Wednesday, May 18, 2011

KKKK-5: The slight of hand

“so always look for the union label….”

On the school budget and related presentations, that is.

If you saw the School Superintendent’s presentation at the joint budget workshop on May 9th, you know that it was an artful dodge, a slight of hand. 

Woe is me; we’re cutting these positions, we’re backing off on materials and maintenance, we’re closing a school, and our revenue shortfalls are catastrophic.  We’re increasing class size, and packing the new school beyond capacity.  And we expect next year to be even worse.

At least that’s how the script might have read.  But as to the single largest component of the budget, the fastest growing and most unmanageable, it was dismissed briefly as ‘work to be completed.’

Nothing to see here folks; move along please.  No details, no status, no boundaries, no principles.  No indication of how the Administration and School Board are in charge and working on our behalf.  Because they aren’t.

The entire presentation should have been about nothing but the teacher compensation package.  And how it leads to larger classes,  fewer materials and repairs, and all the other woes. It is the undeniable force, the ‘cost beyond our control,’ the elephant that no one dare challenge.

Why do I say this?  Because all the hand-wringing and tough decisions in the presentation were a description of the fiscal torture necessary to make sure the teachers’ union could get another million in compensation, all extracted from the taxpayers by compulsion, with no merit, no performance measures, or any other justification other than another year has passed.

Seen in this light, the entire process, the School Board’s unanimous vote, and the administration’s complicity all amount to nothing more than shilling for the union. If they keep it up, before you know it they may be expected to pay dues!

And teachers want us to be all verklempt because they have to buy pencils and paper?  Back up the truck; they gobble up all the money for themselves, and then complain about supplies?  All while the general populace undergoes suffering far beyond pencil and paper  levels.

Meanwhile,nothing about how our ‘officials’ are making sure that revered teachers like Mrs. Stinson, publicly praised as ‘the best kindergarten teacher ever,’ are retained, while lower performing teachers are let go, regardless of seniority.  No introspection about how painful it is to cut staff, but it’s a chance to improve staff quality overall by “getting rid of the deadwood,” as it was called in my career.

They couldn’t say that, because it would be lies, all lies.  The union has a stranglehold on employment security and pay levels, and the children, who don’t pay union dues, will just have to suck it up and deal with it.  As will the taxpayers, who, by contract, will have to pay more and more regardless of the results, because that’s what ‘fairness for working families’ means.

School excellence?  Are they serious?  Do they really want us to believe this is a model for creating excellence?  If they do, the word excellence doesn’t mean what it used to.  Imagine how good our schools could be if those in charge were motivated by excellence (in the old sense) and nothing else!

This is all taking place in the midst of ‘the great recession,’ as the media now calls it.  Yet those involved in constructing local budgets and negotiating labor contracts seem blissfully unaware of reality.  Understandably so; it can be so constraining.

Indulge me for a moment, if you will, as i review the fiscal context for our current circumstances.

The state derives the vast majority of it’s revenue from the income tax and the sales tax.  These revenues have been in decline for years, and for a very simple reason.  The populace has less of a revenue base from which to pay these taxes.

Income tax revenue is down because citizens and businesses are earning less income; it’s that simple.  Sales tax revenue is down because people are buying less and businesses are selling less, because citizens and businesses have less income to spend.

So while everyone else is forced to do with less, Brunswick property taxpayers are shamed into coughing up an extra million so the teachers can do with more.  Houses are dropping in value, some are being foreclosed on.  But if you’re a teacher, the union was able to hide those realities.

And at the same time, avoid an opportunity to raise the overall excellence of our teaching staff.  Those being terminated are the most junior and lowest paid, no matter how talented and motivated they might be.  Those being retained are the most senior and highest paid, no matter how untalented and unmotivated they might be.  So the average compensation per teacher will go up several more  notches, thank you very much

And they expect us to do it every year, no matter what else is going on.

Next time, Board and Super, don’t come to the town until you know what the increase in teacher compensation packages will be and add up to, and then make your presentation one chart: how much more we need because of the union contract.

In retrospect, nothing else matters.  “Solidarity forever,” Mrs. Stinson, until your job threatens more senior members’ raises.  Then it’s “seniority forever!” 

“Stronger together?”  Funny how that only lasts until you are an impediment.

And pencils and paper be damned.  Let them use the ones “with the union label.”

We looked again on YouTube to find something more contemporary about ‘the union label.’  The item below is the best we could find.  Enjoy.

And good luck and Godspeed Mrs. Stinson, no matter where your excellence may take you.

Closing note: if you think I’m ticked off about things as they’ve rolled out this year, Bingo!  From where we look at things, the greatest impediment to ‘school excellence’ is the teachers’ union, because their highest priority is protecting the worst first, making sure that performance and merit are irrelevant to employment, retention, and compensation; and squeezing as many dollars as they can out of local taxpayers.  Even those who should sell their houses and move so the union can have its tribute.

As always, those who disagree have full access to this outlet, as long as they adhere to our very low standards.

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