For anyone wondering why school taxes are as high as they are in New York state, Thursday’s Gazette story about ongoing contract negotiations in the Greater Johnstown School District was a real eye-opener.
School board member Russ Martin, defending himself at a candidates’ forum after having referred to teachers as “pigs at the trough,” exposed details of ongoing contract negotiations with the teachers union that, after two years, have failed to produce an agreement: The teachers were seeking raises to their base pay of 6 percent per year for four years — more than 25 percent compounded — which would be excessive in almost any economic environment and certainly in a non-inflationary/recessionary one as this.
In fact, the teachers were demanding even more: Increases to their “longevity” pay, those additional raises — which vary from “step” to “step” but in Johnstown average 3 percent — that teachers with under 25 years’ experience get on top of their salary hikes.
So when all was said and done, teachers were really seeking 9 percent raises! (They’ve since scaled their demand back to a total of roughly 6 percent.) But even the adversarial member of the school board’s negotiating team didn’t understated them. He, and every other school board member in the state, should, as a matter of course, always mention step raises when discussing teacher salaries.
Better yet would be to drop the concept of “step” raises entirely, as Johnstown Superintendent Katherine Sullivan suggested, and just agree to annual raises. The “steps” allow the players — teachers and school administrators — to obfuscate the matter of teacher compensation so the public can’t figure out what’s going on (“How can taxes be going up 9 percent when raises were only 3 percent?”).
Steps also stall negotiations by reducing the incentive for teachers to accept a school board’s offer: They know they’ll still get raises, albeit smaller ones, so there’s less urgency to get serious at the bargaining table.
Longevity pay is designed to recognize the added value that a teacher — or any employee — brings to their job with additional experience, but why recognize that separately? Doing it the customary way — through ordinary raises to base pay — should suffice.