Dan Vanden Heuvel
Dan Vanden Heuvel is a Wood River High School Science Teacher and member of the Blaine County Education Association.
In 2016, public outcry about administrator compensation led to negotiations between BCSD and the newly formed administrators’ union. We found out that administrators have been receiving a host of significant benefits that are not extended to teachers, such as full health coverage for their families and a 9% “deferred compensation” contribution on top of their regular salary and benefits. While teachers bore the consequences of the increasing cost of health care by forgoing raises and paying more out of pocket, administrators were receiving full coverage at no cost and without any reduction in their compensation. As a result of the fall 2016 negotiations, a salary scale was developed for administrators, ensuring more consistency and transparency regarding their pay. The full amount of family health coverage (including an anticipated 8% increase in cost that turned out to be only 2.4%) was added to their base salary, with the idea that health care increases would slowly reduce that benefit over time and eventually—in many years—save the district money. Shifting to the salary scale cost the district $250,000 in additional funds (which will have to be paid every year from now on), and there was no cut in any compensation to offset that increase. In fact, many administrators received large raises (averaging about $10,000). The $250,000 represented the majority of the money budgeted this year for increasing the base salary of other staff, like teachers.
In an ideal world, we would offer health coverage to all staff (teachers, administrators, classified) and their families, plus additional compensation for retirement. But the budget stabilization levy caps our property tax funding at 2006 levels; enrollment is stable or slightly declining; and costs continue to rise. We have to make choices to balance the budget and can’t do everything we’d like. The school board had an opportunity to demonstrate that they were financially responsible and committed to a balanced budget when they negotiated the administrator contract in the fall. Instead, they gave the administrators most of the budgeted money for salary increases and didn’t offset increases with any cuts in administrator-only benefits. This decision was made shortly after “negotiating” a 0% increase in base pay for teachers the previous spring. So, when the school board comes to the BCEA negotiation table saying, “We have no money available for increases on the salary scale” and again asks us to accept 0% on the base, I find their words a bit hollow. If they had money to offer large salary increases to administrators who have born no increasing costs for health care over the past nine years, continued to get raises through the recession and subsequent recovery, and who receive other benefits well in excess of the teachers, then surely they should be able to adjust the teacher salary scale a modest 1-2% this year to keep pace with inflation. We should be asking for the same benefits package as is offered to our administrators. If these benefits are necessary to recruit and retain high quality administrative staff, they must also be critical to recruiting and retaining high quality teaching staff, right? If not, then why are we continuing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to maintain these benefits for administrators, in a time when we are reducing staff and programs to make ends meet?
In response to the No vote, the district is trying to argue that “72% of the teachers” already get a raise based on the steps and lanes in the current salary schedule. They are trying to make it look like the millions they need to cut from the budget are a result of these raises, so any demand for more pay is unrealistic. Taking into account inflation, the 3% “raise” I receive next year (by adding one year of seniority) is actually only a small increase. Teachers who increase by 1% on the salary scale or 0% (above 20 years) are actually compensated less in real dollars. And since we have largely deferred increases to the base salaries for the past 7+ years, the effect has become significant: teachers at the top are making significantly less than they used to, and salaries for teachers at the bottom are losing competitiveness as housing and other costs rise again. Teachers have willingly made many sacrifices in recognition of the economic downturn and budget limitations. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to vote Yes in any previous BCEA ratification. And I could accept no additional increase in my pay or benefits this year, too, if I felt like I was being treated fairly. But the agreement reached by the board with the administrators’ union in the fall made it clear that things were not going to be fair and that the Board could choose to begin restoring teacher pay to previous levels (or at least hold it steady). So I ask myself, “Why should teachers continue to accept 0% to achieve a balanced budget while the Board continues to offer administrators higher levels of benefits than teachers and an additional $250,000 in compensation? Why have teachers had to pay more for health care and forgo base pay increases for many years while administrators weren’t asked to make any concessions?” Ultimately, the Board can prioritize spending however they’d like, but I couldn’t bring myself to check Yes and agree to 0% again. That’s why I voted No.