Group takes aim at Minneapolis teacher benefits
Steve Brandt, Star Tribune, May 1, 2012 –
An anti-union group based in Michigan has taken aim at some of the fringe benefits in the Minneapolis teacher contract, arguing that they cost teacher jobs.
Nevertheless, group spokesman Steve Gunn said that the Minneapolis contract has fewer such provisions than the Milwaukee contract.
Education Action Group of Muskegon, Mich. argues that Minneapolis would have $21 million more to balance its budget if it eliminated some of the features that make up the $268 million in salaries and benefits for on teachers and others represented by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. That’s nearly 8 percent of what the district pays them.
“As expenses have piled up and depleted the fund reserve, MPS has continued to spend a great deal of money on salary, benefits and other perks for employees, particularly those covered by the teachers union collective bargaining agreement,” the group said in its report titled “Sucking the Life Out of America’s Public Schools.”
MFT President Lynn Nordgren fired back.“This is a very shallow and misinformed analysis of an expired contract by an out-of-state, anti-union group that is trying to dismantle public education,” she said. District General Counsel and negotiator Steve Liss agreed.
The group lists these potential savings: suspending paying health insurance premiums for retired teachers (funded partly by their unused sick pay), $7.6 million; freezing experience and education raises that many teachers obtain, $5.6 million; suspend pay for extra duties performed by teachers outside the classroom, $3.3 million; require teachers to pay more of their health insurance premiums, $1.5 million; suspend matching what teachers pay into their retirement savings account, $979,301;cancel severance payments of $25,000 each to encourage teachers to retire, $883,865; suspend payments paid to teachers attending workshops and conferences, $776,463; suspend the $5,000 annual payments to teachers who mentor other teachers, $350,759; and cancel bonuses worth $1,000 to teachers who earn tenure, $89,000.
The group said it derived those costs by asking the district how much each contract provision cost.last school year. Of course, the district can’t unilaterally cut these negotiated benefits. Indeed, an arbitrator ruled in 2010 ruled the district couldn’t unilaterally deny teachers experience and education raises and merit pay.
Nordgren called the group’s list “impractical, illogical and given Minnesota law, sometimes impossible.” She added, “Their recommendaitons would make it nearly impossible to attract or retain good teachers.”
Some of the retirement incentives the group cited actually save the district money when new teachers are hired for a lower cost, Nordgren said. She said that teachers work some $16 million in uncompensated work annually, such as volunteering with students or visiting parents. She said a typical teacher spends $18,000 over a career in buying classroom supplies not furnished.
“Teaching is the business, so teaching is going to be the greatest expenses,” Nordgren said. The Minneapolis contract has some other benefits that haven’t been funded recently to save money, such as sabbatical leaves.
Liss said the retiree health figure lumps two things together. The district pays roughly the employer’s contribution toward a retiree’s health insurance until the retiree becomes eligible for Medicare. But the district stopped that for new retirees in mid-2008, he said, so its payments will gradually decline as previous retirees hit age 65. But teachers continue to be eligible to cash in half of the value of their unused sick days upon retirement to pay their health expenses.
The potential savings the group identified amount to under $7,000 per teacher, compared to savings of more than $11,000 per teacher it urged in Milwaukee schools, the closest big-city for which it has released an analysis.
Education Action Group says its purpose is to discuss, analyze and publicize ideas about public education, but its web site is dominated by material unfavorable to public employee unions. The group refused to disclose its donors on its IRS filing,saying that would chill their First Amendment rights.