By Victor Skinner
SAGINAW, Mich. – Teachers in Michigan’s Buena Vista School District may not receive any more paychecks until the district gets its finances in order.
The local teachers union – the Buena Vista Education Association – announced this week the district’s 27 teachers will continue to report to work for another week while school officials continue to work with the state regarding repayment of a large debt that has crippled the district, the Associated Press reports.
District officials recently told teachers they may not receive a check May 24 because of garnishments from the state that started in April and will run into July. The Michigan Department of Education is withholding funds from the district to recoup more than a half million dollars for a defunct juvenile detention education program, the AP reports.
The state took action after the Buena Vista school district failed to submit a suitable deficit elimination plan. The school district has been in the red since 2011, and district debt reached $1 million last year. The district owes the state another $2 million for loans, due in August, the news service reports.
“According to the school district’s website, it is taking steps toward confirming a financial emergency, which could lead to an emergency manager being installed to help bring the school out of debt,” according to the AP.
That may be the reason the local teachers union is being so generous. Under Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager Law, the state-appointed managers assigned to local school districts have supreme authority to reduce staff, cut costs, and terminate union contracts if necessary to right the financial ship.
Those type of developments could be devastating for the union and its members.
Michigan Education Association spokesman Doug Pratt told the AP the union wants the state to keep the school district open, and says that would require “the state showing some flexibility in terms of repayment and the district owning up to the mismanagement.”
Perhaps the union’s apparent commitment to work with the district to keep teachers employed is a sign that it’s willing to compromise for the sake of students.
If that’s the case, union leaders won’t mind if the school board makes other financial moves, like the reduction of unnecessary labor costs written into union contracts. Those labor costs are almost certainly as big a drag on the district budget as the payments that are due to the state.
Any deficit plan should target unnecessary spending first, and most of that type of spending can be traced to teacher union contracts.
If the union is unwilling to budge on contract concessions, district officials shouldn’t hesitate to request help from Lansing – up to and including the assignment of an emergency financial manager – to keep the district afloat and ensure student needs take precedent over financial issues.