I learned from serving eight years on Riverside-Brookfield High School’s Board of Education what a difficult and mostly thankless job it is. It is with this background that I have judged the performance of the board since I left it in 1997.
While RB’s board during the Baldermann administration did a generally poor job of controlling the school’s finances, the most serious damage was done when it approved the current five-year labor contract.
This contract stripped nearly all discretionary management control from the superintendent. In 1990-91, I and other board members spent nearly a year fighting for a contract that guaranteed management’s right to operate the school efficiently. With one swipe of a pen, all that work was thrown away.
Today, almost any time the superintendent wishes to implement a management change, he must bargain with the union. Under the contract my board negotiated, the union received only those benefits expressly set out in its contract and no more. There were no further side agreements or “memoranda of understanding.”
Under the current agreement, there are at least 15 such side agreements, nearly all of which have a price tag. RBHS is being nickeled and dimed, and those nickels and dimes add up to millions over the life of the contract. It is both galling and symptomatic that teachers today are pressing to get the tax payers to pay their union dues.
Handcuffed by this contract, the current board exercised the only power it had — it cut employees and programs to make certain the school remain solvent. This is nothing new. In 1990, faced with a disastrous labor contract, my board had to fire nearly 20 percent of RBHS’ teachers just to keep the school’s doors open.
Thus, the question: Which of the candidates will do the best job of negotiating a new labor agreement? This year I am pleased to see a number of well-qualified candidates. However, I will vote for Matt Sinde, Mike Welch and Ed Jepson.
Sinde and Welch have shown that they are patient and serious adults who are dealing firmly and fairly to bring RBHS back to a fiscally sound condition. Ed Jepson is a highly regarded labor lawyer.
All three are supportive of Dr. Skinkis’ effort to assert control. These three are not flashy glad-handers, but frankly I’ve had enough of those. Sinde, Welch and Jepson are our best hope for a well-run, academically challenging school which is also financially responsible.
Paul Stack is a former member of the District 208 Board of Education.