Not a thank you

Contract talks will start soon and one of the last Duluth School Board members to be an active negotiator sent this email to the School Board today. I take his point:

Board Members,

This subject is the most important item you vote on, since it represents about 80% of the District’s budget. The time has come for a great deal of knowledge & understanding by members to support students and taxpayers vs union and administration. To me the District’s financial crisis started at the regular board meeting on 7/20/10 which included the need for approval of the teachers contract for 7/1/11 to 6/30/13 by the administration and board chair. Member Glass ask administration what the costs of this new contract was and was told they could not tell him until they voted on the contract. Three board members objected to the lack of transparency and costs information and wanted to get a legal opinion with motion to table failed 4 to 3. The board then voted 4 to 3 to approve the contract almost a year in advance of its term without knowledge of costs or funding. My estimates of the total costs of that contract was $2.5 million.

I am asking every member to please read the current contract prior to voting on a new one. The District can not continue without an expert negotiator at the table with member at all times. In my opinion since 2010 the District has not come close to any benefits to match given employees. As a former board member and chairman of the negotiations committee I had an expert attorney and Asst. Supt. Business Services with me at the table at every meeting. I then had 2 other members of the committee to review contract before the total board had the opportunity to vote after knowing the costs.

I get upset when I read insurance is projected to increase $600,000 without any question. The District can not continue to pay all the various insurance costs. I look at Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)’s which the District gave employees 1/1/2010 without any benefits to students and taxpayers. The District contributes 100% of the single and family maximum out of pocket expenses for medical and prescription drugs which started at $1,900 single and $3,800 family. I have yet to find anyone having this benefit. The board should not continue with percentages for insurance benefits. Currently every increase generally is paid by the District each year & the District needs to go with a fixed dollar amount. How does the District justify paying for a single employee’s insurance annually $10,272 and family employee $20,582?

The District must consider major changes to their negotiations to survive in my opinion from all benefits to lowering or eliminating steps and seniority increments. The District can not continue to pay all the increases each year because it is not sustainable. Any questions please contact me.

Sincerely,

Richard Paulson

And Art Johnston wrote this pointed reply. By the way, I am pretty sure the Attorney who negotiated for ISD 709 and who approved telling the Board to keep the public ignorant of the contract’s costs is the same cussed lawyer who didn’t protect my right to sit in on negotiations three years ago.

Art Johnston
10:21 AM (3 hours ago)

to Richard, schoolboard
Thank you Rich, for your comments and recollection of what happened in the past.

Your recollection is correct in that we [were] told, by the administration, that we could not talk about the cost of the contract, until after it was approved, because it was “proprietary”. I strongly objected to that and used MSBA statements that the price of the contract MUST be told to the public before we vote on it.

Members were reprimanded by the administration about even trying to talk about the contract price. The former administration’s reasoning was obvious flawed and likely illegal, but that never stopped the previous administration.

This time around, all of the information will be fully disclosed to the public before the vote.

–ART