Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Consolidation and Other Musings

There has been much talk this year about the consolidation of Delaware school districts. Now, the talk is on paper in Senate Bill 95. This bill would have each county as a district and one vo-tech district for a total of 4 in the state. The bill proposes that this change take effect in July, 2011. The Department of Education is charged with drafting the legislation details.

Friends and foes of DSEA alike need to realize that the union stands solidly behind the principle of "leveling up". This means that one would take the highest salary schedule within the county and make the new consolidated salary schedule equivalent. DSEA cannot have teachers working side by side on different salary schedules.

There are additional concerns. In New Castle County some school employees still remember the consolidation of the county into one district during the desegregation order. This was not a positive experience. In fact teachers went on strike (and won) over the above mentioned leveling up issue. In the southern counties school districts are often connected to community identity and the fear is that consolidation will destroy communities.

Moreover, what happens to existing union bargaining units (ie Local unions)?

On the positive side, there would be decreased administrative costs and economy of scale for purchasing.

With all of this said, why is the legislature considering such traumatic change this year? Is it not enough that teachers and school employees are facing personal economic disaster?

I used to work for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representing low paid service workers in industries such as commercial cleaning companies and nursing homes. All of the industries in which we organized were plagued with undependable workers. People would not show up for work, were habitually tardy, and often called in ill.

On the surface, the behavior of these workers might seem irresponsible. However, the workers did not have character flaws; they were simply poor. When workers are not paid well, life falls apart and impacts their work. Under-paid workers have transportation challenges. If they can afford a car, they cannot maintain it properly. If it breaks down they cannot afford to have it repaired. Many times these workers depend on inadequate public transportation. These workers often fall behind on utilities payments so may lose power, water or phone. Low paid workers may share living space with others. Low paid workers could have more than one job. Daycare is a constant challenge when you struggle to pay for it. The working poor must often deal with bureaucracies for essential aid such as food stamps.

Is it hard to imagine how just dealing with your life as one of the working poor could make you miss work, be tardy, or be more likely to have illness?

Now, imagine essential public services such as those provided by school employees or by state hospital nurses with this type of unreliability.

When you threaten Delaware public employees with irresponsible wage and benefit cuts, you threaten the Delaware quality of life for everyone.

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