Category Archives: MEA

Update on Experience Ratings: LD300

A letter to the editor in the May 14, 2013 edition of the Portland Press Herald led me to check out a bill introduced by Rep. Henry Beck (D-Waterville ), LD 300.

The bill Summary says: “This bill provides that an insurer providing health insurance covering employees of a school administrative unit is not required to provide loss information concerning those employees if requested by the school administrative unit.”

In other words, the bill would negate the effects of LD 1326 from last session, An Act to Allow School Administrative Units to Seek Less Expensive Health Insurance Alternatives. Oh, ho, I thought – a way out of the conundrum into which the MEA Benefits Trust put its members when it released its 2013-14 premiums based on  experience ratings (aka loss information).

Not so fast.  LD300 has now been carried over to second half of the Maine Legislature’s 126th biennial session. I do not know why.

It appears on the surface that both the Maine Education Association and its health insurance trust, the MEA Benefits Trust, would have benefited from this bill. So, despite Steve Robinson‘s (of the Maine Heritage Policy Center and The MaineWire) blithe Twitter characterization of the MEA as the Maine Democratic Party‘s “union overlords” in another context, the organization may not have had enough influence to get the bill passed.

Image

If the MEA wanted the bill carried over then I suppose his point may be well-taken. Why the MEA would want to have done so, though, since it fought the original LD1326 so hard, both in the Maine Legislature and in the courts, is unknown.

At this point, then, unless LD 300 passes quickly through the 2nd session and is enacted as emergency legislation, the effects of MEABT choosing to implement its own experience ratings will have been felt by school systems and local Associations across the state for two years.

In a simple example, School Systems A and B, each of which pays the full health insurance premiums for its 50 teachers, could have widely different budget concerns 2 years out. If School System A was assigned an experience rating of 0% for both years, but School System B had 13%, then School System B would pay almost $100,000 more than School System A by the end of 2015 just for its teachers, let alone its support staff and administrators.

MEABT rates 2 yrs

How those costs will impact funding and budgeting decisions at both the state and local levels next year is yet to be seen.

ADDENDUM (5/21/13): It occurred to me that I did not emphasize strongly enough one primary fact in all this: School System A and School System B are paying very different prices for THE SAME product on behalf of their teachers.  Not “similar” products. Not “almost identical” products.  Exactly the same product from the same provider.

It would be as if 2 people walked into Wal-Mart and each picked out the same style, size and quality sweater.  When the first goes to the register, the price rings up as $20.  When the second goes through, the price is $22.60 (13% more).  The second customer storms up to the Customer Service desk and asks, “What the heck?” The Wal-Mart employee can only say, “Some people get charged one price and other people another. It’s company policy.”   Except in the case of the MEABT experience-rated premiums, it’s the customers’ own Trust that is creating the disparity, not some anonymous global retail giant.

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Health Insurance Conundrum for Maine’s Teachers

3 years ago, I was employed by the Maine Education Association as one of 16 UniServ Directors (union rep) in the state. We all had basic bargaining strategies we passed along to local Associations, but an important one was: “Don’t create different levels of benefits for employees within a bargaining unit”.   For example, don’t permit new teachers to be singled out for a lower level of benefits than veteran employees. As health insurance costs rose over the years, School Boards/Committees would often propose to have all teachers hired after a certain date be offered only individual health insurance with no Board/Committee contribution to family costs. Local Associations were strongly encouraged to resist such proposals.

I left the organization in November, 2010. During the next legislative session, LD 1326, An Act to Allow School Administrative Units to Seek Less Expensive Health Insurance Alternatives, was approved by the Maine Legislature and signed on June 21, 2011 by then-new Governor Paul LePage.   A key section of the new law was:

Sec. 3. 20-A MRSA §1001, sub-§14, ¶D  is enacted to read:

… 

D.  In order to facilitate the competitive bidding process in procuring health insurance for a school administrative unit’s employees under this subsection, a school administrative unit may request from the insurer providing health insurance coverage to its employees and retirees loss information [experience]  concerning all of that school administrative unit’s employees and retirees and their dependents covered under the school administrative unit’s policy or contract pursuant to Title 24-A, section 2803-A.

The MEA Benefits Trust (an insurer that provides health insurance through Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to the MEA and its members) spent about a year fighting that provision in court, but ultimately lost and decided against any further legal action in November, 2012.  The Trust would be legally obligated to release experience ratings school system–by-school system when asked to do so.

Move forward to April, 2013: the MEABT announced that the 2013-14 insurance rates would be based on experience (0, 3, 6, 8, 11 or 13% depending on the school system). Huh?  OK, clearly they had to release experience information by law, but use that information themselves to set rates? That was unexpected and contrary to the bargaining advice MEA had been offering for years.

There may well be some perfectly logical explanation as to why MEABT chose to base health insurance premiums on experience information, but I don’t know what it is.  However, what I can do is extrapolate a worst case scenario as what happens a few years down the road:

Pick any two neighboring school systems (System A and System B) of 30 teachers each.

ö         Assume the average teacher salary three years from now is identical and each teacher earns the average: $55,000

ö         Assume each school system pays the full cost of the teacher’s health insurance on the ChoicePlus plan.

ö         Assume each teacher  is paying for the additional cost of family health insurance on the ChoicePlus plan.

ö         Assume that each school system’s experience rating remains the same for the next three years.

  • System A: 0%
  • System B: 13%

Both teachers will be paying a lot for the family’s health insurance ($12,500 annually for Teacher A or $42,500 in annual compensation; $20,000 per year for Teacher B or $35,000 in annual compensation.)  But the teacher in system B will be paying about $8,000 more out-of-pocket for her family’s health insurance than the teacher in system A. That’s $656 per month Teacher B won’t be getting in her paycheck that Teacher A will. See: 2013-14 MEABT Rates2

From the school systems’ perspectives 3 years down the road, School System B will on the hook for an additional $135,000 over System A ($4,500 annually for each of its 30 teachers).

What the policy implications at the state level will be as health insurance changes when the federal Affordable Care Act comes online is an unknown.  Additional health insurance providers may well come into the marketplace over that period, too as the law intends.  But the Essential Programs and Services Funding model for Maine schools just had one more wrench thrown into the works.

One has to think the employment decisions made by teachers will become significantly different over that three-year period if the scenario plays out as I have described it.  These decisions will not be made because one school system offers a better level of benefit than another, but because the teachers’ own insurance trust chose to treat different school systems disparately based the experience ratings they fought so hard against.

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New Teacher Evaluation Process for Maine

A, by circumstances beyond my control, very short legislative history of teacher evaluations in Maine:

 Until the Spring of 2010, Maine teachers could not legally be evaluated using student assessments. The previous law read: “The student assessment program is separate from local practices and procedures regarding supervision and evaluation of a teacher for retention by a school administrative unit.” [20-A MRSA 6204(3), now repealed].

When the federal Race to the Top was adopted, there was significant debate over various state-level educational policies that stood in the way of Maine getting any of the RttT money.  One of those was Maine’s prohibition against linking teacher evaluations with student test data.  LD 1799 was introduced in order to eliminate that prohibition.  You can read some of now-Commissioner of Education Steve Bowen’s thoughts about then-LD 1799 here.

Despite their professed opposition to the bill …

LD 1799 proposed the removal of a 25 year old firewall between teacher evaluations and student testing. MEA opposed it, saying that it was sound public policy and that the legislature would be breaking a promise made to teachers with the introduction of the Maine Educational Assessments.

… the Maine Education Association proposed a solution that allowed the prohibition to be eliminated: create a stakeholder group to “review” teacher evaluation models that had been “established” by the Maine Department of Education.  Since the MEA was part of that stakeholder group, I expect they thought they could control the process sufficiently to keep student test data out of the evaluation models.  Given that the two MEA representatives were outnumbered by the eight members of the group who belonged to various administrators’ professional associations, though, I wondered how that could work.  Since MEA proposed that group composition, they were in no position to gripe.

Anyway, in the current legislative session – no surprise – the inevitable happened: the terms of the old LD 1799 were changed by the language of the new LD 391 (soon to be part of 20-A MRSA 13802). Most of the old (relatively-speaking) language was kept, but a few major changes were made:

  • the word “develop” became “propose”;
  • the Department of Education is no longer able to “adopt” but could only “put forth” an evaluation model;
  • the July 2011 deadline for that the evaluation model being written was eliminated; and, last but certainly not least,
  • this language was included: “Nothing in this section prevents a school administrative unit from developing and adopting its own models for teacher and principal evaluation.”

Uh-huh.

So, in the space of one year – at the initiation of the union that supposedly protects teachers against arbitrary employer actions  – the 26-year old Maine law that prohibited student test data from being used in teacher evaluations was eliminated and the ability of school boards/committees across the state to implement whatever teacher evaluation processes they want is soon to be in place (90 days after the end of the legislative session, so around the beginning of the 2011-12 school year).

As far as I know, MEA has yet to say a word about this conundrum. So, here’s my two-cents worth.

Dear MEA local affiliate Presidents and Negotiators, these are the two terms you need to know, understand and employ:

  • Meet and Consult
  • Impact Bargain

If you don’t know what those mean or how to make them work, NOW is the time to learn.  You can check my previous blog posts for the Meet and Consult legal requirements.  I’ll be discussing “impact bargaining” in the weeks to come.  You should also check with your region’s UniServ Director for any recommendations MEA may develop about this difficult and touchy subject.

Best,

Nancy

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Retirement Concerns for Maine Educators

A Bangor Daily News article last week pointed out what at least one Maine school superintendent is doing in response to Maine Governor Paul LePage’s proposals around teacher and state employee retirement.  Dr. O’Neill is being proactive and making the best deal he can for himself given the current, uncertain, state of affairs.

Many Collective Bargaining Agreements contain a deadline – some already past – about educators notifying the school system of their retirement so as to collect the equivalent of up to 30 days unused sick leave to be put toward their final earnings calculations [5 MRSA 17006(13)(B)].

Given the Governor’s proposals, the question local Associations – who represent large numbers of active teachers and other school professionals around Maine, but not superintendents – in the immediacy should be: what can we do, via the collective bargaining process, to protect our members?

When I put this very basic question out there via the Save Our Retirement group on Facebook, the following exchange occurred:

Me: I can only hope that MEA has already provided advice to local Associations on this matter so their members will be as protected as possible given the situation. I hope, but doubt.

[Member]: Nancy, haven’t heard a thing.

Blakney: Given that there is no rehiring plan as of yet (Sawin [Millett, Maine’s Commissioner of Department of Administrative & Financial Services] said last Friday they hadn’t yet come up with a plan and got laughed at) from the LePage admin, it would be difficult to provide guidance.

Joyce Blakney is the Treasurer of the Maine Education Association.  I completely disagree with her that it is “difficult to provide guidance” in this situation.  Certainly it would not be possible to solve address every concern, but not provide guidance? Come on.

So, recognizing that I am simply a retired kibbitzer, here’s my thought on possible language that could be negotiated between local Associations and school board/committees that would – at least – give teachers and other school professionals as much as time as possible to make such an important and personal decision as retiring, particularly when they may not be ready to do so under normal circumstances:

ADDENDUM to the COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT:

Despite any contract language to the contrary, for the 2010-2011 school year any bargaining unit member considering retirement must submit a Letter of Intent to Retire to the Superintendent of Schools and School Board/Committee no later than the final day of the school year.

The unit member will provide written notification to the Office of the Superintendent of his/her final decision to retire, or not to retire, within seven days of the Governor’s signature on whatever bill that makes changes to the current Maine Public Employees Retirement System language for teachers in the State of Maine [5 MRSA 17001, et seq].

All other benefits of the collective bargaining agreement will apply to a bargaining unit member who chooses to retire under the provisions of this agreement.

Obviously, there are lots of tweaks that could be made to this, but the basic concept should provide some breathing room for teachers and other professionals so long as it is in place sooner rather than later.  Any member or local Association leader thinking about this, please contact your area’s UniServ Director for further information.

Footnote: MEA’s lobbyist, Steve Crouse, was a member of the Unified Retirement Plan Task Force that issued a report just about a year ago.  According to the Executive Summary, “The purpose of this report is to respond to the reporting requirement of Maine State Resolve 111, “To Reform Public Retirement Benefits and Eliminate Social Security Offsets” passed in May, 2009, by the 124th Legislature. The reason for the legislation is to design a unified pension and health benefit plan for all state employees and teachers who are first employed after December 31, 2010 with no prior creditable service.” Clearly the issue of pension reform – and therefore potential impacts – is not a surprise to anyone, particularly MEA.

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Labor Management Collaboration in Maine

You may know that a U.S. Department of Education Conference on Labor Management Collaboration is happening today in Denver.

Three Maine school systems (Regional School Unit 12, SAD 74 and SAD 61) and the local Associations there are attending. What involvement the Maine Education Association, of which the three locals are affiliates, has in the Conference is unknown (at least by me).

According to the Conference’s Opening Message, this is what the participants can expect from the initiative:

…to take a fresh look at how we improve and strengthen labor-management relationships, policies, and agreements with the goal of improving instruction and student achievement, and how we hold ourselves and each other responsible and accountable for achieving these goals. You have agreed to revisit both what underlies a successful labor-management relationship and the myriad of issues that affect it, including:

  • transparency [not sure what this means in this context]
  • hiring [in Maine, local Associations are not involved in hiring decisions]
  • retention [in Maine, local Associations can negotiate Reduction in Force and dismissal processes, but not the decision to retain or dismiss a teacher]
  • equity [not sure what this means in this context]
  • compensation [In Maine, local Associations can negotiate salaries; whether or not they can negotiate tying those salaries to student performance is unclear.]
  • instruction [in Maine, this is “educational policy” and generally can not be negotiated or enforced through the grievance process]
  • [content of] professional development [in Maine, this is “educational policy” and generally can not be negotiated or enforced through the grievance process], and
  • [teacher] evaluation [in Maine, this is “educational policy” and generally can not be negotiated or enforced through the grievance process]

Although I expect the U.S. DoE and other sponsoring organizations believe that they are doing the right thing nationally, Maine law is not supportive of the initiative at this time.

The legal relationship between Maine school boards and local Associations is spelled out by 26 MRSA 965(C)(1).   Any “labor-management relationship” that exists is therefore guided by that statute and the cases that have been decided under it. The relationship is such that – good intentions aside – if a subject has not been negotiated (and in writing as part a collective bargaining agreement except for some matters of past practice), there is little to bind the parties to the agreement.

Since, most of the topics listed above are not bargainable under Maine case law, the school board has the power and authority to renege on any agreement reached in (or based on the experience of) Denver.  Should an affected Association believe the agreement was violated, they could bring a grievance, but it is likely that the school board’s lawyer would successfully argue that the matter is not arbitrable because it is “educational policy”.

“SAD 74 Superintendent Ken Coville said he hopes to learn about the specifics of tying measures of academic progress to teacher compensation, especially as part of a collective bargaining agreement.”

And

“Lester Sheaffer, vice chairman of the RSU 12 board, said he’s hoping for tips on working academic performance-based bonuses and raises into contract negotiations.”

Clearly the gentlemen making the two statements above are looking to the conference for very specific information which they intend to include in a new collective bargaining agreement.  What the individuals holding those positions in 5 or 10 years, assuming no change in the law, will be thinking is unknown.  And what the Conference participants from Maine will hear from their attorneys when they return from Denver is yet another matter.

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More on Teacher Evals

I posted this at MainePolitics.net today in response to Brian Hubbell’s piece entitled Two Circumstances: Legislature’s Education Agenda.  Brian is one of the clearest thinkers I know on the subject of education in Maine.  He is passionate about protecting public education, but doesn’t hesitate to carefully consider alternate points of view even if they conflict with his own. Teacher evaluations are something I feel passionate about, so here’s what I said:

I disagree with Brian’s characterization of teacher evaluations as “mere”, at least as they apply to individual teachers across the state.  Whether or not performance pay is ever implemented in Maine, the impact of a teacher evaluation model that includes student performance for even a short period of time could have long-term consequences for teachers who are early in their careers.

10 or 20 years down the road, when Paul LePage and the 125th Legislature are long gone, the evaluations done during this period will still be in teachers’ personnel files.  Having been in the situation (as a union representative for teachers), I know full well that superintendents will go back into those files to try and find a pattern of poor teaching in order to dismiss, non-renew or  otherwise force a teacher out.

By then, few will remember that the teacher-evaluation-based-on-student-performance was just a phase.  And for those that do, the fact that the teachers’ own union was part of the group approving the evaluation model will be a strong argument in favor of using the individual evaluation against the teacher in question.

Since there isn’t much money available, as Brian correctly points out, so-called merit pay schemes are unlikely to find much traction in the Legislature.  But a teacher evaluation process that includes student performance is well on its way to implementation.  I can only trust that someone will speak persuasively on behalf of the thousands of Maine teachers who will be affected by the decision before it is a done deal.

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Another short tangent: Teacher Evaluations

The Maine Department of Education today released Informational Letter #61, Approval of Teacher Evaluation Systems Using Student Assessments.  Although it appears to be a recapitulation of what has happened since the Maine Legislature passed LD 1799 [An Act to Encourage the Use of Models in the Collection and Use of Student Achievement Data] last session, there are definitely hints about what Maine’s schools, teachers and local Associations might expect in the coming months and years.

In terms of this blog, though, there are a couple of points that I want to highlight today, but address more fully at another time

1.    LD 1799 eliminated the former statutory language forbidding use of student assessment data to evaluate teachers (20-A MRSA 6202-A, now repealed)

2.   The bill also instituted an Evaluation Models Stakeholder Group to both develop a model for using student assessment data in teacher evaluations and approve other models school systems might want to use.

3.   Teacher evaluation processes, by case law, are not generally part of teachers’ collective bargaining agreements [except as to matters such as receiving copies of criteria/form] because evaluations are “educational policy” (26 MRSA 965(C)).

4.   Under the law, then, the only option is for local Associations to “meet and consult” over teacher evaluation procedures.

5.   As best I can tell from what’s at the Department’s website, there is no requirement that, or even permission for, local teachers’ Associations (the bargaining agent) to be involved in the development of the local-level alternative models.

6.   Again, as best I can tell from what’s at the Department’s website, there is no requirement that, or even permission for, local teachers’ Associations (the bargaining agent) to be involved in determining whether to use the state model (once released) or a locally-developed model.

7.   The Maine Education Association’s President, Chris Galgay, and its Executive Director, Mark Gray, are members of the Stakeholder Group.  By searching the MEA website, I did find a few organizational articles about LD 1799 and its implications, but nothing recent as best I can tell (since posting dates are not given).

One can only hope that before the final report of the Stakeholder Group is released and/or state-endorsed teacher evaluation models are announced, some mechanism will be put into place to make sure teachers – not the statewide union, but real, front-line, classroom teachers – have input into and influence over evaluation processes that directly affect their professional lives.

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