When new School Superintendent Tom Westerhaus comes to town this summer, an immediate goal should be streamlining contract talks. Special attention would go to the contract with the district’s 200-plus teachers.
Let’s face it. These negotiations run way too long. We’re not taking sides but simply pointing out the obvious. The 2007-08 school year’s almost over while teacher compensation remains at the 2006-07 level.
That’s ridiculous, and it’s happened before. Similar stalemates have simmered off and on for the past 15 years.
This time, as in previous years, teachers have made public statements criticizing the school board and the district for being insensitive and uncaring. Some criticism has come in the form of letters to the editor in the Journal. One high school teacher even wrote that young teachers should avoid working in River Falls.
Teachers now are preparing to enforce “work-to-rule.” This job action restricts their work to contractual school hours and nothing outside the classroom. Unhappy River Falls teachers have carried out work-to-rule job actions before. The last one earlier this decade lasted more than three years!
It’s a shame that just one major issue seems to separate the two sides in the latest impasse. However, it’s a key issue: Health insurance coverage.
The district has been providing 95% coverage to teachers. That percentage would continue in the first year of the new contract, but in the second year the payout would be a flat dollar amount — though it would amount to roughly the same 95% coverage.
The teachers’ union worries about precedent and the future. Once the percent coverage is eliminated, will future contract offers for health insurance include a dollar amount that fails to keep up with surging premiums.
A valid concern, but one that people from all walks of life are dealing with — declining employer contributions for health insurance coverage. Some folks are losing their coverage entirely, which is why we now have a free health clinic serving the working poor and jobless in Pierce and St. Croix counties.
Most workers would be envious of the 95% health insurance coverage teachers still enjoy. Very few have that high a coverage, which means paying more out-of-pocket expenses for doctor visits and medical procedures.
We reach two conclusions:
1) The new superintendent needs to focus on putting all contract negotiations, especially for teachers, on a fast track. He may have to involve himself directly to make this happen. The attitude should be that every effort will be made to get contracts settled so that terms are in sync with current work schedules. The bitterness from drawn-out talks reflects poorly on the River Falls School District and harms efforts to recruit quality new teachers who must replace experienced, retiring teachers.
2) Teachers may have to lower their expectations for benefits such as health insurance coverage. No one wants to spend more money in this area, but with double-digit medical increases year after year, it’s unrealistic to expect employers, including school districts, to provide the same level of coverage. Those who spend more of their own money for health insurance use it more cautiously, which may reduce overall costs in the long run.
The Journal’s online story about the deadlocked teacher contract talks drew lots of reader comments at www.riverfallsjournal.com. We include a sampling:I put in a ton of extra hours in the evenings and weekends — as a salaried employee of a corporation, it is expected. If I said I would work 7:30 - 2:35 each day and nothing more, they tell me it had been a good knowing me. What makes teachers unique? It’s reality. Right now, having a job should make most people happy. It’s called entitlement and they all have it...Look for a different job if you don’t feel appreciated. My wife will gladly take one of yours.Bottom line to me: Everyone is in the same boat....if you don’t like what the market is paying for your profession, change professions. If teachers in general quit because of pay, then the supply of teachers will be reduced, forcing the salaries back up, and attracting back the teachers.I am all in favor of teachers, however they should quit their complaining. Every job requires “non” paid work and is experiencing increased cost of health insurance. You River Falls teachers have had it too good for too long. The present is finally catching up to you now. Just be happy that you are employed.I understand that they teach our children, however they are getting a 9% pay raise over a two year period. Also, they don’t want their health insurance premiums to be raised!! Personally, in this economy I think that 9% increase is pretty darn good. On the average health insurance for most is raising 10-15%, so they are getting a pretty good deal. First off I must say I am not a teacher. I am a researcher, but I do come from a long line of educators. Most people making the comments they are about this article are obviously ignorant in what a teacher actually does. 7:30-2:35 is not even close. Most teachers stay until 4:30 or 5 p.m. and even after that they bring their work home with them. There are always a neverending load of papers to grade, lessons to develop, etc. As for the wonderful time off that teachers get (i.e. the summer), they don’t “get it off,” they are essentially unemployed for those three months. Teachers in public schools get paid for only the time that school is in session. To get a paycheck they have to find summer employment. Yes, teachers are completely unappreciated and underpaid. Most of the teachers in the RF school district “could” get positions in districts that paid more. However, they LIKE our town and your kids. They also enjoy their work and the differences that they make in young people’s lives… What is the starting pay? About $30,000? That is not too shabby, yes, even for someone with a degree. Figure out the per hour pay, figuring in the time off, add in the benefits and then quit complaining. It’s like any other job…And if they don’t like the pay and benefits for the work they do, they are free to find another job — just like everyone else. I really appreciate teachers for all of their hard work, dedication and extra time they put in on their jobs. Many are called to this important field and are a true gift to all of us. Having said that, there are some that are just coasting and getting by. Just as in the “regular” work place. As far as pay and time-off, there are many regular people working out there putting in long hours and taking work home on weekends and in the evening, and they do not have the good fortune of looking forward to the time-off that teachers do get. Oh, how I would dearly love to have the summer’s off and some time off at the holidays and spring break. I do not begrudge our teacher’s this time, but really they should not think they are treated so poorly.What is with all this teacher bashing? Granted, there can appear to be many perks to public teaching that we don’t find in the corporate world. But that doesn’t mean teachers are greedy, lazy, or overpaid. In fact, most teachers spend plenty of time outside of the school day working on curriculum and other school related matters. Go ahead, get your substitute teaching license and give it a try. The sad thing is that people in our society that have important jobs such as teachers, police officers, firemen, etc, don’t get paid nearly as much as they should. And yet we think nothing of paying professional athletes, musicians, movie stars and the like so much more than they’re worth. Something seems completely wrong to me about that. Granted, I know that entertainment brings in a ton of cash, but what’s wrong with our society that we allow that?? I wish I had a way to fix it. I’m sorry to put you all through a little math exercise, but let’s do some comparisons. Let’s assume teachers work about 190 days per year which is about 45 days less than the average worker who puts in about 235 working days a year. Assume the teacher works about an 8 hour day generally from 7:30 to 4:30 and this includes any extra time they put in. That would mean they work 1,520 hours over those 190 days. Assuming a teacher makes about $35,000 their average hourly wage would be $23.03 per hour. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in 2004, the average wage of somebody working as a nurse in St. Croix County was $24.18, an accountant was $25.47, electrician $22.97, and a mechanical engineer $29.75. With the exception of the electrician, all of these occupations generally require at least a four year college degree. You cannot tell me that using these comparisons that any of the teachers are overpaid. I think many of you are just angry because you don’t get the summer off! If you compare apples to apples, they are certainly not over paid for what they do and the time they work. If they so LOVE their jobs, then they should be happy to be doing what they love and stop the complaining. Times are tough. Plus in the “corporate” world you could get fired at the drop of a hat, not so with teachers. Having to pay half the health insurance coverage is typical and some companies don’t even give raises. You are just lucky to have a job. And with the “summers” off, I understand they are not paid for the time off, but I still go back to the point that their salary is decent for the time they actually work. As a former RF School Board Member, I am dismayed by this comment — “This is the problem with government schools. We have the union goon mentality. You should be teaching for the love of it. Not for your silly contract. Everyone in this sinking country needs to wake up” — which I have clipped into my comment. Sounds like a union-buster to me, not a person who doesn’t remember how the 8-hour day, 40-hour work week, minimum wages, health insurance benefits, FMLA, and so on were issues brought up by unions on behalf of workers. I say: Let people bargain. It’s the American way.
The Journal’s online poll question this week asked: What do you believe is the reason behind the stalemate in contract talks with River Falls teachers?
The results for this question as of Tuesday noon were:
1) School board is unwilling to sweeten the pot and compensate teachers fairly, 24.53%
2) Teachers are unrealistic, especially about demands for health insurance coverage, 35.85%
3) Both sides lack the will to make hard choices and compromise, 39.62%.
opinion, editorial, ri er, falls
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