Our contract, negotiated over many months by our dedicated bargaining team, was ratified by vote on Monday, Feb. 13. Thanks to the bargaining team’s hard work and the ratification vote, we will see modest increases in some areas of health care, but no new premiums for employees, and a 25% lower increase in the cost of dependent care than what the district came to the table with. This, despite the $65 million increase in the cost of health care for our district. Our health care subcommittee identified $28 million in savings, largely through cost containment measures and creative solutions.
No, we’re not getting our step(s). We all want them, including those on the bargaining team, who would benefit from them as much as any of us–since they are just teachers like the rest of us. Don’t get mad at your union, who is the only one working for you in this. If you want to get mad–which you have every right to–get mad at the people in Tallahassee who have cut our budget year after year, to the tune of $2 billion in Miami-Dade alone, and who continue to find ways to take money from our coffers to funnel them into for-profit charter schools and the testing industry. You should be outraged…but not at the people going to bat for you year after year.
Race to the Top:
Last month at the Council of Stewards meeting, after receiving feedback from members district-wide, of which 85% said they preferred we go ahead with RTTT negotiations despite the fact that almost none of us are truly in agreement with the principles or procedures of merit pay as it exists in this form, but recognizing that this is the only money that is out there right now, and that if we do not proceed with negotiations there are strong chances that our district could take the $14 million and do with it what many other districts have done (e.g., buying tests, giving money to administration, etc.)
Changes that have been proposed by UTD’s Race to the Top committee include reducing the amount of money in “bucket 4” (the bucket dedicated to the large, headline-making bonuses) by about 3/4 to put that money into the other 3 buckets (those more widely available); separating all-magnet schools into a separate group so that the rest of us are not competing against schools that cherry-pick their students; making a separate all-ESE center category; and incorporating other measures (AP, SAT, etc.) for bucket 3 (the semi-large bonuses) to make that bucket available to more teachers of various subjects.
At the meeting last night, there were also several calls from stewards for more transparency into the process used to determine which teachers qualify for which bonuses, and to demand through the Freedom of Information Act access to who received what amounts of bonuses, particularly when it comes to administrator bonuses.
Further, we are encouraging everyone to call the White House (202-456-1414) and tell them that you are a teacher/support personnel in Miami-Dade, that we have agreed to continue negotiating with the district about Race to the Top only because we so desperately need that money to go to teachers, but that we strongly disagree with RTTT itself and that our “buy-in” should not be interpreted by the White House as teacher support for merit pay, at least as that is defined by RTTT (tied to test scores).
While not perfect, the agreement maintains 100% employer-paid insurance for all employees. The district initially wanted employees to shoulder 100% of the increase to dependent care cost; we have talked them down to 50%. While this is obviously an increase, and not ideal, it is also important to take into consideration that most other county employees, employees of local colleges and universities, etc., do not have dependent coverage subsidized at all; in our case, the district is already subsidizing $72 million for dependent coverage and due to the new agreement that will increase to over $90 million. The UTD subcommittee on health care was able to bring forward creative cost-saving measures that plugged $32 million of the $65 million hole, which is a large part of why we are able to still have a 100% employer-paid insurance plan for employees. You may have read in the newspapers that Miami-Dade County employees are now having to contribute 4% of their salaries for health care (in addition to the 3% created by the “pension reform” law passed last session, and to other salary cuts), to avoid layoffs. County and state employees including police, firefighters, nurses, etc., have sustained altogether between 15-22% pay cuts over the past couple of years; in fact, we are the ONLY union that has not made concessions, and the only group that has not taken a pay cut. While this may be small compensation for not getting our steps or raises, it is certainly worth noting that, while we may not feel we are moving forward, we are holding our ground in a time of real budget shortfalls and a political climate hostile to public employees.
As per the “rumor control” e-mail you most likely received, please keep in mind that in these budget times, getting our overdue step(s) would mean layoffs of our colleagues (and/or ourselves), and consequently probably further overcrowding in the newly defined non-core classes. The 2012 elections are critical for ensuring that we have supporters of public education in office in Tallahassee, in order to make sure that our budgets are sufficient in the future to fight for our steps.
Details of the plan can be found on the UTD website. While the employee-only coverage is still provided free of charge, there have been some slight changes in co-pays, which in general reflect the level of expense those services and/or institutions and/or drugs cost our insurance. These expenses affect us all, as the more our health care choices charge our insurance, the less money is left over for our salaries, and the harder it is for us to maintain employer-covered health care or the subsidies the district currently provides for our dependents. I encourage everyone to inspect those changes carefully and to keep them in mind going forward, even before the plan changes at the beginning of April. If we can make smart choices about the doctors and hospitals we go to, the pharmacies we use, preventive care and the courses of treatment we choose (e.g., generics versus name brands whenever possible), we can help hold down costs ad hopefully put ourselves in a better position to fight for our steps going forward.