The Union Onion
Matthew Harrison’s complaint about unionized teachers could not be better stated. I hope he sees this as an interesting addendum to his own poignant thoughts.
A union is like an onion. You peel the bitter layers of forced unionization, legal representation for people that obviously should be fired, strong-armed embezzlement of taxpayers through salary bargaining, striking, and exorbitant pensions, and a system of tenure that give refuge to the worst teachers, only to discover that they hide a corrupt core of vice. The taxpayer rarely sees inside of this union onion, but if the layers of sleaze were ever pulled back, it’s certain that every person paying property tax would be left crying.
I have always taught in non-union schools in the South, starting from an urban Title 1 school and presently teaching in a very comfortable suburban school. There are always problems with money, but the problems seem to fade when unions are excluded from the state. Let me give some examples of how kicking out unions seems to lessen the hurt of property taxes and how residents can keep their districts responsible.
First, I started working with a $28,000 salary, which is enough to make any unionized PE teacher’s mouth drop past their gym whistle. After eight years of uninterrupted employment, I now find myself breaking the $40,000 barrier. My retirement fund is split, paid by my district and I, and it takes five years of employment to be vested. Honestly, there is no reason to expect anything less than this. While high school teachers like me do a job that almost any sane person would avoid doing – micromanaging 90 teenagers who do not want to be in your class, do not read for pleasure, and do not like you – the results always surprise both you and your students. I think that I and every one of my co-workers can truthfully say “I LOVE TEACHING,” and any teacher that precedes that phrase with a pause or follows it with a “but…” should think about a different job.
Second, I work in a district that is proud to be paying 89% of its tax revenue in payrolls. This is the most telling sign of a healthy school district; they pay their teachers to teach and do not throw money at aged administration by giving them “curriculum advisor,” “best practices analyst,” or “regional director” status. There is no reason for these useless titles and job descriptions because the teachers are ultimately responsible for the education in the classroom. Ask your local district how much they pay in direct payroll to teachers. Go to your local county or district meetings with graphs and numbers showing them how much they can cut superfluous positions (like retired teachers getting double pay as curriculum advisors) and shine some sunlight on the mildew and mold of graft.
Furthermore, we have a directly responsible superintendent. Our superintendent constantly tours schools, sits in on instruction, attends graduations, goes out to sports games, and fixes problems in the school system for which he is ultimately responsible. He is known to publicly berate teachers who are “having a free day” and will not tolerate ineptitude and laziness. He also praises those teachers that spend the extra hours and do the extra work for their kids. A good superintendent is not a political position, it is a managerial one. Force your superintendent to be responsible for his lack of action.
Finally, principals should excel at management. Look and see how active your principal is at creating a safe and educationally conducive environment at your school. Your principal will not like to hear me say this, but ultimately YOU are the one who can change your child’s education. If there is a program missing in your district, like IB or AP, lobby your principal and superintendent incessantly while showing up for PTA meetings and pushing parents into agreement. Remember that undying individual passion sometimes creates insurmountable group opinion. Push your teachers to lead as well. A teacher, while confronted by dozens of choices and difficulties every day, is ultimately paid by you and should serve you.
Teacher unions should and will ultimately die when states have to decide between Medicare, Medicaid, and paying a retired teacher 80% of his paycheck for the rest of his life. I have also met many teachers who are former police officers and firemen that are double dipping in the public trough by working as a teacher for a few years, retiring, and receiving police pension, teacher pension, and social security – all of which are paid by taxpayers. The “work” that public unions do simply exacerbates this process through strikes and pay negotiations in which the taxpayer is never called to the table. The monetary element of the educational system in America is broken because the taxpayers paying in to this system refuse to fix it.