In its June 8 editorial, The Mining Journal encouraged both sides in the Marquette teacher negotiations "to keep an open mind and realize they have similar goals, which are a strong and viable school district." Marquette teachers could not agree more.
As employees, parents, taxpayers, and community members who are in this for the long haul, we support fiscal responsibility.
In fact, MAPS is in very sound financial health. Marquette school district's fund balance at the end of 2012-13 was $4,791,762, and has continued to rise. This is the highest fund balance in the area both in total dollars and in percentage of overall budget.
The MAPS fund balance has actually been increasing every year since 2010, despite the gloomy picture some have painted. MUNETRIX.com lists MAPS as having the lowest financial risk possible.
The Mining Journal also stated that "school districts are just now experiencing the same reality the private sector has been dealing with for years." Teachers take home pay has actually been decreasing for years too.
Marquette teachers have received no increase in base pay since 2010. The state has imposed increased costs for pensions and health insurance for several years. State law now also forbids retroactive pay once a contract is settled. The district saves $8,000-$10,000 on the backs of the teachers every two weeks these negotiations continue.
Despite all this, the MAEA teachers are only asking that "steps" be paid. Steps are a system of pay for teachers that award a small increase in pay in recognition of experience, years of service, and dedication to the district. In the Marquette contract, teachers receive a step increase each of their first 12 years and after that receive step increases in plateaus every 3-5 years. The district has proposed a step freeze for the two years of this contract.
For an individual teacher each year of a step freeze could cost over $70,000 dollars during the course of their career, plus additional loss of income in retirement. The district is asking teachers to essentially break even with the rising cost of living.
Over the course of a career, this would mean that teachers' real income would never increase. What other job asks people to sign on at starting salary and never actually increase their earning power over the course of a career?
The district negotiators claim that steps have too much "legacy cost" over time. In fact, according to the MDE Financial Information Database, MAPS costs for salaries and total compensation have been dropping every year for the past several years, both in total dollars and as a percentage of overall expenditures, even with steps included.
The Mining Journal stated that MAPS salary and benefit costs are "no longer sustainable." No, the truth of the matter is that MAPS costs for teacher salaries and benefits have been decreasing.
What is not sustainable is the ongoing chipping away at what was once a sustainable middle class existence on a teacher's salary.
State funding for education was cut in 2011-12, but has since increased slightly every year. The state legislature just passed a bill increasing funding by $175 per pupil for next year.
This amounts to nearly $550,000 more than the district received this past year. Since we all support a strong and viable school system, this is good news for everyone involved.
Marquette teachers wonder why the Mining Journal has singled out the Marquette contract as not sustainable. Negaunee, Ishpeming, and NICE school districts all settled contracts which included steps and a raise in the base pay.
These districts all have smaller fund balances than Marquette. Yet, the Mining Journal simply reported these contracts and did not use their editorial page to inveigh against them.
Marquette teachers started these contract negotiations last summer where the other local districts settled. We have tried to get a settlement by asking even less throughout the many bargaining sessions this year while still protecting the livelihood of Marquette teachers.
We agree with the conclusion of The Mining Journal editorial: "This is not just a simple matter of dollars and cents anymore. This is more of a matter of dollars and 'sense.'" MAPS fund balance is increasing, its salary and benefit costs are decreasing, enrollment is increasing, state funding is increasing.
Demanding more concessions from teachers simply makes no sense.
Editor's note: Fred Cole is a Marquette Senior High School teacher and lead negotiator for Marquette Area Education Association.