cur-mud-geon: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner
The angst that followed the election concerning the defeat of the referenda items has subsided a bit. I want to explore the whole subject of education in our community and state, and have been discussing many issues with those involved including school board members from communities in Wisconsin, educators and taxpayers. I have no idea how long this series will run, but the input of the citizenry is important and I hope this might provoke some additional rational discussion.
I was off the mark on the qualified economic offer (QEO) when I referred to it as the maximum amount that could be provided to teachers in the combination of salary and benefits. The QEO was instituted in 1993 and replaced the then mediation and arbitration system, It provided that school boards providing at least 3.8% increases of salary and benefits combined would be protected from binding arbitration which had been problematic for school districts up to that time. In this sense, the QEO is the minimum and usually the maximum.
There are teachers/former teachers who would admit that the QEO has served to protect the jobs of teachers that might otherwise have been cut in the old binding arbitration days since the arbitrators could assess whatever they felt was appropriate in terms of combined increases without regard to the district's ability to pay the added load.
Similarly, those people would also indicate that rescission of the current QEO rules and their replacement with mediation/arbitration, as the governor has tried to gain over the past several budgets, would probably cause teacher terminations since the proposed mediation/arbitration language has been moot on the subject of districts' ability to pay. That leads, I suspect, to some of the 'scare' tactics citizens face whenever teachers' compensation is debated. We almost always hear of the 'programs that will have to be ended if...' there were to be limits to increases proposed. Those debates seldom, if ever, are concerned with actual reductions, but almost always with limits to the amounts of increases.
The cost of healthcare has played a significant part in the rising cost of education. The 3.8% increase has to cover the cost of benefits and compensation. If the health premium increases in double-digits annually, that translates into relatively little remaining for salary increases. In the unregulated world that most of us occupy, the employer makes the decisions and enforces those decisions. That world does not exist in education.
So, it is possible to extrapolate that the removal of QEO and its replacement with mediation/arbitration, without consideration for a district's ability to pay, could result in teacher losses, increased class sizes and some issues surrounding the nebulous issue of 'quality of education'. That issue is nebulous in that it is poorly defined on a consistent basis. It seems that whenever we get into those discussions, the achievement side becomes dynamic so that it is never quite possible to gather information permitting solid decision-making to occur. Cause and effect are difficult to equate in those discussions. That coupled with the emotional response that comes very quickly from one or both sides fairly well suggests that we'll not get to a good, solid, well-informed decision.
Under our current rules, after the 3.8% has been granted by the district, and that is not acceptable to the teachers, a mediator is brought in to attempt to help the sides find common ground. If neither side is willing to give ground, the mediator can declare an impasse and the 3.8% offer is put into place with no further negotiation. This has tilted the equation to the district's side and it has been that way since QEO was created. It is understandable that teachers would find this 'unfair' even though you and me might think 3.8% was a pretty fair increase...especially if we've not received an increase for awhile...or if we've lost our job due to cutbacks.
Next time, we'll look at some hypotheticals that put some numbers in place.