The negotiations between teacher’s unions and school boards are often tense. Full out warfare, like the Reynoldsburg school is going through, is the exception. You don’t often get to see the talking points that are part of the negotiations displayed so publicly as the board has done on its website. It is obvious from the changes the school board is pushing on the teachers that this is a group with a radical ideological agenda that is sabotaging the school district.
The Reynoldsburg school board has placed a FAQ on the school website, giving the board’s side of the negotiations. This is highly unusual move. Normally both sides might give brief comments to the newspapers when there are sticking points, but it is considered bad faith to the negotiation process to go full public with the details of the plans for negotiations. The school board and the teachers representatives are hired to do the work of reaching an agreement, by posting a long online listing of talking points, the board is trying to draw all of the community into a fight that they were supposed to resolve by themselves.
(Edit Sept 13, SERB forwarded an unfair-labor-practice complaint by the teachers union for review by a judge. See more below.)
The bad ideas that the Reynoldsburg board members are pushing are part of a general agenda from the political right-wing to deprive teachers of security and pay. Nothing new there, it has been the agenda of the Republican party for the last 30 years to cut worker’s pay and squash unions. The FAQ makes it clear where the problem in the talks are coming from, the changes the board is asking from the teachers are radical and ideological.
They are also a warning to the parents of Grandview Heights about how a board with a right-wing agenda – as the current Grandview board has shown itself to be – can bring about chaos in the school.
“Performance evaluation” becomes everything
The Reynoldsburg board wants to remove step pay from some teachers, the formula that increases pay as a teacher accrues seniority. This has long been the way teachers are rewarded in Ohio, minimum steps are part of state law (for the first 11 years). This keeps wages above inflation, and rewards experience. “Performance evaluation” is how the Reynoldsburg board wants to go, which leaves teachers in the hands of school principals for any raises. If a teacher has a conflict with an administrator, over issues which have nothing to do with the quality of education, the administrator has the tool in hand to take money away from the teacher. That’s not a great difference in how administrators have always been able to control teachers, but in the past the union was on the side of the teacher. This moves the power into the hands of administrators, teachers can do little to protest unfair treatment.
The present Grandview school board seems to have the same ideological beliefs as the Reynolsburg board. Reading the Special Meeting February 9, 2014 meeting notes – that was the meeting that was held in a cabin 20 miles outside the city, attended by no parents or press – the board was discussing “developing a process for strategic compensation”.
Recent agreements between the Grandview Heights board and the teacher’s union have allowed the base salary to be held back as an acknowledgment by the teachers of a poor economy. That shows the union is working with the board. It doesn’t mean they want step pay taken away permanently. It would be a horrible break of faith if the board was to make the voluntary sacrifice of the teachers into a reason to take step pay away.
Taking away the Reynoldsburg teacher’s health plan
The most radical action taken by the Reynoldsburg board is to take the health care plan completely away from the teachers and replace it with a cash payment, to be used by the teacher to buy their own health care insurance.
The board webpage gives a rationalization that this is a “fairness” issue. If a teacher has a spouse with a job that offers a poor insurance plan, they now can be added to the teacher’s plan (with all the same deductable payments). The board says this isn’t fair to the taxpayers, because some teachers don’t have spouses.
Some teachers even have children! Funny that the board didn’t add kids to the additional burden list that the board has to pay for. If they did, their argument would immediately be seen as the ridiculous libertarian style reduction of all social contracts to monetary transactions. Using the board’s logic, it is also not “fair” for parents to ask taxpayers to pay for educations for their children – but that has been the social contract we have lived with in this country since its founding. It is the bedrock foundation of the school and the board itself!
The board argues that the new healthcare laws allows spouses to buy their own health care plan, so it isn’t up to the school to pay for spouses any more. It is true that the ACA means insurance is more available. That doesn’t take away the expectation that spouses and children will be covered by the healthcare plan at the school, if the teacher wants coverage.
Remember, heathcare plans have always been negotiated by teachers with school boards, with variable levels of coverage. Teachers often have given up higher pay, because they wanted the security of a good healthcare plan that they knew would cover their family. By taking away healthcare, the board is slapping the teachers in the face, breaking the deals that were negotiated in the past.
This heathcare theft by the school board is also driven by a big political motive. The right-wing hates Obamacare, and have been using every lever they can pull to try to make healthcare more difficult for employees. By using the transparently false argument of “more choice” to take insurance plans away from the teachers, they fulfill the predictions of the right that the ACA would cause people to be thrown off healthcare plans. “Look at the failure of Obamacare!” is the cry of the right-wing, while doing everything in their power to push people off insurance.
(By the way, the number of people on healthcare plans has been going up, the costs for heathcare have been going down.)
‘Junk Insurance’ motivating the board members
Offering cash instead of a healthcare insurance plan might sound like a neutral policy – if the teachers use to money to buy coverage that was similar to what they had in the past, why is it bad?
Read this story about ‘Junk Insurance’, low benefit plans that don’t meet the requirements of the ACA.
By switching to cash payouts for insurance, the teachers now have the ability to buy these junk policies. They don’t provide much coverage, but they sell themselves as being cheaper than ACA compliant plans, even with the penalties that must be paid. For someone who is young, healthy, and has been brainwashed into thinking this is “freedom from Obamacare”, they might save some money – until they have a major heath problem, which will leave them in financial ruin.
When you read about “freedom” in stories about the ACA, the ability to make bad choices is the freedom that is most often being being sold. It is also about the freedom of insurance companies to rip off uninformed consumers.
The Reynoldsburg school board didn’t have to take the radical steps they have taken. This is what happens when you elect ideologues instead of people who just want a good education for the kids. The Grandview Heights board under Grant Douglass has veered into the same territory as the Reynoldsburg board. We should be watching what happens next, because that could be the future of Grandview.
More on release of negotiation details on the web
The rules for the talks that the State Employment Relations Board enforce say that negotiating in public, as the board has done, violates the Ohio Revised Code. It is corrosive to the process to draw the public into a fight that is supposed to be between the people sitting at the table. Instead of working between the participants, it becomes a battle of press releases, web postings, and protesters holding signs. All of those are expected when the talks break down and a real strike is in progress, but they shouldn’t happen before the work action. SERB has ruled that the Reynoldsburg board might be in violation, a judge will decide the case.
On one hand, I don’t have any complaint with the board opening up and sharing negotiation points. I’d like to see the counter-points posted by the teacher’s union. I think openness is a good thing in almost all cases (except personal information that privacy laws protects). But I understand how the rules for public-sector collective bargaining have been created, and why this sort of open fighting is bad process.
The best way the public could have been informed about the changes in policy that the school board members are attempting to force on the teachers would have been for them to announce their support for these issues during their campaign for office. Then the voters could have decided if they wanted to start a fight with the teacher’s union. I don’t know enough about the Reynoldsburg school board elections to say if this was done or not. I would guess that it was not done, most elected officials run on a generic “great schools, keep costs down” platform. When you have board members who refuse to answer questions from the public like the Grandview board candidates have done (and I don’t count the highly scripted candidate nights as adequately answering the public), how can we know what actions the board might take?
(Follow up story about the Reynolsburg board)
Reynoldsburg Board of Education President Andrew Swope resigned in December, and said he was moving his family out of the area. Superintendent Manning is still at the school, but this Facebook page asking for her removal shows the mood of the community.