The Fourth of July is still a long way off, yet the fireworks are are in full gear in Orland School District 135. It's good to know that, at least, they have settled the teachers' contract and avoided a strike.
I know what these negotiations are like, having been through two of them during my term on the school board. I don't necessarily fault anyone for the length of time it took to come to an agreement. If the union just folded and accepted the first offer from the board, this would have been over several months ago. The same could be said if the board gave the teachers everything they asked for. It would have been quick, but it would not have been responsible.
The teachers union is paid to represent the interests of the teachers. They have an obligation to get the best deal for their members. If they don't they should be voted out. The board has an obligation to get the best deal for the taxpayers. The trick is to come to an agreement that is acceptable to both sides.
There is no doubt that the teachers in District 135 work hard and deserve to be paid well. But, you can say that about almost anyone. Electricians work hard, so do nurses and insurance agents; do they get what they "deserve?" Don't secretaries and mechanics deserve raises and excellent benefits, too? It's difficult to ask those people to pay higher taxes to pay for the teachers' raises when many of them are making less money and have reduced benefits.
I know that the district is sitting on a large surplus right now. Typically, a district passes a referendum (like in 2005) and builds up a surplus. The growth of expenses usually outpaces the growths of revenue and eventually, you run a deficit. Having a large cash surplus makes it possible to run a deficit for a long time before another referendum is needed. It's also nice to have money available for an unforeseen problem. Roofs can leak and a near-bankrupt state can cut funding at any time.
Like I said, I've been through this twice. I was president when the last contract was done. That was difficult too, but there was a big difference. There was a mutual respect between the board and the union. Unlike now, where some people on the board have antagonized the union, we respected each others positions. Issues were often handled with a phone call instead of lawyers. The whole Melanie Walsh fiasco proves this out.
Like Mr. Carmody, I was president of a 4-3 board. The split was political and personal, but it never interfered with us doing the right thing for the district. We fought some hard battles, but I never doubted the "other side's" commitment to District 135. Ironically, Tom Cunningham was one of the three back then and he always demanded that the minority point of view be respected. I guess that changes when you're in the majority. I don't think Mr. Cunningham would have allowed the majority to play political games with a secretary's career like with Mrs. Walsh. He would have been furious with the money being spent on lawyers to perpetuate this mistake; and he would have been right.
I know that many of us have been beating the board majority up over the Melanie Walsh error. What I don't understand is how can the board preach about being fiscally responsible, yet be willing to waste tax money on a secretarial position?
In a time when many people have become critical of public employee unions, why would a board do something that proves why public employees still need unions and why do something that get people, like me, to side with a union?
Fortunately, this is a strong district. Years of tight financial management have made it that way. The people of this district are good too. We have good people working in the district and we have good citizens supporting it. The district is bigger than the school board and whoever happens to be on it at any given time. It's also bigger than any personal agenda or vendetta that any particular board member may be persuing. A school board election is never more than two years away. The next one is in April of 2013, just over a year away.
It'll be here before you know it.