Contract holds back city schools

A new schools chief has come to Baltimore. Andres Alonso’s arrival coincides with the last stages of negotiation of a multi year teachers union contract, which will effectively tie his hands if its provisions are unwise.

There is much in the current contract that was carelessly accepted, and much that needs revision. Political realities preclude drastic revisions, but there are steps in the right direction that should be taken.

The two drivers of the system’s recurrent fiscal crises are teachers’ automatic step salary increases, up to the 21st year of service, and their “Cadillac” health insurance plan. The panel under the chairmanship of former Baltimore County Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe that investigated the last fiscal crisis determined that these items increase personnel costs by 8 percent per year, while the district normally sees about a 2 percent increase in tax revenues. The difference creates a structural deficit of $42 million per year.

The system cuts off seniority increments at the 10th year for teachers without master’s degrees; it should ultimately do the same for all teachers. A start should be made by lowering, perhaps to 18, the years of step increases, and/or lowering them to 10 for new entrants into the system.

The health plan contains a $150 individual and $400 family annual deductible with no co-pays for most in-network services, and co-pays of only $10 for branded drugs, well below those in Medicare Part D. Middle-class professionals should be expected to budget for routine health care.

In addition to exorbitant health care costs and wage increases, the contract provides the most liberal provisions for cash conversion of sick leave of any school district in Maryland.

Fiscal profligacy, however, is far from the only problem with the current contract. Consider the following provisions:

Posted in: Education, Report