Taking Stock in Schools
Utah The slogan for the Utah Education Association's (UEA) campaign to improve public schools gets to the point: "No Excuses! Invest in Public Schools." It also gets around on billboards, car window stickers, and lawn signs. Aimed at policymakers, the campaign promotes public schools as financial investments for creating jobs, helping stabilize property values, attracting new businesses, and helping close the economic gap. "Our goal with this campaign is to do what we do best—educate, motivate, and empower," says UEA President Pat Rusk. "We have choices on how our tax dollars are spent. We can choose to give more tax breaks to corporations, or we can choose to invest in schools, our communities, and our state." For more information on the campaign, see www.utea.org.
Heard It on the Radio
Iowa The Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) has developed a community-awareness campaign to boost teacher salaries. Instead of organizing the usual campaign rallies and town hall meetings, ISEA produced 60-second radio spots that aired on almost 90 stations. The campaign was launched after two national surveys—one from NEA and one from the American Federation of Teachers—placed Iowa teachers near the bottom of the pay scale. The advertisements link quality teachers to quality public schools. "If we want better schools, we need great teachers," the announcer says. "We cannot hope to attract and keep the best in the business if we refuse to pay them a competitive wage."
Pennsylvania The Seneca Valley Secretaries and Paraprofessionals of Pennsylvania began preparing for negotiations three years prior to the expiration of their contract. First they formed a bargaining committee, then they interviewed members as part of a negotiations survey. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) research staff compiled data on area living costs and wages. "We told [members] the board might...tell us we could have higher salaries but they'd have to cut positions," says UniServ representative Joy Conley Kacik. That's just what happened. But Association members held firm, then countered by distributing 3,000 flyers and airing a radio ad. The board finally rescinded its proposed cuts and passed a $3 million tax increase. Secretarial salaries were raised 18 percent over four years. Paraprofessionals' hourly starting salary increased from $5.50 to $8.60 or $9.60, depending on classification. The contract ends in 2008.
Between a Rock and a Hard Compromise
Michigan Approximately 800 teachers and staff in the Rockford and Kent Intermediate School Districts recently agreed to new contracts that double prescription co-payments to $10 and $20. This could be indicative of a national trend as districts negotiate with unions to accept less-expensive care options. The reason: skyrocketing health care costs. "We know what the climate is, how insurance is going up," said Sue Oaks, president of the Rockford Education Association (REA), as quoted in The Grand Rapids Press. "And by doing it, we got two more years of health care." As with workers in the private sector, public service employees are pressured to sometimes compromise on premium benefits to preserve a less-expensive health plan.
A First for Georgia ESPs
Georgia The first education support professional (ESP) conference to be held in Georgia took place in August of last year. Almost 90 ESPs gathered in Macon for the two-day event. "About 75 percent of attendees had never been to an Association meeting outside their local," says Rosa Ward, event coordinator and a UniServ director with the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE). Superintendents, board members, and teachers also attended. One workshop addressed ESP contracts, which are nonexistent in Georgia. ESPs, who comprise almost 17 percent (5,233) of GAE's total membership of 30,844, are hired "at will." Nationally, ESP conferences are offered in only a handful of states, such as Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Faculty Wisdom Says 'Unionize'
Washington A 2002 state law that granted faculty members collective bargaining rights has provided much-needed legislative support for faculty members at three state universities. Faculty unions at Central and Eastern Washington universities are negotiating their first contracts under the law. Faculty members at Western Washington University are also close to a union vote. Organizers for the United Faculty of Western Washington are asking for a broad-based, inclusive union in the face of university administrators who want to exclude faculty chairs, academic directors, and many part-time faculty members. Washington Education Association (WEA) officials say roughly 720 faculty members will be eligible to vote.