When government employee unions engage in collective bargaining, the terms of the agreement they negotiate matter more than the process that produced the contract.
Collective bargaining can be an aggravating process from the public’s point of view, but mainly because we get to see little or nothing before the agreement is reached.
The public is represented in the negotiations by elected officials and the managerial employees appointed to act as negotiators for those officials, but that’s not the same as knowing what is under consideration during the process.
So long as we have unions representing the public’s employees and collective bargaining to produce agreements that restrict what our elected officials may do, we must put up with being excluded from the group that knows what is being considered.
And since the elimination of collective bargaining seems highly unlikely, we have to put up with the agreements that our elected officials enter into.
When things are going well — meaning the economy and government revenues are growing — collective bargaining agreements that require certain levels of spending in the future may not cause significant problems.
But even in the best of times the spending on employee pay and benefits in future years can divert revenue from where it otherwise would be spent.
Obviously, we are not now in the best of times.
The recession ended more than a year and a half ago, but the slow growing economy won’t produce the pre-recession level of revenue any time soon.
Government entities are faced with the reality that employee compensation must be reduced or there must be fewer public employees.
The situation faced by South Kitsap School District is no different from the rest of state and local government when it comes to bringing spending into line with expected revenue.
Stopgap measures have just about run their course, so the need to reset spending (that is, employee compensation) is upon them.
The state legislature hasn’t yet adopted a budget for the coming biennium, but it’s a safe bet that funds appropriated for the school year beginning this September will be less than the amount SKSD would spend if the money were available.
The SKSD board of directors must examine their options now, since any layoffs of instructional staff require notice to the affected employees by mid-May.
If they cannot reduce each employee’s total compensation by enough to eliminate the problem, then they will have to reduce the number of employees.
All the weeping and wailing in the world won’t change the fact that there are only so many dollars to go around.
Some layoffs may be avoided simply because some employees retire or move away without being replaced by newly hired personnel.
But if the normal employee turnover doesn’t reduce payroll costs enough, something or someone else must be cut.
One can hope that the board of directors and senior administrators will distinguish between what must be done and what would otherwise be a good thing to do when money is available.
It might be interesting to see whether there is any difference of opinion between the central administration and the union leaders about this distinction between “must haves” and “good to haves.”
One part of SKSD’s costs for instructional personnel stands out like a red barn — supplemental contracts for additional pay.
The added pay is supposed to be for something other than performing the basic duties required of any employee, so it may be something other than a “must have.”
Anyone wanting to keep as many classroom teachers as possible might look closely at the significant amount paid under these supplemental contracts and at least try to reduce costs there rather than through layoffs.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the room where such a thing is discussed between management and union representatives so as to know what each side thinks about it.
We can only wait and see the outcome as the two sides attempt to match spending and revenue.
Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.