The opinions expressed in this article are my own as a resident of Teaneck and are not representative of the Teaneck Board of Education that voted 7-1 in favor of the 2017-2019 Teaneck Teachers Education Association (TTEA) contract.
I was the sole vote against approval of the TTEA contract for the following reasons:
1- Teaneck residents are already burdened with excessively high property taxes. The primary reason is the cost of labor inclusive of salaries and benefits. The cost of TTEA member pensions is not considered in the employee compensation package despite the fact Teaneck residents also pay state taxes; unfunded liabilities total 135.7 billion.1
2- According to the NJ Department of Education Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending, 2014-15 costs amount per pupil were $27,246 based on $101 million in total spending for an average daily census of 3,865 students.2 The 2015-16 budgeted costs amount per pupil of $20,071 was ranked 102/103 districts in NJ with <3,500 students. The latter figure excludes non-comparable costs among districts such as transportation, interest payments and other items.
3- TTEA members, prior to the latest contract, were already among the highest paid teachers in New Jersey. Median teacher salary (2015-16) of $81,583 was ranked 98/103 within its group. The salary guide already incorporates increases of 4-6 percent per annum for teachers with 5-13 years of experience. TTEA members are classified by its salary guide as BA, Masters, Masters + 32 credits and PhD; the MA+32 category is “make-believe” created by unions only to rationalize unjustifiable raises in salary.
4- The approved TTEA contract results in a three-year increase of 8.0 percent; net of “giveback” the salary increase was 5.8 percent. However, the increase in total compensation also includes rising healthcare premium costs paid for by the BOE. The TTEA agreed to going from a $10 to $15 co-payment, and participating in the NJ State pharmaceutical plan. The incremental cost of this change is still $2.3 million or the equivalent of another 6.7 percent over three years. The total increase in compensation, salaries and benefits is 12.5 percent or an average of 4.2 percent per year.
5- It could have been worse. By going from Direct 10 to Direct 15, and moving TTEA members into the state Rx plan, the BOE avoided $3.1 million in incremental healthcare costs. The problem is that the TTEA was “given” $2.3 million of the total cost avoidance savings, or nearly 75 percent of the total.
6- Pay for performance does not exist. “Last-in, first out”—irrespective of performance—is the “rule” when it comes to budget shortfalls and the need to reduce staff. Tenure after four years represents a near-guarantee of lifetime employment, irrespective of performance. Grievance procedures are very expensive and biased against management. The threat of “unfair labor practices” is used repeatedly, whether justifiable or not.
7- TTEA members receive 10 sick days, 15 paid holidays, three personal days and a calculated number of vacation days per year for a 185-day school year. The typical U.S. worker has a 250-day work year. The unused sick, personal and vacation days do not have an expiration date. They are paid, upon retirement, at the final-year salary rate and not at the rate when taken. In FY2016-17, the cost to the BOE of this retirement “bonus” was $550,000 or the equivalent of a 1 percent raise for every TTEA member! Just last week, as required by contract, the BOE approved 86 days of (never expired) unused sick days for an employee. The BOE will continue to pay the employee cost, as well as that of a substitute during this period.
8- The Board of Education has made progress in managing its budget during the past few years. The difference between a budget and projection, the concept of cost-avoidance and the need for two- to three-year final plans is now understood by BOE members. The outsourcing of paraprofessionals and night-shift custodians has avoided $7.0 million in employee costs per annum; projected spending of $12.5 million has been reduced to $5.5 million.
The TTEA contract is a step backward that will lead to depletion of the budgeted fund balance (“reserve”) and possibly outsourcing, a reduction in specific activities, staff cutbacks and other initiatives. More money for TTEA members implies less for others. It also does not imply improved academic performance among students.
In addition, a more permanent solution for the rise in healthcare costs is required for all municipal employees as $30,000+ coverage for families is overly generous and not sustainable.
Arguments are being made by “some” elected officials about the 2.0 percent cap being unreasonable, and the need to use exceptions (or more cleverly, shift operating costs to the balance sheet). It’s not. Teaneck has a spending problem. More needs to be done with less. That requires accountability, productivity and the use of performance metrics; i.e., fact-based decision making.
Is the future of Teaneck solely about electoral popularity, or do fiscal responsibility and outcomes matter to the electorate?
1 Bergen record, November 16, 2016
By David Gruber
David Gruber is a trustee of the Teaneck Board of Education. He can be reached at [email protected]