Thursday, February 16, 2012

Voter Forum question: Membership Fees

In the Voter Forum, A. vdWyst posted this under the heading "Membership Fees":
Which candidate is going to commit to reducing the College Membership fees? They've gone from $100 two years ago to $120 last year and now $138 this year.  These are increases of 20% and 15% respectively and are AND ORDER OF MAGNITUDE greater than the rate at which my pay is increasing (not even accounting for inflation....).  This is unacceptable, and the candidate who will own up to that will get my vote.

Here's my response:

Even though it would be easy to jump on the "lower taxes!" bandwagon, I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear just to get your vote.  I think that's irresponsible, and deceptive.  However, after doing some research, I can say this: it appears that the College has set its fees responsibly since its inception, although there are a few areas where I can make suggestions for improvements which I think would allow us to stabilize fees for many years.

First, let's look at current College fees:

  • Fees are set on three year cycles: the current $138 is not scheduled to change until 2014.
  • The College maintains a "fee stabilization fund" in order to smooth out any fee increases.
  • The College recently purchased office space which is projected to save millions per year as compared to leasing.
  • College of Teachers fees remain the lowest of any self-regulating profession in Ontario.
  • In 1999 the College fee was $90.  Today, 13 years later, it's $138.  That's hardly an out of control increase.
  • Given the salaries of most College members, a tax-deductible fee of $138 is negligible.

Now let's look at some ways we could ensure College fees remain stable or decline over time:

  • Increase the registration fee.  At $140, the cost of College registration has not increased significantly in several years, yet the costs of assessment of new applicants and certification of qualified applicants is one of the highest costs incurred by the College, and represents $39.10 (the largest piece of the pie) of an annual membership fee of $138.  If registration fees were increased to a self-sustaining level, I can see this stabilizing membership fees for years to come.
  • Create new membership categories: Instead of giving retirees and members not currently directly employed in the profession only the options of paying the full fee or letting their membership lapse, why not create a reduced fee, say $50, for retired members and members not directly employed in education?  This would allow us to transform a dormant pool of former members into a revenue source, and would allow those members to maintain their connection to the profession.  There are 230,000 paid-up active members, yet there are 431,000 registered members.  That's an enormous untapped resource.
  • Offer electronic-only delivery of Professionally Speaking.  I was surprised to read that the College reports that only $13.29 of our fee (at $138 in this graphic) goes towards communications including printing of Professionally Speaking.  I think we've got a great member magazine we can be proud of.  However, it's available now on the web site, and given environmental concerns (and clutter concerns in our homes), there's no reason we shouldn't allow members to opt out of receiving a print edition.  We could offer members that do a nominal (say $10) reduction in their fee.
  • Increase the subscription cost of Professionally Speaking (PS) for non-members.  We currently charge only $10/year ($20/year for outside Canada) to subscribe to PS if you're not a member.  What a steal!  Especially given that people can access it online for free, I think we should be immediately doubling that subscription fee.
  • Create a low-income membership option: Most College members have their membership fee paid through payroll deduction, as required by Regulation 72/97 under the Ontario College of Teachers Act.  However, 85,000 out of 230,000 members in 2010 paid their own fee directly to the College.  That means 37% of our paid-up active members do not have traditional salaried employment in the teaching profession.  I know that for most occasional teachers (a group that includes most new members to the profession), if you earn $20,000 in a year, you've had a good year.  Most will earn less.  For these members, we need to give them the option to self-identify as low-income and the option of paying a lower fee.  As teachers, we often preach social justice... here's a chance to get our own house in order.  We shouldn't be charging new members of the profession, who are struggling just to reach the poverty line, the same fee that we charge members earning $90,000 per year.

In conclusion, I've laid out some reasonable suggestions that would allow the College to increase it's revenues while at the same time maintaining or lowering membership fees.  If elected, I'll do my best to see that these changes become implemented.

Mark Carter, OCT
Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time Candidate

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