Mark Bomchill Makes Me Scratch My Head
By Andrew Richter
Former Robbinsdale School Board member Mark Bomchill has been on a rampage lately and his latest column has me all confused…..
I am often asked what regrets I have from my days serving on the board of at Robbinsdale Area Schools. The decision to contract out busing is near the top of the list. My remorse does not come so much from my vote at the table because I am confident, based on the information I had, that I voted what was best for the district and taxpayers. My sorrow is I trusted the information given to me.
Today, I do not believe we had all the facts. SEIU, the bus drivers’ union, continuously made the argument we were missing valuable information. I believed the district negotiators when they said we were not, today I am questioning if that is true.
The Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers complained that information given to the negotiators for the board to see never made it to the board. Once, during negotiations, I was confused by what I was hearing from the district negotiators allegedly coming from the RFT and asked specifically if there was anything that was left out. I was assured that nothing was being held back. One of the negotiators even said, “They think we don’t give you everything, but we do.”
OK hold on here; Mr. Bomchill is making a rather serious charge yet he doesn’t present a single fact to back up his claims. What is this “information” you were denied access to? You can’t make charges like that and not back them up.
By the way, is it a shock to anyone that the SEIU Union is bad mouthing negotiators that are trying to contract out busing and reducing their numbers. Also, who cares what RFT has to say? Why is it it any of their business?
I also think that if Mr. Bomchill feels that he made the right vote on bus contracting at the time with the information that he had, then he has nothing to apologize for.
This school year Robbinsdale Area Schools hired 115 new teachers to the district (about 20 due to absorbing the FAIR teachers) and many more teachers are sending out their resume. As a comparison, the Wayzata district hired 30. Employee morale is very low as evident by the turnover of staff, which is not only costing taxpayers, but the inconsistency has to have a negative effect on student performance. Teachers often feel unheard in district decisions and are repeatedly shown disrespect as evident by their rapid departures. This is information I received when I visited the schools in direct conversations with many teachers.
Hiring new teachers in it of itself is not evidence that morale is low. I thought hiring new teachers is what “lowered class size?” And who knows, maybe these teachers will be better than the ones they replaced! The question that should be asked is WHY is there turnover?
It’s not just the teachers who are struggling and feeling mistreated. Education Assistants and Program Assistants also have a high level of frustration. Both of those groups received the lowest pay increases in the district both in amount of money as well as percentage of increase. Program Assistants did receive an additional step which means those who have been in the district a long time received a pay increase while the rest got a much smaller increase.
OK well if Education Assistants got a poor wage increase isn’t that the fault of their union negotiators? Perhaps Union members should fire them!
What can be done to change the low employee morale?
For starters, one or more school board members should be at every negotiation session as an observer. I brought this up and was told we are sending a message to the negotiators that we do not trust them. While they have proven to not have passed on all the information, it is more to get a tone of the meeting, which would give the board a broader viewpoint in making decisions. Board members should visit schools during school times and talk with the staff.
The Program Assistants deserve to have the same union representation as the teachers and the education assistants. This may be difficult since the Program Assistant category is made up of vastly different job titles ranging from student support to administrative assistants who have been in the district for years, work at the administrative office and hugely benefited financially by the addition of lanes while the rest received a fraction of a pay increase. The Program Assistant position should be divided up into clerical and student support so the hard working men and women on the front lines can get a fair vote on the representation they need and deserve.
The board and administration must take the low employee morale seriously. While salary increases are one way to acknowledge staff, workload and working conditions are a place we can also address morale. Our tax dollar and more importantly, student support and success depend on it.
So let me get this straight; your solution to this problem is to have more union members and throw money at wages and benefits? How many times are we going to try this when it comes to education before we realize this 1950’s public school model just doesn’t work anymore?
Help here….I’m lost!