Breaking ISD 709’s bank 25 cents at a time

It turns out that Senator Everett Dirksen never said “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” Evidently when he was first misquoted in the press he decided it was so good he never really corrected it. That’s just as well because since last week’s Human Resources meetings we have heard the quote misquoted several times. First it was said to be “A million here, a million there” reducing it by a factor of ten. The quote was tossed out by a board member to suggest we were going to break the ISD 709 bank by giving our lowliest workers who substitute on an hourly basis a 50 cent per hour pay raise over and above minimum wage pay increases mandated by the State of Minnesota.

These workers are not represented by a union that can bargain for them. They often work as little as 12 hours a week and have no benefits. Administration explained that many of these part time workers use these lowly jobs as jumping off places for more substantial employment with the District or are simply parents getting a little extra money to be at their children’s school.

At our School Board meeting last night our Superintendent pointed out that Wisconsin pays an even more niggardly $7 to such workers. I quibbled that considering the public-worker-adverse Scott Walker regime this might not be such a lofty justification for our keeping our hourly workers poorly compensated.

Alanna Oswald who is particularly close to such workers reckoned that our earlier discussions made it unlikely to win a school board vote on a 50 cent pay raise offered an motion to give hourly workers a 25 cent pay raise. I considered this a happy compromise that symbolically showed our District to have an “it takes a village” mentality with regard to our hourly workers and yet demonstrate a little fiscal conservativism in the face of budget deficits.

The video of this meeting will be up later today and the fifteen minute discussion that took place was quote worthy. It starts about about the 8:30pm mark in the meeting. Its at the 1:47:15 mark on youtube.

For my part I mentioned that the Dirksen quote was for billions not millions. Then I pointed out that we weren’t even close to talking about such figures. Instead we were talking about 25 cents an hour and that added together the cost was a paltry $25,000.

With member Nora Sandstad “excused” from the meeting Alanna’s proposal lost on a three to three tie in the absence of a majority

I found this vote disheartening and Alanna’s arguments persuasive. She read the substance of an email she sent me in advance arguing for the raise. Here is her justification:

It is apparent to me that the majority 4 are not about to pass anything related to giving our hourly/substitute employees a $0.50/hr raise (a 5% raise) from their current minimum wage pay. The page in the board packet says it all: “Administration is not recommending an additional increase to the Hourly/Substitute Pay Rate Sheet at this time.”

I propose a compromise.

I am willing to make a motion to raise their wages 2.5%, or $0.25/hr. [This is] half of what the information provided us calls for. It is a reduction in what you asked for, but knowing it will not pass, it is still something. Here [are] my rationales:

1. It will cost us $25,800 instead of $51,600, a more manageable number.

2. As an unplanned expense for this budget cycle is irrelevant, because we adjust our budget EVERY MONTH with a standing line item in the business committee agenda, Item 1.C.: Budget Revisions. If we decline this budget item, we need to decline each and every budget item so the budget never changes using this logic.

3. Supt. Gronseth and Mr. Hanson are allowed to sign multiple contracts each and every month up to $25,000 EACH (ironically the price tag of this investment in our employees) and consistently do so, without our approval or say in the matter. It is another standing line item on the Business Committee agenda: 6.A.1.

4. This group has NEVER gotten a voluntary raise. Their wages only increase when the absolute minimum they can get paid is increased. They have only gotten the minimum required by law.

5. EVERY bargaining unit contract in the last round of negotiations have gotten a 2-3% raise. Each and every year union covered employees are getting raises. Thus, the margin gap between union workers and hourly/substitute workers has been growing for YEARS unchecked, with only required minimum wage allowing them to remain in the same ball park, but perhaps in the parking lot and not in the game. The poor keep getting poorer. At a 2.5% raise, they are in line with their union counterparts to enjoy a small benefit.

6. Creating wage compression is not an argument, since bargaining units receive much more than salary in their contracts. The cost of benefits are rising faster than wages. An additional $0.25/hour is minuscule comparably.

7. Additionally, those added benefits negotiated during contract talks such as time off and sick leave mean very little if there are not sufficient substitutes to cover their permanent job holder’s hours when they are gone. No subs mean struggles to adequately educate our students. Just ask our teachers. They struggle to find subs constantly, and it may be affecting our graduation and achievement gaps.Bargaining units should cheer on the substitutes for sticking it out.

8. The current job market requires us to make our jobs more attractive to have people in these much needed positions. We are talking about the people not guaranteed work at all, and must work other jobs if they are to eek out a living. If these are their sole sources of income, we are adding to the public assistance roles for those seeking help with rent, food, and health insurance. I just read on Forbes.com that Walmart’s average salary is $11.83/hour, and its employees account for 18% of SNAP (food stamp) assistance in all of the US.

(http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/04/15/report-walmart-workers-cost-taxpayers-6-2-billion-in-public-assistance/#787ccdb57cd8)

9. Lastly, we approve change orders many times a year, that are vastly higher than this raise we are asking for our lowest workers. Just this month, we are being asked to approve $55,000 worth of window issues at Myers-Wilkins. This is also something that we need to stop doing if you want to argue that this increase in wages is not in the 2016-17 budget year.

How can we afford it? Gronseth and Hanson will have to sign less expenditure contracts this school year. Heck, we are approving yet another administrator position in the HR report at over $100,000/year. That is ONE employee. This affects MANY MORE than one!

How can we not afford it? By letting down our students when those who replace the workers needed to make our schools function are no longer there because they had better opportunities elsewhere, because who can survive on 10-14 hours/week at $9.50/hour? $9.75 does not create a burden we cannot overcome. We will have a bigger issue if we have too many open positions.