Decide at the local level | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Decide at the local level

OTHER OPINION: PAY FREEZE

Posted: February 28, 2011 - 8:41pm

Regardless of what you might think about the political chaos in Wisconsin right now, there’s no denying that Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial union-busting plan would help put the Badger State back in the black. That’s more than we can say for a proposal to freeze the salaries of Minnesota’s public school teachers for two years.

We’ll give the bill’s chief author, Sen. Dave Thompson, full credit for honesty. From the get-go, the Republican from Lakeville has acknowledged that his plan won’t help Minnesota erase its budget deficit.

So what would it accomplish?

To answer that question, consider the Rochester school district’s current contract with its teachers. Last January, the teachers union agreed to a “soft” pay freeze but kept their step-and-lane increases, which are built-in raises based on years of experience and progress toward graduate degrees. Not every teacher qualifies for such a raise every year, but these pay increases cost the school district about $3.7 million over the two-year contract that expires June 30. And yes, Rochester faces a projected $5 million budget shortfall for next year that could result in cuts to student services and the loss of some teaching jobs.

Those who dislike the idea of simultaneously raising salaries while cutting teachers see Thompson’s proposal as a way to prevent cash-strapped school districts from making bad deals with teachers unions.

Not surprisingly, Kit Hawkins, who is president of the Rochester Education Association, sees the salary freeze as an unnecessary government intrusion into local concerns. She correctly points out that not every school district in the state is in financial trouble, so it’s unfair to lump everyone together.

We, too, had noted the apparent contradiction between GOP “hands-off” ideology and the proposal to have the state essentially take over salary negotiations with K-12 teachers. 

— The Post-Bulletin of Rochester