Issues in FPS firmly rooted in the Texas Legislature

root-of-the-problems_v2Elected officials in Austin make decisions about our jobs, our standard of living, and the services our agency provides. Crafting the state budget is one of the most important tasks of legislators. The budget passed by the state house and state senate details how and where tax dollars will be spent. The serious problems in our agency are a direct result of how elected officials have decided to fund our agency. Instead of strengthening and improving services with better pay and lower caseloads, elected officials have tried short cuts and quick fixes that haven’t worked.

Low Pay:

Every two years, the legislature is required to pass a budget based on projected income (tax revenue) and expenses (state services & programs). The Legislature is prohibited from obligating expenses to future Legislatures, meaning that among other things, regular Cost of Living Adjustments for state employees and retirees can’t be included in any budget. Instead, pay for employees is changed (or not changed) by making adjustments to the State Salary Schedule. For targeted raises to specific job titles, adjustments are made by moving titles to a higher grade within a schedule or by raising a specific pay grade within the schedule.

A pay raise for state employees is only one of the competing interests for state funding. Despite numerous reports from the State Auditor’s Office and other internal studies detailing the need for better pay to reduce turnover and develop a more qualified workforce, state leaders choose to ignore the need for purely political reasons. When campaigning on a platform of “limited government” and promising to “slash out of control spending”, politicians don’t want to be labeled as supporters of “Big Government” by supporting a pay raise for state employees. Like many important issues, the political considerations outweigh needs of the district and constituents they are elected to serve.

TSEU members have to fight every two years for a raise, and clearly we have to be stronger to win meaningful raises. One way members can get involved by meeting with their State Representative and State Senator to ask for their support and leadership in fighting for a raise. However, if logic, reason, and common sense were all we needed to get a raise, we wouldn’t be in our sixth year of stagnant pay. We need the power to move legislators to our side by showing them there are enough members in their district to support them or to support their opponent in the next election. This is why we need more of our coworkers to stop complaining about low pay and start doing something about it by joining their union.

High Turnover:

The high turnover rate in our agency has continued to plague our ability to protect and serve vulnerable Texans. Numerous legislative efforts to address turnover haven’t made a real difference on the frontlines. While the size of the agency has grown significantly over the last 10 years, it hasn’t been enough to keep up with Texas growing population and the increasing amount of work that we are asked to do. There is no “silver bullet” to fix the turnover problem, but failing to address the main reason employees leave ensures that the problem won’t go away. Instead of lowering workloads and improving pay, legislators have focused on technology, specialized positions, and internal reforms. These initiatives can be part of the solution, but they have fallen short because the day to day reality hasn’t changed. There aren’t enough employees to get the job done because of the long hours and low pay that forces employees to sacrifice much of our personal life while struggling to make ends meet.

High Workloads:

In a cyclical fashion, high turnover rates drive up workloads which then increase the turnover rate in our agency. In 1997, union members worked in the Capitol to pass legislation to create the Caseload Standards Advisory Committee. The committee released their recommendations the following year. (See below) Despite the numerous studies and reports that high workloads and employee turnover have a negative impact on client outcomes, elected officials have not committed to make these recommendations a reality. About 4,300 more staff would be needed to reach the recommended level, which would cost about $256 million, according to the Legislative Budget Board. Instead of making this significant investment to improve services, elected officials have instead focused on shortcuts and internal changes that fail to address the fundamental problem of dangerously high workloads. TSEU members will continue to work with our legislative allies to win support of lower caseloads.

Privatization Failures:

Foster Care Redesign, the latest attempt to privatize services in FPS, received a major boost in 2015. Since Redesign was approved by Legislators in 2011, only one SSCC continues to operate, while the first SSCC, Providence Service Corporation, pulled out of the “Redesign” of Region 2/9 in 2014. Providence cited the loss of over $2 Million as a main reason for terminating the contract after less than a year. Despite passing Foster Care Redesign as a cost neutral way to improve services, private agencies operating as Single Source Continuum Contractors (SSCCs) will receive up to $1.2 Million in additional funding above the daily blended rate for foster children in their system. The inability of private agencies to provide services without additional funding is a clear indicator that Legislators have not committed adequate funding in order to maintain a foster care system that meets the needs of children in the state’s care. By boosting up private, for profit SSCCs, Legislators have created a two-tier system that continues to not meet the needs of foster children, families, and communities across Texas.

Union members are working to improve our agency, tackling the problem at the roots. We are working to elect legislators who support state services and state employees, and to hold them accountable for their decisions. Get involved in your union and help improve our agency!

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