Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Agreed !

Board member, Mona Dyke, shared some things with me that have value in our discussion of the issue before us. Below are her comments, slightly abridged:

There are arguments to be made for both sides, but as we continue the debate, the kids are suffering. Teachers are working to the contract, nothing more, & they are preoccupied with this.

There is a lot we agree on! We all agree that the teachers are not SOLELY responsible for low OAT scores. As Jeff, “IT’S TIME FOR ALL OF US TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF OUR DISTRICT!” We need to stand up and be the first to be accountable.

We agree that the teachers of Swanton deserve a fair contract.
-->What is “fair” is the disagreement
We both say we want to avoid a strike
We agree that we need to treat each other with respect.
We agree that teachers are not solely to blame for low OAT scores.
We agree that most teachers get into teaching, and continue teaching, for the students.

Other facts that we agree on are:
The current base pay of a starting teacher is low compared to other Fulton Co. schools.
We have a budget carryover of $7.2M.

This is NOT the Board from 2003-04!

In 2005, when school board elections were held, the incumbent was voted out and the top vote getter was Jeff Michael. The community sent a pretty strong message that they wanted things to be done differently. Last year, Cindy and I ran unopposed and replaced the last of the school board members that were seated in 2003-04. We don’t know what promises were made by people who are no longer here. Those promises don’t seem to have been put in writing. As to promises that were documented, I went back through levy documents and found the following:

Jan, 2004 1.25% income tax flyer: After several paragraphs about the deficit and the cuts that were made, then, “the Board continues to look for ways to reduce expenses and remains dedicated to the education of our children. If the March 2 levy passes, (the School Board) will examine the areas that most affect students as they decide what teaching positions can be filled, if any.”

Flyer for the Operating Levy renewal in Nov. 04 talked about the concessions the teachers and support staff made in the 04-05 contract and stated “the new treasurer and school board continue to look for savings and fiscal restraint.”

A 2007 Letter from the District to residents about the operating levy renewal said “Our school district needs the programs and services being funded by this levy to maintain the educational progress being made by our students. We also continue to be dedicated to fiscal responsibility. We offered contracts to our teachers and staff that gave them an increase yet is well within our budget. It is critical to our continued improvement and to the overall environment of the school that we are competitive with area districts and are able to attract and keep quality teachers and staff.” This point was reiterated in a flyer that was distributed.

These promises have been consistent: dedication to fiscal responsibility, to the education of the children in Swanton and an understanding that we must be competitive in the salaries we offer our employees, within our budget. Our offer to the teachers in August would put us in the middle salary range of Fulton Co. schools.

Our plan for the Budget Carryover

We might be able to afford the SEA’s request in the short term, but it will be at the expense of additional positions, programs and advisors, and the risk of returning our district to the serious financial situation we were in 5 years ago. The School Board’s plan has been to slowly build back programs and positions, as needed and as we can sustain them. Much has been done to bring back the programs and some of the positions that were cut. Does it make sense to hire good teachers, only to have to lay them off in a few years if we have to make cuts again?

We stated in the Board Bulletin, “The District has been slowly adding back programs and positions that were cut in 2003. However, the Board has no intention of going back to the spending levels that got us into trouble, nor do we intend to maintain this high carryover balance every year. According to the most recent draft of the 5 year forecast, in 2013 our carryover will have decreased to approximately $990,000, which is less than one month’s operating budget.”
Many of you know Mona personally, as she has been a very active participant in our school district for many years. She is known and respected by our teachers, as well as our community at large. She has earned this respect by doing her best to see both sides of a given issue before giving an opinion.

As she has stated above, the question before the Board and our teachers is: how do you define "fair" ? The offer we presented would place our base salary range squarely in the middle of Fulton County schools, and included an increase in benefits without an increase in cost to our teachers. Yet - the salary increase we offered is not quite as high as that asked of us by the SEA negotiating team.

So . . . what is "fair"? That is the decision that must be made by both sides of the table.

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