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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Public needs to have voice in upcoming contract talks

  • In today's newspaper, we are beginning a series of stories focusing on the contract between Wayne Highlands School District and the Wayne Highlands Education Association.
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  • In today's newspaper, we are beginning a series of stories focusing on the contract between Wayne Highlands School District and the Wayne Highlands Education Association.
    You might find some of the numbers eye-opening, especially when it comes to the insurance benefits which are paid by taxpayers.
    In future stories we will feature issues like sick and personal days, extra-curricular costs and more.
    The reason we are starting this series is because the current contract expires at the end of June 2013.
    That means negotiations between the union and school board will begin in earnest very shortly.
    In recent months, the cost of education has been at the forefront in the Wayne Highlands district. A group of local citizens have voiced their concerns about how property taxes go up each year as a result of the board hiking taxes.
    These are valid concerns.
    The taxpayers have every right to know how their hard-earned money is being spent and we hope to shed some light on those facts.
    We can't stress enough this is not some vendetta against the board or the teachers, it's simply the facts as printed in black and white.
    But it's also information the public needs to know.
    We also don't lose sight of the fact that teachers and board members are taxpayers, as well. They have house payments and day care costs just like all citizens.
    It's also true that some teachers put in a lot more hours than is called for in the contract. We know teachers take work home and help kids in personal ways. Those are facts, as well.
    But that does not change the cold, hard facts which is the cost of property taxes.
    One of the most eye-opening parts of the contract has to do with insurance.
    Under the current agreement, all health, dental, vision and life insurance premiums are paid in full for 385 employees of Wayne Highlands. That includes full payment of family insurance plans.
    Page 2 of 3 - It translates into more than $13,000 per year in insurance premiums. The total is more than $5 million per year paid by the taxpayers.
    That could be a major point of contention when it comes to the new contract.
    It is very safe to say that the average working stiff is not getting full family insurance paid. In many cases, employers will pay the bulk of the employee's insurance but then that employee picks up the family plan — if the worker can afford the payments.
    The taxpayers might want to demand something similar when it comes to the teacher's union.
    It does not seem unreasonable to ask the union members to pick up part of their insurance premiums.
    If they picked up half, that would mean $2.5 million in savings to the taxpayers. That could translate in at least not having to raise property taxes. It could even mean lowering those taxes.
    And there are savings possible in other areas.
    In future stories, we will outline various issues, including the accumulation of sick and personal days.
    Just the money which is committed for accumulated sick and personal leave is staggering.
    The total is just shy of $900,000 and under the current contract, days are accumulated without limits.
    Though there are limits on cashing out those days upon retirement, there isn't any limit on how much time a person could take off with those days. It would seem possible that some could take up to an entire school year off and be compensated.
    This is another area in which the contract seems out of touch with the working world. These days, most companies have "use it or lose it" policies.
    This would certainly be different in education because the working year is around nine months long. It just seems there might be a better way to fairly compensate the employees without breaking the public bank.
    All of these issues and many more are going to be discussed by the board and union in the coming weeks and months.
    Page 3 of 3 - This is a critical time and members of the public have a chance to get involved.
    Though both the board and union will try to keep this as low key as possible, if the public makes a major effort to let their feelings known, it will have an impact.
    Under state law, these negotiations can be held in private. That in itself is almost a crime because the school board members are bargaining with public money.
    But even with that law in place, the fact remains the public has a right to voice their opinions and it's something they should do early and often.
     

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