Freeze Resistance Starting to Thaw?

In a previous blog entry we noted that the Pennsylvania School Boards Association is keeping a running tally of the school districts that have negotiated wage freezes for personnel in light of the 2011-12 budget and the changes to education funding.

At the time (early April) 38 districts across the state had enacted some type of pay freeze: involving administration, teachers, and staff either in stand-alone fashion (meaning the freeze applied only to administrators, for instance) or in a combination (administrators and teachers, teachers and staff, etc.). Only two districts in the five-county Pittsburgh region (Counties of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington, and Westmoreland) had enacted a freeze in some form.

The tally has now grown to 107 districts, one-fifth of all in the state. Here is how the distributions breaks down:

  • District-wide (teachers, administration, and staff)-24 (22%), none in the region
  • Administrators and teachers-13 (12%), none in region
  • Administrators and staff-14 (13%), districts of Belle Vernon (Westmoreland) and Cornell (Allegheny) listed here
  • Teachers-4 (4%), Bentworth (Washington) is one
  • Administrators-52 (49%), five in the region with Northgate (Allegheny), Seneca Valley and Slippery Rock (Butler), Kiski and Ligonier Valley (Westmoreland).

Four other districts, none in the region, have approved wage freezes for a year other than the upcoming fiscal year.

Regional Districts Cold to Pay Freeze Proposal

As part of his budget address the Governor put forth the idea of a pay freeze for public school employees, noting that "…a statewide freeze of teacher pay could save districts about $400 million". Soon after the head of the state’s largest teachers’ union encouraged his members to enter into talks with school boards over a pay freeze.

So has the idea gained traction since then? The Pennsylvania Association of School Boards (PSBA) has collected a list of schools that have communicated to the association that they adopted a wage freeze for the upcoming fiscal year. Five districts have adopted what could be termed a district wide freeze: that is, administrators, staff, and teachers have taken a wage freeze. Three districts have a wage freeze that does not affect staff; five have a freeze that does not involve teachers; the largest group, involving 25 districts, have adopted a pay freeze for administrators only.

The idea has been slow coming in southwestern Pennsylvania: only two districts (Belle Vernon and Seneca Valley) out of the 38 total have adopted a pay freeze. Neither one involves teachers in the freeze.

About one-fourth of the districts in Allegheny County have teacher contracts that are set to expire this year. The largest district, Pittsburgh, just negotiated a five-year contract in 2010 and has no intention of reopening it at this time. The County still has the distinction of being the only one in the state that have had teacher strikes this year and the contracts in those districts (Allegheny Valley, Bethel Park, and Moon Area) are not yet resolved.

Governor Gets It Terribly Wrong on Education Spending

Speaking to group of Pennsylvania teachers on June 22, Governor Rendell tried to make the case for asking the Legislature to approve an additional $355 million in education spending in the 2010-2011 budget.  In his remarks he said school district budget cuts are hurting schools across the state. To illustrate this claim he pointed to Penn Hills where 49 teachers have been furloughed.  Too bad the Governor’s aides had not read the news accounts regarding the furloughs.

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Teachers Can Help With Impending Pension Funding Increase

With school districts facing as much as a sixfold jump in the amount they must pay for teacher pensions by 2012, teachers are very worried that school boards will have to cut programs and/or staff.

School districts and teacher unions are asking Harrisburg for a fix that will help cover the additional funding. Good luck with that. The state faces its own enormous pension payment increase and its finances are very shaky with looming huge deficits.

What to do? If teachers and their union leadership want to avoid program and staff cuts, they should offer to help. They should agree: (1) to accept a voluntarily salary freeze and (2) agree to pay more for health care. These actions would help to offset some of the impending huge pension payment increases.

Union leaders argue that school districts have been derelict by underpaying into the pension system. Maybe they should consider that the strident position taken by unions during bargaining, backed by the right to strike, have already stretched to the limit the ability of taxpayers to support schools. No group has fared better economically than Pennsylvania’s teachers during good times and bad. Virtually no layoffs, protection of underperformers, excessive, blind support by Harrisburg of the public school system, and lack of accountability are the real problems. Addressing those is the best place to start. In the meantime, let’s see if teachers are willing to offer school districts any help with the pension payment hike.