I have always felt blessed to work at the school I work at. The kids for the vast most part are good kids … minus a few crazies, I have received support from my parents … minus a really bad call from my department chair a few years ago, I have received pretty good support from my superiors … my colleagues have been pretty good … and the school district has been financially sound.
But something has changed.
This years is our first year under a new superintendent and business manager. The previous superintendent left under murky circumstances after only three years. The new guy (a guy I happen to have some trust in … I think he is a good guy), announced that the school is running a roughly $17 million structural deficit …. which is to say that the district has somewhere between $80 million and $100 million in reserve, but that the current level of expenditure paired with less money coming in from investments and property taxes has created a situation that will put the district in severe financial problems within the next year.
The district has announced that they are in the midst of determining what to cut, and what to start charging more money for. The district has requested that the teachers union consider reopening the contract (currently in year 3 of a five year deal) to cut costs. The union is currently in midst of an internal fight regarding this: certainly all of the untenured teachers are in favor of this, as are some of the recently tenured teachers who are in danger of losing their jobs. There are tenured teachers who are in favor of opening the contract, provided that there are written guarantees that concessions would translate to jobs being saved. Most of the teachers are, however vehemently against conceding a dime. There are some old school hippiesque teachers who just won’t give in to “the establishment” under any circumstance …
There is some irony to what is happening … on the one hand, the union is reminding everyone that they only wanted a 3 year contract … and actually had wanted annual pay increases tied to the consumer price … which is practically nothing today (this of course would have led the union to lynch its leadership right now). The Board didn’t want a 3 year contract because the last contract negotiation was so contentious (it nearly led to the district’ first strike in its 100 years). The other irony was that the union stood firm on big salary gains (the contract averages out to some 4% or so increase per year) because the union claimed that the district was sitting on a huge cash reserve. Now $100 million is not chump change … but for a huge school district (6,500+ students … well over 400 teachers plus support staff …. three large schools, two alternative schools), $100 million could evaporate very quickly if it is not managed properly.
So once again, the union and school board are circling each other. The district is not releasing detailed financial information, and the union is refusing to do anything until they get to see more detailed information. One issue that is starting to come up: if a large number of the younger staff are dismissed … a lot of those younger teachers were the margin which prevented a strike on the last contract …. with them out of the way, a strike might be all but inevitable, which is one of the reasons some of the older staff are so willing to see the younger staff go.
Needless to say, rumors are rife …. the number of layoffs … how much students will be charged to play sports … class sizes of 50 or more … how many of the support staff will be dismissed … my favorite was a story about a teacher coming into possession of an accidentally sent out e-mail from the business manager with the real financial data and strategies to “misinform the public and union” … of course was a bold faced lie.
The superintendent has been giving public talks (first with teachers only, and now later community forums). The public has been upset with the teachers getting large pay increases in a time when a lot of families are barely getting by … or not. There has been a loud outcry over spending when the district should have better predicted that there wouldn’t be as much money around. The superintendent has been careful to not blame any problems on the teachers, but has noted that the request to open the contract has not been responded to yet. The union hardliners (IMO) quotemined this and have been holding up as proof that the administration is trying to throw the teaches under the bus. I haven’t bought into that.
The district has announced that they have set a deadline of January to announce all of the cuts … this in order to give teachers losing their jobs the best opportunity to find new work. The next few months will not be boring, if not depressing.