Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's a Contract Cost?

I think about the budget an awful lot.

In my school district we use a collaborative budgeting process, where all of the administration gets together with representatives from the teachers and paraprofessionals to craft how the money will be spent. It's a concensus-based process that I'll talk about more on a different day; I've been a part of it for 4 years.

Last year was my first year participating as the president of the teacher's union. I started worrying about it in October, when it was fairly obvious to see where the state budget was going, and all through the winter I kept running through scenarios about what could happen and where things could go.

To that end, I went line-by-line through the contract and picked out all of the things that are in there that the district is required to pay for and could potentially be subject to bargaining. Basically, I wanted to know what costs I had direct control over as the union guy, just in case I needed to play a card at budgeting.

Hence, this list. The costs came from my business director, and it's presented in order from highest to lowest cost. For Bret and JL, my belief is that this comes out of general fund money as well as levy money, but given how mixed up things get it's hard to say.

  • Teacher Per Diem, $520,000. In my district, each teacher receives 86 hours of per diem time, and each hour of per diem time costs the district about $5,500. That's a pretty impressive sum--if needed, it could cover 7 teaching positions--but that's also about 6% of my member's annual salaries.
  • Carve Out, $90,000. This is the money that the district remits to the state to cover the cost of retiree health insurance. Some districts pass it along to the teachers, pulling it out of the health insurance pool or the monthly insurance allotment from the state, but my contract says that the district will cover 100% of the costs. Good for me--especially me, since I already pay $400 a month in insurance out of pocket--but not so good in a financial crisis.
  • Extended contracts, $40,000. My school psychiatrist has an extended contract because of the time that they have to put in after school attending IEP meetings. It's the same for my SLPs and physical therapist. The high school counselors have to report in a week early, to get the schedules done, so they also have extended contracts. My agriculture teacher spends an ungodly amount of hours working on weekends and over the summer attending livestock shows, county fairs, and the like, so he has an extended contract as well. It's to honor the work they do; it'd be very hard to justify taking it away.
  • PAUs and PRUs, $30,000. This is the money that teachers get for teaching after school classes like spanish, elementary-level sports, computers, etc.
  • Paid Committees, $14,600. This is for teachers who serve on things like curriculum adoptions, steering committees, safety committees, etc. that meet outside the regular school day.
  • Materials Reimbursement, $12,500. There are about 125 teachers in my district; each of us get $100 a year to purchase supplies (books, incentives, posters, printer ink, whatever it might be) and get reimbursed by the school district.
  • Testing Coordinators, $3,480. These are additional $500 stipends that 6 teachers get for taking care of WASL paperwork and making sure that the NWEA testing gets done right; that figure also includes some incidental costs for retirement and benefits.
  • Involuntary Transfer Stipend, $3,350. Whenever a teacher is involuntarily transferred from one grade to another, or one building to another, they can claim an additional 14 hours of per diem. The figure above assumes about 5 involuntary transfers per year.
  • Association Leave, $1,000. The contract provides for 10 release days for the Association at District expense; this is so that we can have meetings with the Superintendent and Principals during the school day, if necessary.
Put it all together, and that's about $715,000 in costs that are in the contract that I can do something about. Put another way, that would be equal to about 10 teaching positions.

And that, frankly, is the real dilemma. If I can only "save" 10 jobs, what do I say to person #11? For those members closest to retirement any income they give up is going to impact their retirement calculations for decades to come, so asking them to give up $4,000 in per diem isn't just a one year hit, but a decades-long one that could add up to tens of thousands of dollars. I can't blame them for saying no if I ask them to sacrifice, because in a union there's always that tension between the good of the individual and the good of the group.

It's easier, then, to just hang on to everything and let layoffs fall where they may. Ethically, though, that feels like a complete abrogation of what I'm "supposed" to do.

This is the fun we have.

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