I wrote this blog post back in the middle of June--and if blogger is the same as it used to be, it might even show that post date when I hit "publish," even though it's now July 19th-- but I ended up holding off on posting it because I hadn't had a chance to vote on the contract yet, I was in the process of getting answers to a few questions about it, and because I wasn't sure if part of my issues with the contract were because I still have a bad taste in my mouth about everything that's happened since February. However, in re-reading it tonight (about a month later), I still feel the same way as I did when I wrote it, so I'm posting it.
For the record, this contract was accepted by both our teacher's union, and the school board, so it reflects the contract we ended up getting.
Part of my issue at the time I wrote it--and something that still bothers me a bit--was that, as a union, we were encouraged to vote to accept it; we were told that it was likely the best we were going to get with the current economic climate, and that it was a decent contract under the circumstances. Now, I believe that our union wouldn't try to guide us down a bad path, so if they said this was the best we were going to get, maybe it really was. But then, another part of me thought: that's bollocks. We're wussing out. I felt sort of let down and out of the loop. I understand they can't keep all of the members in on every stage of negotiations for myriad reasons, but not knowing what went on behind the scenes and what was tossed out and compromised and all of that during the process requires a lot of trust. And frankly, if this is the best we could get, that's kind of sad.
The mediator's report for the possible new teacher contract was released last night at the school board meeting. It was the first I'd seen it because, despite being a union member in good standing, since I'm out on maternity leave (and, if not that, then I'd still be out on suspension), I apparently don't get to know about anything going on with the negotiations unless I seek out the information. Plus, I only get to know what the newspaper shares with the public, as if this isn't my own contract that's in question here.
Regardless, of what I do know about it, I have some serious concerns.
First, there's way too much in the way of pay freezes, and too slow a movement upward in the pay salary. We've already been frozen this year, and people would continue to be frozen until a pay increase in July 2012. Then there's another freeze for 18 months. In a time when, at the least, the superintendent is still receiving bonuses and cost of living increases, and merit pay, and an annuity and car allowance and the like--and who is decidedly NOT frozen--it seems quite unfair and ridiculous that so many people are being asked, nay, expected to take freezes and cuts.
Second, there's an increase to health insurance costs which are supposed to go into effect this July. It seems only fair that, if teachers aren't getting salary increases, they shouldn't have their premiums raised until they're making more money.
Thirdly, and what seems the most glaringly problematic to me, was the proviso that teachers' salaries will be frozen if they receive an 'unsatisfactory' on their annual evaluations, and that 2 'unsatisfactory' ratings result in termination. It seems like an awfully easy way to save money if there's a district shortfall, or to get rid of teachers who are at the top of the pay scale (or who are thorns in the district's sides). After all, these evaluations are pretty subjective. I do not doubt that it would happen. In fact, I happen to know of places where it HAS happened.
Don't get me wrong--I don't have a problem with evaluations. Pretty much everyone in the world is subject to evaluations--students in school, people in the work world--I get it. It's a good check to be sure everyone is still sharp. But to tie the pay to it when the district is constantly trying to save a buck, and to have the fingers of the upper level admin (aka, building admin) performing those evaluations, sounds like a recipe for a whole bunch of new teachers coming in at the lowest level of the pay scale. To me, agreeing to this is weakening our already-weak stance, and opening the door to a place that we don't want to be.
Some district official tried to say this is the opposite of merit pay, because it penalizes teachers for poor performance. Bull. Semantics.
The public touts the importance of teachers doing things with students in mind. They say it should be all about the students. But, I ask, what about the teachers' lives and livelihoods? Should they be doing their jobs for next to nothing? Should they have to worry about providing for their own families? No matter how many teachers love the students and want what's best for them and love what they do, it IS still a job, after all, and something for which they should be compensated fairly. And, though unions tend to get a bad rap, there is a need for them in some industries. Why? Because there needs to be some ability to collectively bargain so they don't end up working for peanuts. Teachers aren't trying to bilk the system. They're just trying to--like every other worker in the free world--get compensated fairly for their work.
This contract as proposed has elements in it that move toward taking away those rights. I'm very concerned that through our effort to compromise, we are compromising ourselves.