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Strategic compensation for teachers in Ohio

Published November 3, 2014 by justicewg

Performance based compensation. Merit pay. Strategic compensation. These are all names for a method of teacher compensation that uses teacher ratings, informed by standardized testing of students, and sets in place a system that gives more money to high rated teachers. Some think this is needed in order to “run schools like a business”. Others promote it because it weakens the options teacher unions have to ask for raises, and they see any method of weakening unions as a good thing. What none of the proponents can show is a correlation between these plans and increased performance in the classroom by students.

I looked back at the history of this idea in Ohio, identified some of the people pushing it, and how well they succeeded in putting it into practice. I also looked at the Reynoldsburg school district, to figure out how the school board members decided to try it in their schools, and what they told the parents about their plans before they caused a three week long strike, disrupting all learning and costing the school more than a million dollars.

What the experts say

I highly recommend reading this post by Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D.. He did an exhaustive compilation of the research on the issue of teacher evaluation based on student test scores. There isn’t any “maybe it works” to be found in the research, every single study done by a non-ideological researcher or organization finds that the “noise” in normal student test variation drowns out any useful teacher evaluation data.

School system that try to use these teacher rating systems regularly show how wrong they can be. A Teacher of Year rated “unsatisfactory” in Florida. One of nation’s top high schools rated as ‘needs improvement’ under the state’s teacher evaluation system. Contrary the what the Bill Gates style reformers think, the best schools come from areas with strong teacher unions.

Bill Gates should stick to computers

Bill Gates retired from running his software mega-giant, and decided to use his vast wealth to make changes in the way schools are run. The problem is that using methods and thinking that made him a billionaire turns out to have little value in improving schools.

Around 2000 he decided that big schools were the problem with education, and he began a program to offer schools money to break up the size of large schools. Not a totally wrong idea, but after he found that it it resulted in small improvements after spending a lot of money, he dropped the plan. His current idea that will revolutionize the school system in this country is to “run schools like a business”, and offer more money to teachers who have students that do well in standardized tests.

That’s not a new idea at all, it has been tried (and failed) a number of times in the past. The difference is that Gates’s foundation has the money to really promote the idea, and the political power to push it in the halls of government. The federal “Race to the Top” program encourages these ideas. The school system that have implemented these teacher rating systems have again shown that the plan is a failure.

SB 5 in Ohio

While Gates says he doesn’t have a problem with teacher unions, and is not shy about trying to buy their willingness to try out his ideas, the Republicans in Ohio are open with their contempt for unions. This resulted in the passing of Senate Bill 5 in 2011.

Under the supervision of Governor John Kasich, the Republican controlled senate passed a bill called SB 5 that was a direct attack on all public employee unions. It sharply limited the ability of police, teachers, firefighters and all other public union members to negotiate for higher wages and better working conditions. It would have stripped step pay increases from teachers and required student test based compensation plans.

The unions went full out in opposition. In the Nov. 2011 general election the law was repealed 62 percent to 38 percent. It was hoped that this was the end of these sort of dumb ideas in Ohio, but instead it just shifted the plans to implement them on a local level, one school board at a time.

Reynoldsburg board drives off a cliff

There were clues that indicated the Reynoldsburg school board was trying to remove step pay and implement teacher compensation based on student scores. The vice-president was a hard line right winger, featured in a film that showed the anger and contempt she held for those outside her Value Voter Coalition. Yet there was no conversation between the board and the community about the possibility of the board taking this radical action, the newspaper report of the candidate night recorded that the questions and answers were focused on class size. Board president Swope and VP Tornero were re-elected in 2013, and took this as an approval for them to take the school system off the cliff on a foolish and expensive attack on the teacher union. They hired a new superintendent who was an insider with the Kasich team.

The only way the public found out about the removal of step pay from teachers was as the negotiations broke down in the summer. Large crowds attended Reynoldsburg board meetings in August and September, pleading with the board to stop. The board ignored the large crowds and hired a strike-breaking company, insuring that the fight would be long and dirty.

Three weeks after they started the fight with the teachers, the board capitulated on all points. The school had not been able to hire enough strike-breaking teachers or control the fighting going on inside the schools with private security patrolling the halls. Teaching was reduced to giving the kids chromebooks and telling them to look at online instruction.

The school system now faces a bill of more than a million dollars for the failed attempt at running a school without union teachers. The students now need to re-start the year, with weeks of wasted learning to try to catch up on. The October board meeting was filled with angry parents who booed the board into silence when they tried to fend off criticism. A petition signed by more than 1K community members asked for the resignation of the superintendent and the president and VP of the board.

(Dec 16) Reynoldsburg Board of Education President Andrew Swope resigned, and said he was moving his family out of the area.

Who is next?

This will not be the end of the attempts by the true believers in pushing the teachers of Ohio into giving up step pay and using performance compensation. The only question is, which school district will be next?

The Kasich question

A complication to the question of strategic teacher compensation is the re-election of Kasich to the Governor’s office. Will he take his re-election, and the even more republican statehouse, as an opportunity to pass “Son of SB5”, as a way to solidify his support with the tea party on the way to a presidential run?

I have read a lot of stories that try to plot out the path Kasich could take on the way to a run for the white house. Most of them fail to see a man who wants to go through the wringer of a national campaign after his failed attempt in 1999. But he has a window that is open – the current field is filled with tea party, hard right candidates, unpopular with women and working class voters. Kasich won in the 2014 Ohio election with 60 percent of the women’s vote. He had support from workers. He even had 40% of the black vote. There is no other national republican candidate who seems to have a broad a support base as Kasich, even if he is unpopular with the tea party for accepting Medicaid money to bring Obamacare to the poor in Ohio.

If Kasich is thinking about running for national office, he has no reason to bring back a fight he lost the last time SB 5 was tried in Ohio. His brand will be “the moderate republican who can get a broad base of support”. And if he doesn’t run – what does he gain by doing something he said he wouldn’t try in his election campaign?

The above is speculation about Kasich’s plan for the future. His party in Ohio, and the true believers who want strategic compensation, will continue to push it on a local level. As soon as the memory of Reynoldsburg has faded (and Kasich showed that memories are short), a new school district will be the pushing the idea, bringing in strike-breaking management, filling the school with private security. You can be sure that Reynoldsburg was the laboratory for learning how to break unions.

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Reynoldsburg school board sabotaging the district

Published September 9, 2014 by justicewg
The real Raiders in Reynoldsburg are the school board members

The real Raiders in Reynoldsburg are the school board members

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.

More on Reynoldsburg strike