Friday, September 07, 2007

Which adversary shall we pull for?

You may have seen the news of the dust-up: The Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA) is trying to hold onto about $50 million that has accumulated in a reserve fund dedicated to defraying health care premium increases for Oregon school districts.

The money comes from the OSBA’s health care trust program, which will now disappear because of a bill pushed by the teachers union last session. The whole situation is worth explaining, because it is a case study in power politics between opposing interest groups.

The OSBA is one of the organizations in what I would describe as the “ education leviathan.” They ostensibly represent the political interests of school districts in Oregon, which they do through lobbying and through legal assistance on regulatory and contracting issues. As such, they are on the other side of the table from the teachers unions during collective bargaining contract negotiations.

On the other hand, the OSBA is often on the same side as the OEA on a host of other issues: they for years jointly fought our efforts to kill CIM/CAM; they lobby with the OEA on tax increases, school funding increases, and anything else that protects and defends the public school monopoly.

The health care trust program provides about half of the OSBA’s five or six million dollar operating budget. Basically they act as broker to about 100 school districts for health insurance, and take a skim off the top. Pretty easy money, and by most accounts, they actually save districts some dough as well. (This is disputed, but I really don’t know which side is correct.)

The OEA saw an opportunity to stick a dagger in the OSBA’s chest this session, given their newfound influence among the new Democrat majority. All they had to do was mandate that all districts had to purchase their health insurance from a similar trust run by the state, and presto! Half of their enemy’s operating budget would disappear!

True, the OSBA and the OEA are allies on lots of issues. But no issue is more important to the OEA than their collective bargaining contracts, and this is where they are always fighting OSBA-led negotiating teams. So if they could peel off half their budget, the OEA figures, it would weaken the OSBA’s ability to prevail in contract negotiations.

The Democrats in the legislature were only too willing to carry the water. The bill sailed through the legislature. It was one of several public employee union power plays we saw this session as Kulongoski and the D’s paid off their chits.

The OSBA had been accumulating the $50 million reserve fund for years and years, and now that substantial amount of money looks like a pretty good buffer for them to keep their budget whole while they figure out some other way to plug the $3 million crater the OEA blew in it. So they announced that rather than use this dough to defray premiums for their members for the next couple years (until the state trust is fully enrolled) that they would use the money themselves, to “provide services” to those same members.

The OEA is screaming about it, and will surely sue. My guess is they win – that money is for health premiums, not services.

My take: I like it when two of my adversaries fight. On charter schools, the OSBA has been a huge pain in the butt, because we constantly find ourselves on opposite sides of the table from them, and they constantly pull all sorts of shenanigans that I have chronicled in this blog and elsewhere.

The OEA is not anywhere nearly as much a pain in the butt. They hate charters, for sure, but outside of trying to kill us in the legislature, their tools are pretty limited.

So in this one, I’m pulling for the OEA!


Anonymous said...

This is like watching a Washington-USC football game - you don't really care who wins, you just hope for lots of season-ending injuries.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in comparison to the fight over SAIF's huge insurance reserves in recent years. SAIF, of course, was allowed to keep those reserves.

If I were OSBA, I'd invest the money in charter schools...but I'm evil like that.

Anonymous said...

Fight on Trojans!

Anonymous said...

Go Dawgs.

Anonymous said...

Put a Trojan on that Dog....Go Irish! Boo OSBA and OEA!!

RINO WATCH said...

Kremer, your last statement "So in this one, I’m pulling for the OEA!" displays your total ignorance to SB426.

You, Kremer, never said a word about SB426 during the session but RW did!

I know, RW is beneath your dignity, but RW is not as arrogant as thou....

Rob Kremer said...

Wow, RW ...

So enlighten me. What specifically is it that I am "totally ignorant" of?

And why would RW be "beneath my dignity?"

RINO WATCH said...

Just bustin' your chops pal, BUT did you see see any of these?

Siding with the OEA is siding with the advance in Oregon to Socialized Health Care.

You don't want that, do you?

Anonymous said...

Rob, I follow you a bunch, and respect your knowledge of school issues, but I have to question this one.

As a former school board member who was a frustrated conservative among a bunch of liberals, I found the OSBA a little bit of help against the unions during contract negotiations. If the OSBA is gutted, then the OEA will have zero checks against their unbridled power, especially during contract negotiations.

And I think that this is the biggest problem in Oregon public schools today, the compensation package of constant pay raises, constant benefit increases, and zero accountability (performance? only seniority matters). OSBA was a weak check and balance, but without OSBA, the OEA will own the taxpayers.

OEA = it is only about the teachers

Rob Kremer said...

I do understand what you say. That is one of the useful things the OSBA does. However - as they have performed this function for districts over the last couple of decades, have the union contracts become more or less costly and inefficient?

I'd suggest that they haven't done a very good job.

And I can tell you from personal experience, when they consult with districts on charter school proposals and contract negotiations, they do more to damage the movement than the OEA ever did.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. One of my very good friends was a school board member during one of the longer K-12 strikes. His comment has stuck with me for many years. He said, "OEA was not the problem they thought they might be". They were up front in acknowledging that they were making a spectacle of the situation make clear for other districts what might happen for them. What did surprise them was that "they were left out to hang by OSBA". There was very little public support from OSBA.

OSBA has to make a unified stance against OEA in negotiations. Thus far, they have shown little inclination to do so. OEA holds the hammer over OSBA.