By Scott Farnsworth
“Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, EH!?” – Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
One of my favorite movies of all time, I could not help but think of the above quote as I read the opening paragraph of the communication from KUSD School Board President Tamarra Coleman that so many of you shared with me earlier this week. If the School Board has been exploring alternative forms of compensation for their employees, it might have been nice had they communicated such explorations. What was the point of secrecy?
I agree with many of you that I am also confused by the definition of “hope.” Hope for what? It does not appear that this communication offers any “hope” of any kind of compensation – “alternative” or otherwise. Additionally, please do review the link she provided to the article on the Beloit School District budget approval. It is difficult to know without all the details, but the cuts described – as well as the restorations and additions – do not seem all that different from those that KUSD had to make: staff loss due to attrition and, in all probability, reduced student population. True, they are closing two elementary schools – but they are also opening a brand new middle school (shift in student population?), and staff losses reported do not indicate that this transition cost employees their jobs.
Significantly, the major savings for Beloit seem to have come from changes in the employee health insurance benefits. That is an option that Kenosha did not have this year – though we are unaware if they explored potential savings with the WEA Trust through changes in the health insurance plan. Without the Benefit Task Force, employees have no information on such explorations, but one must assume it was explored since it represents a significant expense. Given that our plan remains unchanged, KUSD administration deserves great credit for again finding savings with ESC expenditures to cover increases in premium costs. Credit where credit is due. (Forewarning: certainly the health insurance plan will have to be a cost considered by the District moving forward, if for no other reason than to avoid the penalty under the ADA that goes into effect in 2018 for plans that have premiums above an established maximum.) Apparently it was decided that this option was better than any negotiated changes, if such were possible.
Unfortunately, some of that goodwill is lost when claims of what our 1.62% would have cost the District are exaggerated – which was never estimated at $2.1 million for our groups alone. Additionally, the District did not offer any increase that the $2.14 million might have covered for all employee groups – though a 1.62%, by their own numbers, for all employee groups, came to $2.63 million, including associated benefit costs. This amount would have been within a difference of less than 0.5% of the District’s total budget to provide that salary increase to everyone.
Yes, the cuts would be permanent – just as the cuts made by Dr. Mangi last year had to be carried forward to this year. Yes, these are very difficult decisions – in Kenosha, in Beloit, and across the entire state. Beloit chose to give their staff a 1.62% increase; Kenosha has not. And, as the School Board heard Tuesday night, if “it is a priority if the Board to retain the quality staff we have working in the Kenosha Unified School District,” then they may have to rethink what it is going to take to make that happen. It would be nice to have a conversation about it – rather than revelations after the fact.