Opinion: Good teachers deserve good comp and taxpayers deserve relief
People sputtered, spit and spewed my damnation, private and public, and probably wanted to do very bad things to my privates in public, when I wrote a few weeks ago in support of the so-called budget repair bill, and urged the 14 wandering senators to come home.
Now it is done.
But is it really?
Eh, not really …
The bill is about to become law, but not so fast pard’ner. Even though unions have loudly said they were willing to pay the increased pension and healthcare costs, that appears to not be the case for those contracts already in place.
Or does it? Nobody seems to know and we’re in unchartered waters.
We do know the Kenosha Education Association – the teachers’ union – has refused to reopen contract negotiations. And why would they, when they’ve already secured pay raises, and it might mean they have to pay the increases on the healthcare and pension?
At risk of more people giving me the silent treatment and others not giving me the silent treatment loudly berating me, it’s because we are facing potentially 375 layoffs to make up for the $29 million budget shortfall in Kenosha Unified. If the union agrees to the increases now, it would save more than $13 million and about 90 of those jobs. If they agreed to healthcare insurance competition, instead of demanding only the WEA Trust, it might save another $5 million and about 30 more jobs.
Earlier I wrote that these increases might be painful, but it wasn’t like teachers were making chump change. And for saying this out loud, I’ve been called some very naughty names.
One person sent a mass e-mail to her colleagues and wrote, “Here’s another one against us.” A friend called me a “Mental Midget.” Others were more polite and just inferred I was making crazy talk when I said teachers made a combined $79,000 in pay and benefits.
Turns out the crazy talk was, well, crazy.
I hounded the district until they backed up the claim. According to those stats, the average salary is $58,139, and the average benefits cost is $32,692, for a total of $90,840.
Granted, some of those benefits include 1 percent of the teacher’s salary for worker’s compensation and 7.65 percent toward social security and MediCare. It’s probably not fair to include those. But some of the others include $21,257 for family healthcare, and $9,499 for single healthcare. We have a word for that where I come from in Pittsburgh, and that word is, “Holy crap! Are you kidding me????”
There’s also $1,297 in there for family dental, and 11.15 percent of a teacher’s salary toward the pension that comes straight from KUSD coffers before it hits the paycheck. They also get long-term care insurance paid for them, at a cost of $855.60 a year.
Good teachers deserve good salaries and good benefits. But The Gubner isn’t wrong for wanting to reign in some of the costs.
Whether you’re using old math, new math or Enron math, that’s a lot of dough. Would people still give so much vocal support for collective bargaining if they knew it meant this many millions in extra taxes?
Of the more than $300 million school budget, 90 percent goes directly to salaries and benefits. The remaining 10 percent is divvied up for classroom chairs, computers, gas, buses, pencils, rock salt for the ice, and Band-Aids for the nurses. That’s not a whole let left over.
We need to remind ourselves that all of this money comes from taxes, and there is a $3 billion deficit looming over our state. To pay this, we need to raise taxes, cut services, freeze salaries, increase employee costs toward healthcare and pension, or some combination from the list.
Some will paint you as anti-teacher if you support the bill or reopening the contracts. Not true. I have a lot of teachers who are my friends. If any of them were still speaking to me, you could ask them and they might tell you so.
With that in mind, here are a couple truths we should hold to be self-evident:
- The majority of teachers and other state employees are good, hard-working people who just want to put food on their table, and have dreams of success and moving ahead, like all of us.
- Just like the private sector, there are a few state employees and teachers who are lazy buffoons, who somehow, despite all known wisdom and logic, find a way to skate by. Some skate by because they are in a union and have tenure. Or maybe they’re just extremely lucky, have a knack for looking busy and perhaps have damning photos of their boss during his trip last year to Thailand.
- Anti-union people say unions protect bad teachers. But if I added up all the teachers all my children have had at Kenosha Unified in their lifetime, that’s about 120 of them. Of those, maybe three or four fit into the “bad” category. That’s an awfully low number.
- I’m all for a teacher’s union and representation to a point, but draw the line at teachers collectively bargaining for their health insurance, and for very good reason. They refuse to take anything but the WEA Trust insurance, which is owned and operated by the teacher’s union. Any money paid for this insurance goes back to the union. I’m OK with that, too, if the union administered their insurance in a more cost-effective manner. But the district routinely has offered the teachers the same kind of insurance coverage from a different company that would have cost, on average, $5 to $10 million less per year.
- The district is currently locked into a three-year insurance deal with the WEA Trust, after the union-run insurance came in cheaper than United Healthcare for the first time since 2004. The caveat was the district had to put everyone under WEA Trust, even those not in the union, and had to agree to the three-year lock. They will tell you this move saved $2.4 million this year, and is projected to save $7.2 million more by 2013. The problem is, “projected” is speculative guessing at best. They have no idea what other insurance companies would offer the same coverage for, because they won’t even hear about other plans. What they don’t say is the WEA Trust insurance was so overpriced in the past, it cost taxpayers between $35 and $70 million since 20004. Whether you take the lower number or the higher number, subtract the current savings, it doesn’t come close.
Now teachers and other state employees have had the nerve to say if The Gubner wants public servants to kick in more on their pensions and healthcare, then he should lead the way since he makes $137,000 a year, and will probably take a large portion of that salary after he leaves office.
They are right on that one. Real leaders lead by example. He should contribute 10 percent.
And they say this isn’t about balancing a budget, it’s all about union busting.
There may be some truth to both sides of that argument.
But if the union wants me to empathize with them, how come they don’t seem to care about the 375 teachers who face potential layoffs?
It doesn’t sound like they are practicing the solidarity that they preach.
In the military, we never left the wounded or dying on the battlefield. But in this case, I guess 375 teachers are just collateral damage.
Gary Kunich is a Kenosha resident. He was a reporter and columnist at the Kenosha News, where he covered the Kenosha Unified School District as his beat. Before that, he was in the Air Force for a heck of a long time.