Wisconsin public union collective bargaining law benefits education
Byron York brings us the story of one school district in Wisconsin which sees the new law limiting collective bargaining by public sector unions as a "God send".
The Kaukauna School District, in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin near Appleton, has about 4,200 students and about 400 employees. It has struggled in recent times and this year faced a deficit of $400,000. But after the law went into effect, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, school officials put in place new policies they estimate will turn that $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. And it’s all because of the very provisions that union leaders predicted would be disastrous.
In the past, teachers and other staff at Kaukauna were required to pay 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance coverage and none of their pension costs. Now, they’ll pay 12.6 percent of the cost of their coverage (still well below rates in much of the private sector) and also contribute 5.8 percent of salary to their pensions. The changes will save the school board an estimated $1.2 million this year, according to board President Todd Arnoldussen.
Of course there’s an additional benefit to this – if they run a “surplus”, they can lower taxes, can’t they?
Anyway, other benefits accrued from the law:
In the past, Kaukauna’s agreement with the teachers union required the school district to purchase health insurance coverage from something called WEA Trust — a company created by the Wisconsin teachers union. "It was in the collective bargaining agreement that we could only negotiate with them," says Arnoldussen. "Well, you know what happens when you can only negotiate with one vendor." This year, WEA Trust told Kaukauna that it would face a significant increase in premiums.
Now, the collective bargaining agreement is gone, and the school district is free to shop around for coverage. And all of a sudden, WEA Trust has changed its position. "With these changes, the schools could go out for bids, and lo and behold, WEA Trust said, ‘We can match the lowest bid,’" says Republican state Rep. Jim Steineke, who represents the area and supports the Walker changes. At least for the moment, Kaukauna is staying with WEA Trust, but saving substantial amounts of money.
Funny how that works, no? I’m just the vindictive enough type of person to let WEA stew in their own juices and take the lowest bid that isn’t theirs. It tends to make for a very competitive bid the next time they’re given the opportunity. Aren’t markets an amazing thing?
Then there are work rules. "In the collective bargaining agreement, high school teachers only had to teach five periods a day, out of seven," says Arnoldussen. "Now, they’re going to teach six." In addition, the collective bargaining agreement specified that teachers had to be in the school 37 1/2 hours a week. Now, it will be 40 hours.
The changes mean Kaukauna can reduce the size of its classes — from 31 students to 26 students in high school and from 26 students to 23 students in elementary school. In addition, there will be more teacher time for one-on-one sessions with troubled students. Those changes would not have been possible without the much-maligned changes in collective bargaining.
Teachers’ salaries will stay "relatively the same," Arnoldussen says, except for higher pension and health care payments. (The top salary is around $80,000 per year, with about $35,000 in additional benefits, for 184 days of work per year — summers off.) Finally, the money saved will be used to hire a few more teachers and institute merit pay.
Or, the schools will have some options that actually benefit the students vs. benefitting the teachers. I know … for most of us that’s what we thought the system should always have been about, no? But for too long, public sector unions ruled the roost and were able to get working conditions and benefits from friendly politicians that were essentially ruining the education system (and other parts of government) by limiting options and choices.
The introduction of some market based mechanisms plus more options is sure to benefit students over teachers as it should be – not, I’d argue, that teachers come out of this on the poor side of things. On the contrary – now they have to join the rest of us an work 40 hours a week, pay for their benefits and do a bit more to earn that $125,000 in salary and benefits for 184 days work.
Tough stuff, huh?