Analysis: Officials at Pennsylvania’s North Penn School District have given their teachers union an ultimatum: agree to a wage freeze or prepare for layoffs of support staff and cuts to teaching positions.
San Diego school officials recently announced it will cancel hundreds of teacher layoffs if its union will accept a few unpaid furlough days for all teachers, and postpone a promised salary increase.
In some school districts, teachers are beginning to get the message: union concessions will save teaching positions that students depend on.
At New Britain schools in Connecticut, for instance, the local teachers union recently voted to accept concessions in the form of furlough days and a salary freeze to save 15 teaching positions.
The direct correlation between concessions from school employee unions and teacher layoffs is becoming increasingly evident as more school officials eye expensive labor costs to balance their budgets. The public, including members of the teachers unions, are beginning to see the bigger picture, and are no longer accepting the union notion that higher taxes are the answer.
Sarah Mathy, a sixth year teacher in San Diego, illustrated the problem well in a letter to her union’s leadership.
“In March I was asking you to negotiate with (the district) so that many of the layoffs could be avoided. I called for things such as extra furlough days and opening the health benefits package negotiation,” Mathy wrote. “But so far, all I have received are layoff notices #1 and #2 from (the district), and emails from (the union) calling me to more action and more rallies.
“This is not what I want,” she wrote.
It’s not what students, parents or taxpayers want either. For decades the nation’s largest teachers unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – have shrugged as countless educators are dismissed each year. The unions have seemed more interested in preserving expensive perks for older educators who are not threatened by layoff than the positions of younger teachers.
The union’s seniority system has forced districts across the country to lay off dynamic young teachers en masse, with no regard for teaching ability or student success.
That practice is slowly fading away with recent legislation enacted in Idaho, Indiana and other states that does away with the “last in, first out” union layoff policy in favor of a more performance-based system.
Until more states adopt similar measures, district officials must continue to put the discussion in the proper context, one that clearly exposes the link between concessions and layoffs. As recent media reports have shown, the simple equation will undoubtedly increase public pressure on union leaders to put the interests of students ahead of their own.
“Stubborn union leaders have forced districts across the country to lay off bright young teachers in exchange for preserving union perks that have nothing to do with educating students. We suspect that district officials who properly illustrate that point will receive strong support from local residents,” said Kyle Olson, founder and CEO of EAG.
“The teachers unions, meanwhile, should accept the fact that labor concessions are now essential in most school districts to prevent layoffs. Union leaders would be wise to acknowledge that reality and help districts survive the current financial crisis in order to avoid the growing public resentment that is fueling collective bargaining reforms across the country,” he said.