Milwaukee Union Says School Board is "Bargaining in Public": Is That So Wrong?

Budget times are tougher than usual for school district coffers all over. I get that. So what’s the solution? For some interest groups entrenched in the status quo (read: teachers unions), laying off teachers with less seniority is preferred to all teachers giving up their lavish health care plan for a more reasonable one.

At least that’s the case in Milwaukee. A long story in this week’s Journal-Sentinel (H/T Eduwonk) explains:

“The reality is we cannot sustain the current system without major structural change,” [Milwaukee School Board President Michael] Bonds said. “We could literally save hundreds of jobs with the stroke of a pen if teachers switched to the lower-cost health-care plan.”

The teachers union has countered that the board is bargaining in public by offering jobs in exchange for health-care concessions.

Union leaders have said the district has not brought up the option of switching health-care plans during formal negotiations. Bonds said it’s come up in multiple meetings since last year.

MPS offers two health-care plans, both thought to be generous. The plans are covered in full by the district, meaning teachers have no financial incentive to switch from the high-cost Aetna plan to a lower-cost option offered through United Health Care.

Bonds said if all teachers switched to the lower-cost plan, about $48 million could be saved, enough to pay for 480 educators.

“I’m not aware of any place in the nation that pays 100% of teachers’ health-care benefits and doesn’t require a contribution from those who choose to take a more expensive plan,” Bonds said. [emphasis added]

So the union’s strongest argument is to attack the school board for “bargaining in public”? If only it were true! My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote a paper earlier this year explaining how most union-negotiated local education policy decisions in Colorado are done outside the public eye and what can be done about it. Check out Colorado Education and Open Negotiations: Increasing Public Access to School District Bargaining (follow the link, or click “Fullscreen” for the easiest read):

Colorado Education and Open Negotiations: Increasing Public Access to School District Bargaining