Monday, May 12, 2008

The Truth about the MEA, Privatization and Contracting

Maureen S. Martin, a Birmingham Teacher and MEA representative, misses the point of the Southfield School’s decision to contract support services (see her editorial in the Detroit News here). For years Southfield schools have seen its state funding fall short of simple inflation.

Add the burden of supporting a broken teacher’s pension fund (its own audit shows that it is $31 billion under-funded), crushing health care costs, and rapidly increasing utility expenses, then Southfield’s decision to contract services is completely clear. Southfield, like Birmingham, made a choice that placed a high value on keeping teachers employed and acted accordingly.

MEA representatives are uncomfortable admitting the truth; other union jobs are being restructured and/or eliminated to protect MEA members, specifically teachers. That has the potential of making the MEA an enemy of every other unionized school employee group. Of course that’s not fair, just as it is unfair to cast local school boards and administrative staffs as the enemy. Simply put, teachers are rightfully at the top of the food chain because they represent the heart of what schools do - educate children.

The school funding crisis is real. The Southfield board should be applauded for making extraordinarily hard decisions and the MEA should recognize just whose jobs are being protected because of those decisions. The old paradigm of us versus them does not hold water in today’s environment. Maybe that doesn’t serve the interests of the union brass; they have their own positions to protect - positions which are predicated on conflict. The new reality is that we are all on the same team attempting to preserve classroom integrity in the face of rapidly diminishing resources.


Anonymous said...

As a teacher in BPS, I can appreciate the comments and truth about the board protecting the teacher's jobs. While respectfully disagreeing with privatization of custodial services and bussing, it angers me that we have board members complaining about the pension while paying principals out of both district funds and the pension with the "retire to rehire" scam. How can someone honestly pay these principals less out of the district budget while getting their compensation from the pension, then COMPLAIN ABOUT THE PENSION DRYING UP? It's difficult to buy the whole integrity act when the board talks out of both sides of its mouth on this issue.

Rob Lawrence said...

Your comment is understandable, however, the ability to bring someone back on payroll has ZERO impact on the pension issue.

Think about it, that person was eligible to retire regardless. That person was not going to make a net contribution to the pension fund and the district was not paying into the pension fund at upwards of 20% per year for that person once they retire. In fact, by retiring early that person has reduced their individual impact on the aggregate pension fund deficit by lowering the aggregate retirement pay-rate based on final years salary.

Now, I've rehired a person (in accordance with Michigan and Federal Law) that I don't have to budget a 20% pension contribution for AND that person is HELPING the pension situation by lowering aggregate pension payout AND purchasing their own insurance coverage. And because it saves the district CURRENT OPERATING FUNDS we have more money left for teacher pay, AND current pension benefits. I'll make that move EVERY TIME because it saves me money NOW so I am forced to make fewer cuts.

The complaints about the pension are valid regardless because as a state mandated payment, the School Aid Act is not providing a corresponding funding increase or addressing the explosion of long tailed pension benefits. I urge you to read the pension audits - if you review the footnotes you'll see how the health care promises have EXPLODED on the balance sheet. There is no hiding from the fact the level of benefits cannot be sustained without MASSIVE pre-funding and/or health care benefit cuts. That issue will not change and I'll keep talking about it because no one else is; you're being lied to by the state of Michigan, your union, and the pension board if you think that those promised benefits are sustainable. Keep this in mind, for the teachers pension fund, the accrued unfunded liability is represents nearly 73% of the TOTAL STATE BUDGET! Add that to the same issue facing the other Michigan pension fund and now you've consumed nearly 100% of the state budget.