Another Shutout!



June, 2005

Teachers Union 10, Children and North Andover Taxpayers 0

Get ready for the hand wringing! Next spring you will hear about the massive cuts in services and the need to layoff approximately two-dozen of North Andover’s teaching staff. Intense pressure will be brought to bear on fire, police and public works to share the pain. A property tax override will be demanded to avoid the cuts. The override, if it is sent to the voters, will probably fail and the cuts will be made.

 But that is only half the problem … the same scenario will unfold again the following year. Another two-dozen teachers, more pressure on municipal services, another chance to choose between taxes and cuts/layoffs.

 How can it be that bad? Didn’t you hear the contract was “only” 3 percent per year? With 2½ percent tax increases yearly plus increases from new growth, won’t that cover it? Not even close. Consider the following: First, the salary increase this next year is not 3 percent; it is 4 percent. Without going into details, a teacher that only benefits from the direct effect of the “3 percent” raise actually has their salary for next year go up 4 percent over the current school year.

 But teachers don’t benefit just from the direct effect of the raise. Many also receive “step” raises or raises due to changing categories; both of which are independent of the negotiated increase. The net effect of this is an average increase of about 2 percent for the entire workforce. Using simple addition, we get: 4% + 2% = 6% … but we’re not done yet.

 The union contract also calls for an improved retirement plan that can add up to another half percent in compensation for those who choose to participate. So the real salary increase is NOT 3 percent next year … it is over 6 percent. This contract does NOT fit the current budget. Services and staff have been cut to feed this unconscionable increase. That’s the real reason why there are layoffs, Bradstreet is being closed, and there is redistricting. But it gets worse!

 The increase over the last two years of the contract will add another 11%.

 Yet the School Department budget has been projected to increase only 2 percent per year. Even if all of the budget increase went to pay for increased salaries, an additional 17 teachers will need to be laid off each year. But non-salary costs will rise and, if they rise only 3 percent/year, the teacher losses will jump to 24 each year. With energy costs rising faster than inflation, worse news is likely.

 Well, is that all the bad news? Nope.

 The extra 15 minutes per day of classroom time (a good thing) called for in the contract is really just a change of work assignment … not a longer workday. In fact, the contract calls for the teachers to arrive each day only 15 minutes before the start of school (not the 30 minutes previously required). Wow! Six percent more money and 15 minutes more ZZZs every morning!

 If that isn’t enough, the School Committee also sold out new teachers who don’t want to be union members. Their interests were sacrificed without their being represented at the bargaining table. They will now have to pay union fees substantially equivalent to union dues. The union is now stronger than ever.

 One last thing … not one reform was wrestled from the union. No provision for merit pay. No mechanisms to eliminate bad teachers. Nothing that would encourage higher quality delivery of education services. How does this help the children?

 Contracts like this are the real reason North Andover is plagued by unending requests for property tax overrides and why public education wallows in mediocrity.

 Get ready for the hand wringing!