Monday, May 16, 2011

Fast Start for JFC

The Joint Finance Committee came out of the gate fast today. The first issue in budget mark-up was salary policy. The Chair, Representative Dennis P Williams, and the Vice-Chair, Senator Harris McDowell, brought forward a proposal: A 2% raise for all state employees and educators beginning January 1, 2012. A 1% pension increase for retired state employees and educators. Step increase for all educators (including support staff such as school secretaries).

After much discussion, this proposal passed unanimously with all 11 JFC members voting for it.

The fact that educator Step Increase was by no means a "given" this year, suggests that we have education and advocacy to do around this issue. Step "increases" are simply movement on a very delayed pay plan. By the time you have been around 15 years, you might be making what someone in the private sector started their career with. Educators should thank Representative Dennis P Williams and Senator Harris McDowell for making Step a part of their pay policy proposal.

The famous or infamous (depending on your perspective) 27th pay also passed by a vote of 10 "yes" and 1 "not voting".

DSEA will continue to advocate for restoration of the National Board Certification stipend, the Skills and Knowledge stipend, and for funding of Paraprofessional Phase II pay plan as the process moves along.

A special note on SJR4:
The Senate Resolution to study the consolidation of school districts was given a committee hearing last week, but not before Senator Mike Katz reached out to DSEA. The Senator wanted to make it clear that his intention was to bring educators to the table for discussion through the representation of their union. To that end, Senator Katz amended his bill to specifically include representatives from DSEA.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Good Economics

It's amazing, but true, Delaware has a little money due to better than expected revenue. The State is better off by more than $320 million. I say, "amazing" because too many Delawareans are still unemployed and under-employed. The purpose of this post is not to go into why revenue numbers have improved while the lives of many of our citizens have not. The purpose of this post is propose reinvesting a small piece of that money back into Delaware.

Public employees, including educators are still not made whole from cuts made the previous three budgets. I'll speak to educator issues and let other union activists speak for their people.

First, educators need their step increase. This is the less than 1% incremental increase for each year of the first fifteen years of service. All educators need this step increase. The proposed budget only recommends the step for teachers and para-professionals, leaving out all other school employees. We are one community, with one mission to educate children, and we should not do anything to sow division.

Second, educators who wish to increase their skill level by attaining a National Board Certification, or by educating themselves in skills and knowledge clusters should be rewarded for their efforts. The State has in place a moratorium on the stipend connected to those two worthwhile endeavors.

Finally, the Legislature made a commitment a few years ago to bring para-professionals up to the federal poverty level for a family of four. Para-professionals do the real hands-on work with some of our most physically and developmentally challenged kids. Yet these important people in our schools make shamefully low wages. A step one para-professional earns $17,500 per year.

The plan was for para-professionals to be paid increasing amounts up to the poverty level in three phases. So far, the State has only managed Phase I before the tough budget times caused us to go no farther. Implementing Phase II would be another step to keeping our original promise. By delaying this pay plan, we have actually lost ground as the federal poverty level has risen, but the pay of our para-professionals has remained the same.

Phase II of the para-professional pay plan would cost the state about $3.3 million. It would put an additional $2,500 a year into the hands of desperately struggling workers. This is real economic stimulus to the Delaware economy.

If I give a tax break to a corporation or to a wealthy individual, do I create jobs? No, probably not. For example, a corporation is not going to take their tax break money and hire someone unless there is a demand for a product that they can sell and return investment. If such a situation (the potential to make money by hiring additional labor)exists, they will hire with or without the tax break. There is no empirical data that shows tax breaks to the wealthy or corporations create jobs.

On the other hand studies have shown that money in the hands of the working poor ends up being quickly used at the local level for necessities, thus stimulating the economy. If you give our para-professionals a few extra dollars that money is spent at the grocery store, paid to the landlord, or used to purchase clothing at the local K-Mart.

We have a little bit of money to work with for the first time in three years. Let's use it to do some good for common working people. This in turn will do good for local businesses. Before you know it we will have a recovery quickly springing up from the grassroots, not slowly trickling down as waste water from the top.