Monday, October 8, 2012

New 4 Year, 8.93% Teacher Contract Approved, My Vote Explained

During the 10/4 Special Board of Ed meeting, the BOE approved (5-1) a new 4 year teacher contract with the EAC. I was the lone "No" vote and my explanation for the vote is detailed below.

The new contract is unique in that it has a duration of 4 years as compared to the often 3 year term. Indeed, 8.93% over the course of years as compared to 14.4% of the previous contract (prior to the last negotiation) over 3 years seems like a great deal. I believe it is certainly a fair economic deal for both the town and the teachers and representative of the economic climate and challenges we all face.

Breakdown of the 8.93% increase:

Year 1 (2013/2014):  0% Step Increase, 1% General Wage Increase.
Year 2 (2014/2015):  1.63% Step Increase, 1.49**% General Wage Increase
Year 3 (2015/2016):  1.69% Step Increase, 1.00% General Wage Increase
Year 4 (2016/2017):  1.55% Step Increase, 1.00% General Wage Increase

**  .25% is applied to Steps 1-13.  1.24% is applied to Step 14

I believe these wage increases are fair. Aside from the Step system itself, I don't have an issue with these wage increases.

In addition to the wage increases, changes have been agreed to in the Medical Benefits portion of the contract. These changes will increase the employee share for higher cost plans and will either reduce the Board's costs for these plans or create more movement to the lower cost plan options available.  The employee cost share increases 3.5% over 4 years for the HSA plan. In the Preferred Provider Plan (PPO), the participant will be responsible to pay the difference between a fixed percent cost of the H.S.A and PPO plan.

In essence, teacher's choosing a plan outside of the HSA plan will buy up into PPO plan (if they choose) with no additional cost (premiums) to the school district. I believe this is significant.

It's estimated that the medical benefits changes may save the Board approximately $200,000/yr during the life of this new contract. I use the word *May* because, as we have seen, insurance costs haven't remained stable for us over the last few years. But, nonetheless, the potential for considerable savings does exist and should be applauded.

I plan on providing more specific details about the medical cost/compensation provisions soon.

Another highlight of the agreement is that the teacher's work day increases from 7 hours 20 minutes to 7 hours 50 minutes ONE day per week. This change was made in order to accommodate additional collaboration time between teachers.

The Reason for my "No" Vote

I am supportive of the wage increase, medical cost changes and term of this new contract. I do believe that, economically, it is one of the better contracts Cheshire has seen in some time. I want to thank the EAC, the teachers and negotiation teams for coming together and reaching this deal outside of arbitration. I want to thank the union for their professionalism, cordiality and commitment to Cheshire. Had there been more time available to the negotiation process we may have been able to address more concerns. Time, as always, is of the essence.

I am not voting against what was agreed to. However (this is solely my opinion and not necessarily that of the board) there were 3 more important items that needed attention in this contract. All too often, we tend to focus on the numbers and lose sight of more pressing issues. IMO, the wage/benefit changes are only 50% of what needed attention.

One of the areas I wanted to change was the general Step Increase system in the contract. The contract contains a series of 15 Step increases. These are wage increases that are earned for each year of service. These increases are earned regardless of performance. My goal is to move away from a guaranteed step increase and towards a performance-based pay increase system. The general wage increase part of the contract would still exist.

The intent of a performance pay system is to reward those teachers who are performing well over those teachers that may not be performing as well. It is to reward and recognize those teachers, or teams of teachers, that are making a measurable impact in our school district. Under this system, teachers could see a substantially higher increase if they are performing exceptionally while others may be see a lower, or no increase, if they are performing below proficiency.

In general terms, the framework is not very different than what is being done in the private sector. It is not much different than the successful frameworks I've used to hire and coach hundreds of employees in my career. To make such a performance-based system work, teachers would need to be measured on OBJECTIVE criteria. The objective criteria would be defined by both the teachers and administrators, collaboratively. Such a system can only work and have fair results if subjectivity is taken out of the equation. I don't consider the Step system to be fair as it rewards both effective and ineffective teachers and does not monetarily incentive teachers to perform better or be recognized for their exceptional contributions.

Many are aware of the new CT State law on the teacher evaluations that's scheduled to be implemented at the start of the 2013/2014 school year. In this framework, teachers are evaluated in a series of categories some of which measure student success among other factors. This framework is currently being piloted in certain school districts in CT. In this framework, teachers can be rated among 4 performance levels: Exemplary, Proficient, Developing and Below Standard. As an FYI, Cheshire applied to be one of the Pilot schools this year but was rejected by the State.

My idea would be to incorporate this performance ranking in determining pay increases above and beyond general wage increases. I do agree with the general State law over teach evaluation and it seems to provide an objective framework based on defined measurements in helping evaluate teachers. More importantly, it helps identify teachers that need improvement and I want to give those the teachers the tools and training needed to improve. I believe Cheshire can utilize this system to help reward teachers as well.

It's understandable that such a change in compensation would be met with skepticism. However, my goal was to form an agreement/committee between the union, teachers and administration and study the performance-pay framework over the course of 1-2 years. Then reconvene and possibly implement the change into the contract at a later time. However, the idea was tabled indefinitely and not given enough time or consideration for discussion. I believe if we had more time, this would've been given more thoughtful discussion it rightfully deserves.

A second area of concern I have with the contract is a reduction in force. Under the current contract, when a reduction in force is necessary, the contract stipulates that non-tenured teachers be reduced over tenured teachers. This is not fair by any means. Tenure does not guarantee effective teachers. We've had to lay off new, bright and effective teachers during layoffs who may perform better than their tenured peers simply because they were not tenured.

Rather, I wanted to modify the contract language such that either tenured or "Below-Proficient" teachers may be reduced during layoffs. I don't want to continue losing good new teachers during the course of layoffs should they ensure over the next 4 years. If we lose teachers in school district it should only be those teachers that, despite opportunities for training and improvement, have not improved over time and are ineffective.

It may seem that since the evaluation pilot is currently in "pilot" mode that I may be putting the cart before the horse when it comes to rating teachers on performance and rewarding them accordingly. However, the new evaluation is law and will be implemented in 2013/2014 school year. Soon, our curriculum committee will be studying the pilot and working with administration officials to implement the framework.

I don't believe we can wait another 5 years to address performance pay. The contract does not recognize the evaluation law and has no provision to remove teachers that are ineffective per the new evaluation law. As such, it's highly possible that we may indeed have ineffective teachers that we cannot eliminate because the contract does not address this specifically. It's unclear if the new law trumps termination clauses in current contracts.

When the new evaluation process is rating our teachers as either Exemplary, Proficient, Developing or Below Standard...those teachers who are continually exemplary/proficient i.e. Effective will begin wondering why they are not being paid more for performing better over those teachers ranked at a lower performance level. Performance pay is an inevitable topic of discussion. It's coming. The cart is rolling along and we need to catch up to it sooner rather than later.

I believe that the Cheshire school district has the people to make such a plan work. Between the collective experience of the union leadership, teachers and administrators we can make this idea successful. It's not an easy topic to address but I believe it's the right topic to tackle. Rewarding our teachers for a job well done while identifying and helping those teachers in need of improvement can have not only a positive impact on pay/performance, but more importantly, it can help our students achieve better which is the ultimate benefit.

This is the basis for my "No" vote on the contract.


Anonymous said...

It seems like a fair compromise to me. An average of 2.2%/year over 4 years is reasonable. The last contract at 14% very unreasonable. I'd like to know more about the medical benefits costs.

Thank you for standing up in what you believe in Tony. It's nice to see someome trying to make a difference on the boe and your explanation for perfomance-based increases makes sense.

I agree that such an incentive can be very rewarding and successful if it's not subjective. I imagine this idea didn't go over so well with the union? Don't give up on it.

Has the contract been approved by the town council? What has been their response to the agreement?

Democraps said...

The town council probably thinks the contract is fair, more than fair even for them. But they won't admit it to the public. At best, the town council will probably not vote on the contract and let it pass by default. If they vote on it, and agree to it, they will admit failure and they don't want to do that, republicans.

As for the democraps, if it even gets a vote, the democraps will complain the raises aren't enough, yada, yada, yada but vote for it anyway knowing it's a good deal.

Propaganda is all this contract will produce from the town council. I doubt it will see the light of day in a public vote.