WEA Contract Concerns
The following letter was sent to the Windham School Board on August 12, 2015.
To the Windham School Board:
The school district’s contract with the teacher’s union will be expiring at the end of the 2015-16 school year. As a member of the school board you have a statutory and fiduciary duty to negotiate a contract that is in the best interests of the taxpayers while at the same time do your best to provide a fair compensation package to the employees.
I worked over 25 years in the insurance and benefits area and hold the REBC, RHU, CLU (Registered Employee Benefits Consultant, Registered Health Underwriter, and Chartered Life Underwriter) designations. In the last two decades, the richness and types of benefits in the private sector has changed dramatically. When I first started my career, employer paid pension plans, employee profit sharing plans and indemnity health plans with low deductibles that were 100% employer paid were the norm. Through the years pensions have been replaced with 401(k) Plans; profit sharing plans changed to stock options; and indemnity health plans were replaced with HMO’s and PPO’s. Employees are now expected to pay 30-50% of their health insurance premiums, and deductibles exceeding $6,000 for singles and $10,000 for families are becoming the norm.
The current teacher contract should be reviewed carefully to determine if certain benefits that may have been common in the past need to be updated to meet current circumstances. Windham took a small first step in its last contract, abandoning the practice of paying for 100% of its health insurance premiums. This year the district will pay 94%, and employees will pay 6% of health insurance premiums. In comparison, our town currently pays 75% and employees pay 25% of their health insurance premiums. There should more steps taken for school district employees to take on more of their fair share of the health insurance costs.
The contract should also be compared with the contracts of several other districts to determine if there are components or language that need to be adjusted. For example:
• Windham has a sick pay bank in which employees contribute 1 sick day to the bank each year, and can apply to use sick days in the case of a longer illness. In Windham participation is mandatory, while in other districts participation is voluntary. Several other districts have contract language that will provide full pay without charging sick days for any employee injured while at work. Windham’s contract does not appear to address this issue. It only seems reasonable someone should not have to use their sick days while recovering from a work related injury.
• The district reimburses teachers for higher education courses. Unlike other districts, the contract does not have a minimum passing grade requirement. There is in fact no contract language that states a teacher even has to pass the course. On the town side, our Firefighters are required to achieve a C grade before they are reimbursed.
• In the private sector automatic raises and raises of 3%, are a thing of the past. Several other school districts have reexamined its practice of automatic 3% step increases. At least one district instituted half steps (1 ½% raises), other districts no longer guarantee automatic yearly step increases.
The Windham taxpayers have experienced huge school tax increases the past decade. At some point there will be a tipping point in which taxpayers will find that the burden of high taxes outweighs the benefits of staying in Windham for its quality of life. In looking at real estate trends, I see that all sectors of Windham’s housing market have recovered from the last crash, except two bedroom homes. Assuming that a majority of those in two bedroom homes do not have children, I fear we are either very near or already at that tipping point. Once we reach that point, a tax death spiral will be created when childless residents sell their homes and are replaced with families with children, making the crowding and school tax situation worse. Higher taxes than other towns will ultimately result in lower home values. The School Board members who are negotiating this contract should recognize the precarious situation we are in. We simply cannot afford for the contract offer to the teachers union to be more than the taxpayers can bear.