Flat-lining — Base Wages and the MMSD Budget

Flatline

The Flaming Groovies — Slow Death, live (click to listen/watch)

The 2019-20 Madison Metropolitan School District budget has — to this point — been built in such a way that employee spending power (wages adjusted for inflation) will remain flat (except for those who advance via educational or credential changes).  MTI has an action alert on this, for the Monday May 20th meeting, and beyond.  At a time when the challenges are great, the morale low, the related difficulties in attracting and retaining staff well-documented, this adds injury to insults.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the budget narrative includes misdirections, in  attempts to confuse the issues.  The key passages are here (on page 16 under “Budget Goals and Guiding Principles” — Goals and Principles the Board never voted on, because the MMSD Board rarely votes on anything involving the budget until 90%+ has been decided by the administration, with easily ignored “feedback” but not decision-making from Board):

Provide total compensation (steps + base wage) to employees equal to or greater than final CPI-U/COLA @ 2.44%

And here, on page 25:

In total with what is reserved in the budget, the average employee with a 2.5% total compensation increase will receive total take home pay slightly above the CPI-u index.

A little background and explanation.  Scott Walker’s Act 10, among other things limited public sector collective bargaining agreements (CBAs or union contracts) to maximum base wage increases equal to the consumer price index changes (CPI, inflation), and how any increase would be distributed among the members of a bargaining unit.  Act 10 also allowed for salary/wage schedules to continue (or be changed) outside of CBAs (in MMSD these are in the Handbook).  Salary/Wage schedules include “steps” (increases based on longevity) and “lanes” (increases based on educational attainment or credentials — such as Board Certification).  CPI for this round is 2.44%.*

When you equate “steps + base” to CPI, what you are doing is saying employees will never gain spending power, that a teacher hired at $44,000/year or an EA at $15/hour will have the equivalent spending power for their entire career (unless they move lanes); no reward for experience or longevity.  Flat-line.  Slow death.

This has been the plan since at least January.  Now there will be a back-and-forth between collective bargaining negotiations (starting May 28, 2019) and budget adjustments, as there was last year.  In my opinion (and I said so at the time), it should have been addressed then.  Neither the majority of the Board nor MTI were inclined to hash it out then.  Building a reasonable base wage increase into the budget from the start (maybe not the full 2.44, but 2.0%?), would have made budget adjustments easier, and more importantly would have sent signals to staff that they were valued, and minimized the confrontational process that is about to begin.  Even if the budget ends up at the full 2.44%, and steps and lanes intact, the negative impact on morale is real.

There are more details in the presentation from January.

jan 2019 base wage

It looks like the difference between the .5% and the 2.44% comes to a bit over $4.6 million.  Finding that won’t be easy, but it is possible.

Unfortunately, as the slide above indicates, and the one the follows

jan 2019 base wage2

further demonstrates, the MMSD administrative presentation falsely depicts choices as primarily limited to compensation, staffing reductions, priority actions, and class sizes.  These are big items (and reductions or reallocation of some staff would almost certainly be involved), but they aren’t the only things that could be on the table.

A little more context.  As far as districts in Wisconsin go, MMSD is in good financial shape.  Due to successful referenda in 2008 and 2016, MMSD may exceed the revenue caps by $39 million annually (including $8 million new for 2019-20 year).  MMSD has a healthy fund balance (healthier before the $6 million 2017-18 surplus was mostly spend on security infrastructure upgrades).  There will be no new referendum money next year (unless there is — as there should be — another recurring operating referendum on the ballot in 2020), and that will put a serious squeeze on the 2020-21 budget, but this year things aren’t that tight.  Difficult, but not impossible.

So where do you find $4.6 million?  A little here, a little there, with everything on the table.  Do we want to continue to invest in 1-to-1 Chromebooks? Have “School Improvement Partners” improved schools (about $800,000)? Is adding seven Assistant Principals over two years a good idea (about $800,000)? How about adding thirty Non Union Professionals since 2014-15? Would more mixed grade classes be a good idea (over $800,000 was spent moving t straight grades from 2014-16, with the Common Core given as the primary reason)? Are the tens of millions being spent on past “Priority Actions” making a difference (is the $3.6 million in new spending and reallocation to priority actions in the 2019-20 budget all necessary)?  If compensation is a priority, and (barring significant state budget changes, see below) something close to a 2.44% base wage is to be incorporated, these are just a few examples of the kind of questions that need to be asked, and analyzed.

There is a good chance the state budget will help.  The MMSD budget was built on conservative assumptions for revenue cap increases and state funding.  It seems clear now that most of what Governor Evers proposed will not go through, but I hold out some hope a few things, especially an increase in state funding for special education (which would free up some general funds for MMSD).  Stay up-to-date and get involved via the Wisconsin Public Education Network.

On the local stuff, I no longer have a seat at the table, but I’ll still be watching, and on occasion speaking my piece (or as is the case here, writing it).  There will be more posts here as the spirit moves me, and time allows; I have taken to doing most of my education-related social media on this Facebook page (like and follow if you are interested).  You should speak your piece too.  Let those who are making the decisions (or avoiding them) know how you feel.

Thomas J (TJ) Mertz

*Milwaukee Public Schools recently has frozen step movements, providing only base wage increases (kind of the mirror image of what the MMSD proposed budget does). The Milwaukee Teachers’s Education Association is now fighting for  “all salary schedules are adjusted equivalent to COLA,” in addition to class size, staffing, and other issues  More here.

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Contracts, education, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, MMSD, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

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