The Park Record editorial, March 3-6, 2012 | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record editorial, March 3-6, 2012

Is teachers' union out of touch with economic realities?

The economic hammer is falling on the Park City School District and no one should be surprised. For several years, the district’s budget overseers have warned staff and patrons about the drawdown on savings and the growing gap between increasing expenditures and stagnant revenues.

But, for the most part, those warnings have gone unheeded. Instead, the school board has bowed to pressure from parents for labor-intensive new programs and to teachers’ ongoing demands to maintain built-in pay increases along with their generous benefit packages.

But the district has pulled the last rabbit out of the hat and must now make the kinds of painful cuts that almost every other business and organization in the country has already faced.

This week, the school superintendent began to roll out his recommendations for $5 million in budget cuts to be made by the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. Because nearly 90 percent of the district’s budget goes to personnel costs, the only option is to eliminate positions. As many as 22 people may need to be cut from the payroll in order to balance the budget.

That dire projection has cast a shadow over morale at the schools, particularly in the elementary schools, where library specialists are suddenly hearing that their positions may be first on the chopping block.

It will be interesting to see whether the teachers’ union, which purports to have students’ best interests at heart, comes to the librarians’ aid (and to others whose jobs are at risk) or whether they will let the cuts fall where they may rather than compromise on their own salary packages.

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Park City teachers currently receive automatic raises for each year they remain with the district. Their families’ health-care premiums are also paid for in full by the district. comparison, since the recession, most private businesses have been forced to freeze salaries and, where health insurance is still offered, most companies pay only a portion of their employees’ monthly premiums.

Among other financial issues, teachers have been extremely reluctant to compromise on in-school prep time, which means that additional personnel are required in order to keep class sizes small. According to the superintendent’s recommendations, though, class sizes will be bumped up next year in order to trim staff and balance the budget.

Local educators have always had strong support from the Park City community, but lately teachers have shown a tin ear for other people’s struggles. That was especially apparent this year during the school district’s drawn out salary negotiations with the union’s strident leadership.

If local school teachers would do what they tell their students to do – to listen carefully – they might be surprised to hear parents and taxpayers debating whether the union’s demands have finally crossed the line between fair pay and unsustainable entitlements. District employees may also realize that some parents are questioning the teachers’ commitment to their kids since they seem to be more interested in protecting their prep time than lowering class sizes.

The Park City School Board has not finalized a list of budget cuts and will no doubt be receiving a lot of input from both taxpayers and employees over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, we hope that citizens will continue to support funding for education, but not without careful oversight and accountability.