Thursday, May 25, 2006

Holland Sentinel Letter to the Editor

HPS is guilty of incompetence

To the Editor:

At last week's bargaining session between the Holland Education Association and the board of education, the district's business manager, Bob Fein, admitted that he had made a "calculation error" in the district's proposed revenue over the next three years to the tune of $6.3 million. How convenient for the board that this error went undiscovered for over three months, and was remarkably found the very day the two sides met to attempt to negotiate a contract. Is it not the responsibility of the school board, in particular Treasurer Kevin Clark, to oversee the financial issues of this district? Where were they while this $6.3 million error hovered beneath their noses?

Superintendent Frank Garcia has said that this is not "mismanagement" but rather a simple error in the calculation of projected income. Regardless, a $6.3 million error on a budget that is used to plan for the future went undiscovered for over three months. If nothing else, this is a clear demonstration of the administration's and the board's gross negligence and total incompetence to conduct the business of the school district.

It is long past time for the district to give up its "shell game" and stop hiding the district's true financial condition and it is long past time for the board to sit down with the HEA to settle a fair and equitable contract.

Greg VanPortfleet,

West Olive

Monday, May 15, 2006

Response to Michael Jahr

Last Sunday the Sentinel printed a column by Michael Jahr, a paid spokesman for the Mackinac Center, an anti-public school think tank. Mr. Jahr’s defense of the Holland school board’s divisive and morale-destroying action to impose its choice of health care plans on district employees would be laughable, if it was not so tragic.

This is the same Mackinac Center that released a study of school employee health benefits one year ago claiming benefit costs had “risen wildly.” In fact, the study showed that spending on wages and benefits for school employees across the nation grew 37 percent from 1992 to 2002, while only growing 27 percent in Michigan. Pay raises for Michigan teachers were about half of what teachers received nationally over the same period - 18 percent in Michigan versus 34 percent nationally.

Once it was pointed out that the Mackinac Center’s study proved that Michigan school employees were paying for increases in their health insurance by sacrificing salary, the center quickly pulled the study from its Web site, and it has not been returned.

Mr. Jahr and the Mackinac Center are clearly more interested in propaganda than facts. MESSA is a not-for-profit membership organization that serves about 50 percent of the Michigan educational insurance market. It’s efficient and, according to a study commissioned by Republican leaders in the state Senate last year, “very well run.”

The authors of the study, the Hay Group, a West-Virginia actuarial firm, also wrote that MESSA’s pools “have already captured most of the savings that are available solely on the basis of size and bargaining power.”

In regard to unmanageable “double digit increases in health insurance costs,” here, too, Mr. Jahr and the Mackinac Center fail to tell the truth. MESSA’s rate increase for the 2006-2007 school year in Kent and Ottawa counties is only 7.41 percent. In Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Lake it is even smaller at 1.06 percent. Statewide, MESSA’s composite increase is under five percent.

MESSA is successful because it provides quality products at competitive rates. MESSA helps school employees stay healthy and on the job. Having MESSA helps school districts attract and retain top quality staffs. In the first month after losing MESSA, Holland school employees lodged more than 110 complaints with Holland Education Association leadership over the new health plan inflicted on them by the board. One family even qualifies for a state assistance program because the new plan leaves them high and dry on coverage for their young son’s condition.

This is vision and leadership on the part of the Holland school board?

We are in the midst of an alarming trend of eroding investment in our public schools. As the Mackinac Center study showed last year, our school employees are falling behind. If that trend continues, our efforts to boost student achievement, toughen curriculums, and increase the state college graduation rate are doomed.

Teachers are the most important and effective investment we can make as we work to boost achievement. If the Holland school board insists on continuing down its dangerous path, it will succeed only in driving young teachers out of its classrooms and into new careers where they can make more money and be treated with respect. If the Mackinac Center and its supporters win, every child, every parent and every family will lose.

Jon Toppen
HEA Chief Negotiator