Details, Cost of Milwaukee Teachers’ Contract Unknown to Public as School Board Prepares to Vote Tonight

Milwaukee’s Public School Board will meet tonight to ratify the most recent iteration of the teachers’ four-year contract . The general public does not know the full cost of the contract, including the impact of providing health care benefits for domestic partners or that of a new measure which will help teachers advance up the pay scale through classwork designed by MPS.

The MacIver Institute attempted to obtain copies of the proposed agreement, or a more detailed summary of the contract than what was available online, however our repeated requests of MPS went unanswered.

Recent bargaining has led to an expansion of the city teachers’ health insurance policies to not only include family members, but to domestic partners – designated individuals that live with covered teachers. As a result, the organization’s new Aetna-based insurance will be stretched to include a wider scope of individuals under MPS’s care, suggesting an increase in more expensive family premiums and lower amounts of teachers and employees claiming single coverage.  Our questions about the proposed contract have gone unanswered to date so we do not know how much this change will cost taxpayers. 

We do know that presently, MPS’s actuarial liability, the unfunded debt created through providing OPEB funds, is growing at an alarming rate. From July 2007 to July 2009, this shortfall increased from $2,222.7 million to the current figure we have today – a gain of nearly $175 million in just two years. While retirees are making use of their benefits, the District is failing to cover the bill, instead deferring much of the cost for future payment because of budgetary concerns. While this removes the problem from the spotlight in the short term, it creates a looming cloud of debt that may cripple MPS in the future.

The expansion of the district’s new health care plan isn’t the only subtle change from the latest round of negotiations. The range of banking days – days in which teachers are in school for professional development without having students present –has expanded as well.

Milwaukee teachers will now have five days of mandated development, or banking days, in which to learn and prepare for work in the classroom. This includes two days of individual development and three of centrally developed curricula that will be distributed to educators across the city. This will bring Milwaukee teachers to 191 days of regular service annually until 2013.

In order to accommodate the extra banking days without lengthening the standard school year, teachers will be counted on to provide more hands-on time with students during the school year. Though the current ratification document is unclear on how this will affect all MPS schools, one consequence may be an expanded school day for teachers and students.  

These banking days won’t count for the inservice professional development lanes that offer teachers increased salaries for taking courses offered by both MPS and local colleges and universities. As we’ve covered here before, these classes, which are provided for free on the MPS side of the program (44 percent of the total requirement), help educators earn salary escalators of between four and five percent per lane. As a result, MPS and taxpayers will be footing the bill for a  substantial amount of the classes that contribute to pay increases that can be as much as over $18,000 per year.  These salary lane changes are separate from and in addition to normal yearly raises that all teachers receive for time spent in the job.

Again, this is a preliminary analysis, which is based on the limited information available to the public at this time. It is only after the school board votes that we, and you, will have the ability to assess the full cost of this new contract,

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst