The following is a letter sent by CFV follower Megs Keir to her legislators regarding Governor Scott's statewide teacher health care contract proposal. Opinion's expressed are those of Megs', however we believed they were important to share.
Rep. Tom Stevens
Rep. Theresa Wood
Sen. Clair Ayer
Sen. Chris Bray
Sen. Michael Sirotkin
Sen. Virginia Lyons
Sen. Timothy Ashe (Senate Pro Tempore)
Rep. Mitzi Johnson (Speaker of the House)
Tom, Theresa, Clair, and Chris,
First day of Summer and you're back in the Statehouse!
Please consider my points of view on the issue of teacher health insurance.
I started teaching in Vermont in the late 1970's. It took a tremendous amount of stamina, creativity, time and dedication to work with kids all day, then go home and plan for the next. While I only stayed in the profession for several years, and moved on to administrative work in the private sector, I have tremendous respect for good teachers, and have always supported our local school budget.
As a Progressive Democrat, but first and foremost an independent thinker, I support the Governor in this debate about providing all teachers across the state with the same health insurance options. I do not agree with those who argue that health insurance is (or should be) a "bargaining chip." The teachers in our state work in many different communities, with different economic and sociological realities. Those who work in more challenging environments are often the same ones whose communities are unable to compensate teachers as well as in the more affluent communities, where -- as often as not-- a larger proportion of the student body is ready to learn when they arrive as kindergarteners, with parents who are able to provide plenty of back-up support and motivation for their kids. Teachers who are fortunate enough to work in communities with many well-educated middle class families, generally benefit from better salaries as well. Their pay/compensation packages serve as a comparison benchmark for other less-well-heeled school districts.
Much has been said about the "bargaining chip" aspect in the local negotiation of teacher compensations. Local negotiations have traditionally been based on local fiscal constraints and on issues for which local communities have responsibility. And with the expertise of the statewide NEA organization, the "local" health care benefit has been lumped in with the "compensation package" for decades now.
Other factors, such as teacher retirement and teacher certification, as well as minimum length of school day/year, etc., fall under the purview of the State, which sets education standards.
Under the proposed statewide health insurance package, where health insurance choices would be limited by state-negotiated options, local teachers contracts will still be negotiated around compensation and working conditions; the health insurance portion will simply become a starting point for the other aspects of the compensation package.
So using the "bargaining chip" argument is a weak excuse, at best. And while negotiations may be simplified by taking health insurance out of the list of negotiable items, Union negotiators see this as one less opportunity for discussion; negotiators get paid for the time and expertise they bring to the table, so losing this piece of the process cuts into their traditional role. Their work will be partially replaced by a more efficient process. (This may seem a cynical view, but let's be realistic: any worker whose job is reduced by a new program or technology, is naturally going to oppose any threat to their employment or value.)
The teachers, however, will benefit from a guaranteed health plan, and still be able to negotiate compensation and work conditions locally. Furthermore, those teachers who would like to work in lower income communities, can do so without worrying about losing health care benefits. This is a win:win for education across the state. A step toward fulfilling the promise of the Brigham decision to provide a more equitable schooling environment across the state.
In the bigger picture, which is what I would hope you legislators would consider, are all the families across the state and all the teachers from all the little towns. Their voices are not very loud in this debate, and hard to hear with the strident professionally-delivered arguments constantly pushing against any who support a uniform health care benefit for all Vermont teachers.
Another point: Imagine if the Teacher Retirement Plan were locally sourced and negotiated. It also is part of the compensation that teachers receive. I don't think anyone is going to push for that, even though the state has yet to create a fiscally responsible plan to budget for this benefit. Teacher health insurance and retirement benefits are both very important to teachers, and deserve a statewide funding mechanism.
This is NOT about pushing for statewide salaries. (That argument is just a "fear tactic.")
This is NOT just about tax savings.
This IS about respecting all teachers across our state.
Please work with the governor on this. He is not being a DC Republican. He is thinking about what's good for Vermonters.
Megs Keir (long time progressive Democrat)