The Franklin Regional school board has approved a resolution supporting House Bill 1507, which would prohibit the school district from collecting union dues through an automatic deduction from employee paychecks.
The measure is intended to stop public institutions from deducting political contributions from paychecks. Approximately 10 percent of union dues collected statewide are used for political lobbying.
The board voted 7-2 on March 17 to approve the resolution, with Roberta Cook and Herb Yingling opposed.
Ronald Cowell, a former state representative who attended the meeting, asked why the board chose to focus on this issue. Mr. Cowell is president of the Education Policy Leadership Center, an education advocacy group.
“I find it interesting that you would pick this issue. It is not controversial, it does not require a lot of time or money, and it has no chance of being passed in Harrisburg,” Mr. Cowell told the board. “Why this issue when there are a host of front-burner issues with significant financial consequences for families and students?”
Mr. Cowell cited cuts in state education funding, a $40 billion debt for teacher pensions and Pennsylvania's rank as 47th in spending on higher education, leaving students with the third highest indebtedness upon graduation.
Board member Jeremy Samek defended the choice to address the issue. ”If there are better things to talk about, bring 'em up. If we reject this outright as too political, we are shirking our duties to those who elected us.”
Several audience members questioned whether endorsing the resolution sent the right message to the teachers union. “The single most important asset you have are the teachers,” Jerry Selia said. “If you have a concern about withholding union dues, why not negotiate with them? Look them in the eye and negotiate in good faith.”
Mrs. Cook denounced the measure as a political maneuver that may create problems during contract negotiations in the summer.
“This is a very bad practice of taking positions on political bills. At some point, we have to sit down and get a contract. I see no value in doing a symbolic act that will be perceived as hostile. We should not be voting our philosophy on politics. Engaging in this resolution will not be in the best interest of the district when we negotiate this summer,” Mrs. Cook said.
Board member Dennis Pavlik defended the resolution. “Millions are spent each year lobbying in Harrisburg. That is why we have a pension problem. … There is a political cost [to supporting the resolution]. But should we be collecting dues used for political lobbying that does have a substantial impact?” he asked.
Tim Means, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.