Utah teacher union contracts that drain precious education dollars stem from ‘culture of entitlement’

Aug 12, 2014 by

SALT LAKE CITY – Between 2009 and 2012, the Granite, Utah school district cut roughly $55 million from its general fund budget.

Dozens of jobs were eliminated, mostly at the administrative and support staff level, leaving teachers without critical assistance. Many student services were cut or trimmed down, including a career and technical education program, alternative language courses, special reading courses and at-risk programs.

Five professional development days for teachers were cancelled. Two academic days were removed from the school calendar. Property taxes were increased to help fill the budget gap.

“There were cuts that were felt,” Granite school board President Gayleen Gandy told EAGnews. “We felt like we had cut well past the bone and into the muscle.”

The school board had not come close to restoring the cuts it had made by the start of the 2012-13 school year.

Yet somehow it was able to justify some very expensive perks for teachers in 2012-13, including a $542,934 across-the-board cost-of-living raise, $3.4 million worth of automatic, annual “step” raises, $57,263 in extra pay for student lunch supervision, and $335,033 in compensation for unused sick days.

Those costs were all due to negotiated provisions in the collective bargaining agreement between the Granite school board and the Granite Education Association (the local teachers union).

The total of the extra costs, roughly $4.3 million for one academic year, would have been enough to restore some of the budget cuts from previous years.

Gandy argues that teachers deserved the cost-of-living raise and other perks in 2012-13, because they sacrificed during the leanest years. She also said her district’s generous benefit package helps recruit top-notch teachers.

But a strong argument could be made that nobody should have received a raise – and teachers could have lived without some unnecessary perks – until all the previous cuts were restored, especially in areas where students were affected.

Remember, the $4.3 million worth of perks is just a small sampling of all the extras Granite teachers received in 2012-13. The district also paid out $50.7 million for employee health insurance premiums, $3.5 million for retiree health insurance premiums, and $34 million toward employee pensions. Much of that money was spent on behalf of current or retired teachers.

Overall the Granite district spent $79 million on benefits for instructional staff – mostly teachers – in 2012-13. A large portion of those benefits were the result of collective bargaining.

EAGnews sent a limited number of questions to Granite and eight other Utah districts – Salt Lake City, Davis, Murray, Logan City, Nebo, Weber, Rich and Carbon – regarding union labor costs. We would have sent more, but public schools are frequently hesitant to share information about labor costs, and often slow to do so.

But the responses we received were enough to demonstrate one undeniable fact – labor costs negotiated by teacher unions are expensive burdens for public schools, even in a “right-to-work” state like Utah.

Simply put, they siphon precious dollars that could otherwise be invested in students. That can be a real problem, particularly during lean years when choices must be made between student programs and employee perks.

“Teachers believe they are entitled to a raise, every single year,” Blake Ostler, a veteran Salt Lake City attorney who has worked on many school labor issues, told EAGnews.

When finances are extremely tight, and the unions don’t get the dollars they want at the bargaining table, they often expect something tangible in return, even if it’s bad for students.

A good example comes from the Ogden school district in the 1990s, when the school board could not justify a raise for teachers, so it agreed to cut their work days from 8 hours to 6 hours and 40 minutes.

“That was horribly detrimental to student achievement,” Brad Smith, the current superintendent of Ogden schools, told EAGnews. “The board had this feeling that, gee, we have to somehow make a concession because we can’t afford a raise. Item after item like that arises from the culture of entitlement that’s come to be expected as part of being employed by public schools.”

Lots of costly contract provisions

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, a former Utah teacher, was recently elected president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.

In a media interview, she said she became involved in the union because she was upset by large class sizes and low state funding for schools in Utah.

“I thought, who does this? Who does this to kids?” Eskelsen Garcia was quoted as saying.

Utah taxpayers could ask the same question about her union. Perhaps if some Utah schools didn’t pay so much for union labor, there would be more money to hire teachers and fund school operations.

The Salt Lake City district, for example, gave teachers a one-time, one percent bonus in 2012-13, which cost just over $1.1 million. Teachers also received $900,000 worth of automatic, annual step raises.

The district also shelled out $23.1 million for teacher pensions, $7.2 million for teacher health insurance and $367,670 toward retired teacher health insurance.

The Salt Lake City district spent $283,955 more from its general fund in 2012-13 than it took in, according to state records.

The Murray City school district contributed $320,304 to teachers’ 401(k) accounts in 2012-13, on top of the more than $4 million it paid on behalf of teachers to the state pension fund. It also paid teachers $171,689 under the “retirement prior to age 62” provision of the teacher union contract, and $130,370 in “extra duty” pay.

The Murray City district also spent $157,705 on annual step raises for teachers and $3.4 million on health insurance premiums for teachers. Overall it spent $914,308 more from its general fund than it collected in 2012-13, according to state records.

The Weber district paid teachers a combined $219,813 in compensation for unused sick days and another $236,090 to employees and retirees who participated in a separate “unused sick leave reimbursement program.”

The district also forked over more than $1 million to teachers through its early retirement program, gave teachers a 1.2 percent general raise that totaled $1.6 million, paid out $375,000 in automatic, annual raises, and paid nearly $13,000 of the teachers union president’s salary.

The Davis school district spent $112,877 under a negotiated union provision that calls for extra pay for teachers to perform student lunch supervision. The district also forked over $1.6 million toward retiree health insurance, largely for retired teachers, and spent $3.6 million on automatic annual raises for teachers.

Davis district officials declined to provide the amount paid out for teacher health insurance coverage in 2012-13. The district spent $1.8 million more from its general fund than it received in 2012-13, according to state records.

The Nebo district has a contract provision that says:

Each school faculty, in consultation with the principal, shall determine how the lunch-time supervision funds shall be distributed among those involved in lunch-time supervision.

The result is that the district paid out $112,762 for lunchroom supervision in 2012-13, but only $1,375 went to members of the teachers union. That could very well mean that the union pressed to get most teachers out of this duty, forcing the district to bring in other employees.

A lot of money could have been saved in the Davis and Nebo districts if teachers were simply assigned to lunch duty on a rotational basis, with no extra pay at all. We’re pretty sure they would have survived the experience.

The Nebo district also paid teachers $1.2 million in automatic, annual raises, forked over $12.5 million toward teacher health insurance and $313,965 toward retiree health insurance.

Nebo’s general fund expenditures outpaced revenues by $3 million in 2012-13, according to state records.

The Rich school district paid out $84,883 in 2012-13 for a negotiated provision that calls for teachers to receive extra pay for extra duty assignments. The district also paid teachers $38,629 for a negotiated early retirement program and $8,667 to teachers in reimbursement for unused sick days.

The Rich district also paid out $77,940 in health insurance premiums for teachers in 2012-13, and $35,320 in automatic, annual raises for teachers.

Tomorrow: Automatic annual raises and generous leave policies cost schools money and hurt academics.

Utah teacher union contracts that drain precious education dollars stem from ‘culture of entitlement’ – EAGnews.org powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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1 Comment

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    Teacher with brain

    God forbid teachers get a COLA. I have not had one in 8 years. God gorbid we do anything for teachers to help them support their families.

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