Economics among stumbling blocks in MAPS talks

We believe it is unfortunate that there is no current contract in place between the Marquette Area Public Schools and its teachers. Even though both parties can’t agree on all contract language, it does seem like both sides recognize how important teachers are to our school system.

Further, we agree that teachers are very important to a strong future for our youth and our community and they should be fairly compensated.

The problem comes in because of changes in our economy and challenges from the rising cost of health care. Many private sector employees have seen little to no raises in the past five years, but they continue to see their health care costs going up and their deductibles getting larger, which means their net income has been decreasing for several years.

Teachers are currently experiencing the same unfortunate circumstance that the private sector has been dealing with for years. We don’t expect teachers to be happy about this because no one in the private sector is happy about the situation, either.

The school district does not have the ability to control their revenue other than enrollment increases so they only have one choice to stay solvent and that is to control expenses. For example, teachers in the Menominee district have been asked to accept a 5 percent pay decrease this year so their school district could remain solvent. Iron Mountain teachers have been asked to take a 7.5 percent cut in wages to remain solvent.

Meanwhile, Marquette has offered a 1 percent increase in the first year of a three-year contract and 2 percent for the second and third year of the contract. The poor current economic status of our country has dictated what level of pay and benefits are available. The MAPS district can’t continue operating at a deficit or they may have to ask for pay cuts similar to Menominee and Iron Mountain.

Last year during negotiations, the school board and administration could not come to an agreement regarding specific language with the union so they operated the entire year without a signed contract. In fact, a contract for the time period of July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 was never actually signed until October 2013. The difference this year is that every day that goes by without a signed contract is another day of lost wages for the teachers.

This year, MAPS is following state law and no step increases are being paid without a contract. State law also prohibits any retroactive pay be given to teachers, which is different than it has been in the past.

We hope union leadership has made this clear to teachers so they realize that every day that goes by without a signed contract is another day of lost money they can’t get back.

Last week, we published a story that included teacher’s earnings. In this story, we included total compensation packages for teachers, which included salary, benefits and pension. The numbers showed the lowest paid teacher’s package at a total of $62,770. The highest paid package came in at a rate of $114,085. These amounts are based on a 184-day work contract per year. In comparison, most people work closer to a 260-day work year.

The teachers have said they feel disrespected by the school board and administration because they are not being offered a fair contract. We recommend that all taxpayers should do their own charts of their wages and benefits and compare that to the benefit package for teachers. If you put in the equation your salary, benefits cost that your employer pays and the pension amount your employer pays, you can take that number and compare it to the numbers included in this editorial or that ran in the story on Feb. 28.

If you find that your total wage and benefit package is much better than the teachers, we recommend that you contact the school board members and administration and tell them you support the teachers and you agree they are being disrespected and treated unfairly.

If, on the other hand, you find that your total package is not anywhere close to what teachers are paid, then you should consider contacting the school board and tell them that you support their current negotiations strategy.

We also recommend that teachers talk with their friends and neighbors so they know how teachers’ wages and benefit packages compare to what their neighbors in the private sector receive.