Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cold Cocked by Killer COLA

(For those who hate whining, you’ll want to skip this post. Ryan’s going for a ride on the Wahhhmbulance!)

My district is in the middle of its budgeting process for next year. It’s not a fun time.

Problem #1 is that our enrollment is declining. The Air Force has been working towards privatizing their base housing for a number of years, turning the maintenance and upkeep over to contractors and taking the responsibility off of the government’s hands. All the houses on my base were contracted out earlier this year, and now the contractor is beginning the modernization process, which involves tearing down many houses and completely remodeling others. The families obviously can’t be there while that happens, so off they go to live in town, taking their kids with them.

Problem #2 is one that I helped cause—the 5% cost of living allowance (COLA) for teachers. (JL, if you’re out there and could help me with the history, I’d appreciate it)

The trouble with the COLA is that the state only pays it for those teachers who are covered under the Basic Education Act (BEA); in other words, the state only pays COLA for the teachers that it funds. That makes sense, in its own way; the trouble is with teachers who aren’t funded by the state, but instead through federal and local monies. This was an unexpected consequence of I-732, and after it passed in 1998 there was a lawsuit that declared “All means All!” and mandated that every employee get the COLA, no matter how they were funded.

That brings us to the present day. The unfunded COLA for my district is about $250,000, which means cuts. Through retirements and attrition we’re looking at shedding about 6 staff positions, but there will also be some layoffs (RIFs, in the vernacular of my local). That’s not what anyone wants, but the district needs to maintain fiscal stability, so what do you do?

Now, the union piece. When I was doing my lobbying work for the WEA this session we pushed hard for the COLA, and for a big one—not only the Seattle cost of living percentage, 3.9%, but also a .5% catch-up for the “Rossi cuts” and an additional .7% for salary equalization because of districts grandfathered under a higher salary schedule being able to pay more. It feels like we won the COLA in Olympia, and now we’re losing it in districts statewide.

Here’s the thing—I could solve the problem for my district by bargaining the COLA at the local level. Instead of every teacher getting 5.1% I could agree to 4.0%, which would save about $80,000. If I did that we could still lose staff through attrition, but we wouldn’t need to lay-off anyone outright, and that could be good.

But I can’t do it. I don’t have the political capital in my association. The segment that hates administration would skewer me. The part that knows the contract inside and out would point out that this is a mandatory subject of bargaining, and it would require a contract change. It would look like a giveback to the administration, and as someone in an admin program I’m especially vulnerable to that charge; I don’t want to be perceived as a sell-out.

Our next budgeting meeting is Thursday. We’ll all get together and see what we can come up with. Odds are, no one will leave happy. After all, if everybody loses, then nobody wins. School finance is making a lot of losers right now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still puzzling over how the budget created for local-funded positions couldn't have anticipated that raises were going to be given to them in the later years of the levy. How is this not a budgeting problem?

Sure, they might be off by the amount of the surprisingly large raise. If they were off by a whole percent, and if there were 100 non BEA staff positions affected, that still is only a $50,000 underestimation.

I guess these are the things to keep in mind when negotiating down the reserves.


3:13 PM  
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7:15 AM  

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