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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Teachers Need A Teachable Moment About Their Unions

Another "emergency" and pending "catastrophe" is being used to justify more federal government spending to support unsustainable teachers' union contracts:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says President Obama "absolutely supports" a congressional proposal for $23 billion in emergency education spending in order to stave off teacher layoffs and cancellation of summer classes.

Duncan told CNN Wednesday that the emergency spending request is needed to head off "an education catastrophe, "in which as many as 300-thousand teachers across the country could be laid off.

Duncan also said that without the extra spending, some school districts will be forced to eliminate summer school and after-school programs.

The real numbers, as usual, are fuzzy:
How many of the estimated 3.3 million public school teachers nationwide will lose their jobs remains unknown. Duncan often says 100,000 to 300,000 education jobs are at risk, including support staff.
Notice how quickly "100,000 to 300,000" became 300,000? Notice how "support staff" became "teachers"? Notice how possible layoffs became definite layoffs?

Even The Washington Post Editors sees the folly of this "emergency" spending and the numbers-games, Obama's shallow plan to spend $23 billion on education:

Its sponsors on Capitol Hill have labeled it "emergency" legislation, worthy of exemption from President Obama's anti-deficit pay-as-you-go rules. But it's certainly not a uniquely effective way to stimulate the economy. [Chrisina] Romer [chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers] suggests on the opposite page today that keeping teachers at work will enable them to maintain their spending, thus supporting economic growth -- and saving on unemployment benefits and the like. The real question is whether this bill promotes more growth than other possible uses of $23 billion. Ms. Romer did not explain why retaining teachers stimulates the economy better than retaining, say, construction workers. Nor does she weigh the costs and benefits of not borrowing another $23 billion from China....

Officials have issued more than 100,000 layoff notices, according to data compiled by teachers unions. The unions predict layoffs could go as high as 300,000. It's hard to imagine losing that many teachers without some damage to learning.

But that many teachers almost certainly are not going to lose their jobs. For technical reasons, school districts must send notices in the spring to more teachers than they actually expect to let go in the fall. What's more, the unions' 300,000 estimate includes not only classroom teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade but also support staff and college professors. The bill would distribute money to states according to their population, not expected layoffs; states where no layoffs are imminent would get checks anyway, and the majority of states would receive more than they could possibly need to avoid layoffs. The Senate version of the bill permits them to spend the excess on other things.

We have seen this movie before:

Republicans and some Democrats say the government can't afford an extension of last year's economic stimulus that would add to the federal deficit. The stimulus law kept many school budgets afloat with $49 billion in direct aid to states and billions of dollars more for various programs. But the stimulus funding is trailing off before state and local tax revenue can recover from the recession.

Skeptics of a new education jobs fund point out that the teaching force in recent years has grown faster than enrollment, with schools adding instructional coaches and reducing class sizes.

Spending more without serious reforms to teacher union contracts, particularly pension and other benefits, will not solve anything:

Some leaders of local teachers unions continue to earn credit in the state pension system — boosting their payout at retirement — even though they haven't taught students in years.

The heads of the Bergen County Education Association, Passaic County Education Associations and Paterson Education Association, for example, have all taken extended leaves from school duties, but state records show each is still paid at least $97,000 by his district. The unions reimburse the districts for their salaries, a legal maneuver that allows them to build up time — and cash — in the pension system.

In one unusual arrangement, James L. Joyner, a vice president for the Paterson local, said he has worked full time for the union for the past seven years, but the union does not reimburse the district for his pay. State pension records put his 2009 salary at $97,269.

In Rhode Island, most locals of the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI), one of the main teachers' unions, refused to support the State of Rhode Island's application for federal Race to the Top funding because it would have required reforms.

The list goes on and on.

Teachers need to learn a thing or two about the damage their unions are doing to teachers, who are paying and will pay the price when local municipalities are pushed to the brink because of unsustainable union contracts. Just ask Central Falls, Rhode Island.

If the $23 billion "emergency" funding fails to pass, teachers should use it as a teachable moment, for themselves, about the disastrous path on which they are being led by their union leaderships.

Related Posts:
Has First Public Sector Union Domino Fallen?
Unions Pushing States Toward Broken Promises

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  1. I appreciate that you are never afraid to gore the sacred cows. This post is no exception. We encountered a similar philosophy during our last budget debate in PWC -- one teacher actually testified that her pay "stimulated the economy" and with the layoffs, she wouldn't be able to continue to get her hair and nails done. The disconnect with these people is staggering. It stopped being about "the children" a looong time ago, and now is about teacher security. Like many taxpayers, I'm fed up and have had enough.

  2. The issue that should be emphasized here is not so much whether school districts may be forced to impose some layoffs as revenues (mainly from local property taxes suppmented by varying levels of state aid). Some districts may very well layoff some teachers; a few may layoff a fair number of teachers. But that's not the fault of Congress for declining to vote to bail them out. It's the fault of teachers' unions that uniformly have refused to negotiate new contracts or modify ongoing contracts that would reflect the declining revenues in the midst of a deep and long recession.

    We don't need to get into pension obligations or fancy health plans. Most school districts have awarded teachers (and other staff) 2 and 3% across-the-board pay increases (or higher in some cases) per year as deficits loomed and the potential for layoffs with it in the absence of increased state or federal aid. And as the ov erwhelming majority of private-sector workers of all kinds have had to go without py increases or bonuses and face life-altering layoffs en masse anyway.

    Many dstrict school boards abd superintendents (I was a member of my local school board for a decade so I know this stuff) are loathe to push back against union demands because unhappy teachers usually cause a lot olf trouble. It's far easier to go along. Also, many states prescribe mediation and arbitration processes to resolve contract disputes and boards and superintendnts usually pass the buck to these processes.

    Wherever a school district has announced potential layoffs, the first thing to look at is what raises did staff get since 2007. I'll bet nearly every such district could have avoided any an all layoffs AND program cuts or class size increases simply by halving the recent raises.

    It's not easy to do -- but that's what these public officials (board members) are elected ot appointed to do and what superintendents are paid alot of money to do.

  3. 2 weeks ago, the town daily newspaper had an article, also stating, that our wonderful teacher's union had opted out of the "Race to the Top" because they too needed to keep all the tenured dead wood and "boot to the neck" on the taxpayers.
    Here is a shining example of Milford's finest tenured teachers. My son's 3rd grade teacher was retiring at the end of that school year in June. He had a wonderful year in terms of his report card and teacher's conferences. I was also the room mother, making sure the teacher had all the extra materials she needed, held all the parties and organized the field trips. So you get the gist, I was around her more than other parents.
    My son was tested the following Oct of the 4th grade for reading level placement and Mrs. New Teacher informed me that he was reading on a second grade level. The f-ing 3rd grade teacher, never bothered to teach reading or math I found out and also from the other mothers. My son liked math, so he just held his own.
    I had to pay $35.00 an hour for private tutor for 2 years to make sure he not only caught up but was ahead of the game.
    My DD has her Master's from Regis and can't find a full time teachers position for 4 years here in MA.
    The unions refuse to evaluate their own or bring in fresh young energetic, up to date educated teachers. It's a 'who's who' that gets the teachers jobs in MA.
    I hope their pensions are wrapped up with Bernie.

  4. I think Chris Christie may have a viable solution. Pass a state constitutional amendment limiting property tax increases to 2.5% per year. If the municipalities can't live with that, they have to put the increase in taxes on the ballot and let voters decide if they want more taken out of their hide.

    His "bottom up" approach smacks of Jeffersonian federalism and it will instill fiscal discipline. The Obama administration's "top down" approach of handing out "Obamamoney" borrowed from China to keep the unions fat, dumb and happy amounts to nothing more than political payoffs to the unions that helped get him elected that is putting us on the road to Greece.

    Another note about Christie. The teacher's union sent 30,000 union members to the streets of Trenton last week to protest his "radical reform" of education. His radical reform consists of not one dollar of pay cuts, and not one dollar of benefit reductions. His "radical reform" is to freeze pay at current levels and ask teachers to increase the contributions to their Cadillac benefit packages from 0% of their salary to 1.5% of their salary. That's it. No pay cuts, no benefit cuts, simply asking them to contribute a tiny portion of their salary to offset a small portion of the cost of their lavish benefits is what brought them to the streets to protest and make Christie look like the most anti-education governor ever. The sense of entitlement is astounding.

    Christie delivered a reality based speech, rather than the hopey changey fiction we are used to, at the Manhattan Institute this week laying all this out. This man is a true leader. The speech is on the Manhattan Institute website. If you ahve the time, it's about an hour long, it's well worth viewing.

  5. Bingo. And this doesn't even reach the damage that teachers' unions do to curricula.

  6. Great post and comments.

    Related: MaggotatBroad..., speaking of Chris Christie, everybody remember Rita Wilson, the NJ teacher who complained to him that she deserved 83k a year (and supposedly made nowhere near that amount)? The Wash. Examiner is reporting now that she actually makes... more than 86k a year!

    A teachable moment is needed, indeed.

  7. Has anyone else wondered about the possibility that the Obama administration is skimming these monies they are appropriating for one bailout after another? Remember, they only spent half of the first stimulus, and then, despite not spending it, they claimed the money was all gone? No one has demanded a full, transparent accounting of those funds, and we have no idea where that money has gone. They could be skimming off each appropriation and we'd never know about it. It's rather like what Robert Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe, it was exposed he's been diverting the country's money away to private accounts he has in China and elsewhere. This apparently is common practice in countries with corrupt, despotic regimes.