Monday, September 22, 2008

Frederick County Teachers Contract Impasse

Contract negotiations between the Frederick County School Board and the Frederick County Teachers Association have broken down and the School Board is no longer negotiating even through a mediator on a couple of points. The issues causing the problem are retiree health benefits and high school teacher planning time. Let's tackle the first issue--retiree health benefits.

Lest anyone think otherwise, generally the health benefits and other non-pay compensation for teachers is generous, almost to a fault. But with the rising cost of health care, health insurance for retirees is often put on the chopping block for budgetary reasons. It happens in private enterprise all the time. Is it fair, well maybe not, but when teachers retire at say age 60 or 65, they are still looking at a 15-20 life expectancy on average. That is a long time to pay for health care for those people most likely to be using that health care and needing some of the most epxensive chronic care. Given that Frederick schools spend almost $10,000 per student, a portion of which goes to cover retiree health benefits, one has to wonder what the classroom impact of retiree health benefits would be, and the answer is obviously none. Did the school board "make a deal" with retirees and those close to retirement? Maybe and retirees and the union have a point. But what we are talking about is not cutting retiree health benefits completely, but rather, the school board is simply asking to make them a negotiable item. It is time to put one of the most expensive retiree benefits on the on the table and have a real discussion about them. Options exist and need to be discussed or the cost of retiree health care is going to bury this county.

The other matter teacher planning time quite honestly borders on the ludicrous. Here is a quick summary of the issue:

If state education officials need to take over a school because of poor performance on standardized tests, the principal is the first person to go.

So the Frederick County Board of Education wants to give principals more power to handle responsibility for test scores by allowing them to claim 45 minutes of teachers' weekly planning time so they can collaborate on ways to improve student performance.


The main issue is with high school teachers, who have 450 minutes of planning time each week. The board suggested allowing principals to reassign 45 of those minutes to a mandatory collaboration among teachers.

"Our administrators currently don't have the means to pull their staff together for the purposes of collaboration," Boffman said.

Frederick County teachers however, fervently oppose the idea. Gary Brennan, president of the county teachers union, said high school teachers need their planning time to do anything from grading papers and responding to parents' e-mails to writing recommendations for college.

At high schools, teachers have planning at different times, so dedicating portions of it for mandatory collaboration would eat up teachers' planning time, without delivering the desired results, Brennan said.

"This is significant to us because we don't believe that the high school schedule is set up to make that time useful," he said.
High school teachers get 450 minutes each week, that is 90 minutes a day for planning time and to do all those things Gary Brennan talked about. Fine, but what the school board is proposing is using just 10% of that time to do that which teachers should be concerned with, that is increasing student performance.

The way the school board presents the matter is this:

If a school is in not performing as it is expected to on standardized tests, then the principal may ask that teachers work together for 45 mintues a week to find ways to improve performance.

Note the conditional, if the school is not making the grade. If teachers are doing their job and the students are peforming, then there is no need for principals to call the collaborative sessions. I don't think that most of Frederick County's high schools are in danger of a state takeover, indeed, I don't know of any in that category. But if they are in danger of a state takeover, then it is the responsibility of the principal and the teachers to make the grade, it really is as simple as that.

Brennan is also arguing that the way high school planning time for teachers is allocated makes it impossible for all teachers to get together so there is no point in having the sessions.

Rubbish!! So collaboration among teachers can only happen when all of the teachers are there? How patently ludicrous!! To collaborate, one only needs two or more people. It would be nice if everyone is involved, but it is not a requirement (what would happen if everyone could be scheduled to meet but one teacher was out sick that day--would you not still meet?) It seems to me that a little creative scheduling would be needed. Since the school board has acceeded to union demands that teacher not actually have to work longer for parent teacher conferences. (By the way, when parent/teacher conferences are held, students either go in four hours late or leave four hours early, so that teachers don't have to work extended hours on those two or three days when conferences are held, unlike when I was in school, teachers simply worked later those couple of days. I don't know if my teachers were compensated for the time, but I do know they were held later).

But what is really going on at the heart of this dispute, but left unsaid, is the general teacher's union hatred of standardized testing. I don't think anyone will argue that standardized testing is a perfect measure of teacher and school performance, but right now it is the only one we have. I have not heard from teachers how to address substandard performance on tests or how to get a better measurement (other than teacher directed assessment) of student performance.

In the real world, even in other government jobs, sometimes the boss has to call a meeting and you have to go. Just because teachers generally work in a solitary manner does not excuse them from the need to go to meetings called by the boss. Will 45 minutes a week really help students do better? I don't know, but what I do know is that teachers often complain about the lack of collegiality in teaching but when offered a chance to really exchange ideas to help students, teachers (or more specifically their union) balk at the idea. So what are we, the parents, supposed to believe?


Union Boss said...

you fools do not understand the teaching profession. They work at home, after school, they put in a lot of extra hours. I hope the union puts a " work to the rule' action in place.

warpmine said...

What you union fools don't understand is that you made that uncomfortable bed and you have to sleep in it. You could have had help but you balked at it so now only those that have a certificate can teach as if this should ever be a bar for teacher performance.

If only somebody would pay me $45 per hour. Yes when you account for all the benefits you people have forced upon us all, it adds up. Shall we mention the 180 school days? If you're into teaching profession for the money then your in the wrong one. Unions are responsible for the mess we're all in sir, unions.
You wanted the monopoly and now you balk at every chance we the tax payers, you know the people that get relieved of their money every April 15, wish to impose on your poor indoctrinating teachers. I know you can't help it because it's what yo get paid for but we need our say as well. If it were up to me the teachers would be fired all in one shot. Hire the same ones that wish to teach back on different contractual conditions.

In case you wondering, Mom was a teacher for 26 years so I've heard it all.

Argh Sure said...

you make less than 45$ an hour ? Dude why are you not a democrat ?

Gtoz said...

Tell them, Warpmine. I agree 100%. I blame half the problems we are having in this country on the labor unions. They have outlived their usefullness. They are killing all of us.

dc said...

I just happened upon this blog and am amazed at how little many of you understand about the teaching profession. Teachers work more than 180 days. They work more than 7.5 hours a day. We work many hours beyond the "contract" day. We don't slow down so we can get overtime. I've been a teacher for 16 years now and have seen many private sector people come in only to quit once they face the harsh realities of the job. If the grass is so green, then struggling taxpayers like Warpmine should become teachers. I think firing us all and working to rehire is an excellent idea. What you don't spend on taxes can be spent on dealing with covering 40,000 kids with nowhere to go until you rehire. In the meantime, while we're waiting to fill those positions, I'm sure Warpmine and Gtoz will take care of the coaching, afterschool clubs, reading and writing remediation, and other activities that keep kids involved,active, and out of trouble. Once they learn to write a little better, they can even write the college recommendation letters those kids need that we write in our "spare" time. I have many friends in other lines of work including selling windows, setting up computer networks, wiring houses, and selling foods. They all make more than I do and work fewer hours in the course of a year. Several of them quit teaching because of the money and the workload. There were days earlier in my career when I made more money delivering pizza than I did that day teaching. I don't know what all of you do for a living, but why don't you put your money where your mouth is and try teaching if you think it is so easy and we are overpaid. I'm sure I could fill whatever position it is that you are leaving. In addition, people should understand that we don't have unions, we have associations. Their bargaining power is minimal and most people join in order to get the liability support needed by teachers. Teachers in MD are not allowed to strike. Based on my experiences with the parents I deal with and the comments from the general public, I understand that you are all on the fringe of opinions. I think the teacher's associations should toughen up and take a firmer stand while at the same time making it harder for unproductive teachers to stay in the business. They only make it harder for the rest of us. Likewise, I think those of you who think we are overpaid and underworked should think again. Maybe you should just try volunteering in your local schools and see what it's really like.