewide bargaining representation WILL spread the wealth around to benefit Michigan schoolkids!

(Mike: Can you find out if this would be a statutory initiative or a constitutional amendment?)

PTA moms: If you want to make a difference for YOUR kids, THIS is
worth your time. You can follow the NEA/MEA/REA or you can take a stand for Michigan students by advocating for bargaining representation for STUDENT interests.

Stand UP for Students - YES! We Can! said...

MUST find a legislative quarterback, folks.

A solid stick-to-student-interests-type willing & able to weather the NEA/MEA blowback to do the right thing.

Step right UP!

Legal Eaglets said...

Background reading for results:

Fed Up With Politics as Usual said...

What do you think our state senate candidates would think about this?

Great platform for someone willing to challenge the status quo!

Anonymous said...

To Timekeeper: add up all the times and dates. Since you have nothing else to do. Compare the computer log as to when I come and go. See if you can find less then 50 hours per week. Don't forget week ends.

Meanwhile I just got off work. Ask Mike where I am.

See if Sarbanes Oxley applies.

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