By Ben Velderman
SAN DIEGO – Members of San Diego’s teachers union are being asked to forgo pay raises for the next couple of years to prevent the school district from laying off 20 percent of its teaching staff.
If union members agree to this concession, it means their take home pay would only increase by about 4 percent every year.
To those who earn their living in the private sector, the San Diego scenario must seem like an impossible riddle: a pay freeze that results in more take-home pay for employees.
But to those who are members of a teachers union (or some other public sector union), such a scenario is not only possible – it’s a normal way of doing business.
In his recent story, “Concessions or Not, Teachers Will Get Raises Next Year,” Will Carless of the Voice of San Diego does a marvelous job explaining how the local teachers union is engaging in a little sleight-of-hand with the taxpayers over their pay.
“About half of the teachers at city schools will get pay raise increases over the next two years even if the union agrees to forgo a slew of additional raises it was promised in 2010,” Carless reports.
This is possible because most teachers “are still working their way up” the San Diego Education Association’s step pay schedule.
Like unionized teachers in most states, California educators receive annual, automatic pay raises (called “step” raises) as a reward for another year of teaching experience. To borrow a line from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, teachers are given raises just because they can “fog up a mirror.”
On top of these “step” raises, many educators receive raises for attaining additional levels of college education. So while the San Diego teachers’ overall pay schedule might be frozen for the next couple of years, educators will still be “stepping” their way to bigger and bigger pay days – totaling about $17 million, Carless reports.
However, SDEA members are also scheduled to receive an overall pay increase of 7 percent, beginning next fall. This is the raise the union is being asked to give up. If the SDEA refuses, it will cost the district tens of millions of dollars, forcing the nearly bankrupt district to lay off in one-in-five teachers.
It’s true that veteran teachers near the top of the “step” and advanced education schedules might not see pay raises for a while. But is that worth seeing 20 percent of their colleagues lose their jobs?
We’ll find out in the next few weeks. But in the meantime, the public should know that the district’s request for concessions from the union isn’t nearly as severe as the SDEA is making it appear.
While San Diego’s salary showdown is the most dramatic one we’ve come across, it’s hardly unique; school districts all across the country are facing similar conundrums of choosing between pay raises for some and pink slips for others.
But since union pay plans are so complicated, it’s difficult for cash-strapped school boards to explain to taxpayers that labor costs still increase even during a teacher wage freeze.
The teacher unions use this sleight-of-hand to bamboozle taxpayers into believing the union is making a bigger sacrifice than it actually is.
So the next time your local teachers union bellyaches about not having a pay raise for x-number of years, remember that they might be playing word games. Sometimes a pay freeze really is a pay freeze, but too often it’s not.
San Diego teachers will still get raises, despite possible salary freeze
By Ben Velderman