Extra, Extra: Teachers’ Unions All About Adult Entitlements, Not Children
Do you remember how the teachers’ unions whined when the latest Education Partnership report came out?
As they did with last year’s report, union officials called the study “an attack on teacher unions” and “an attempt to gut collective bargaining in Rhode Island.”
Union officials also questioned why The Education Partnership did not include them while compiling the reports.
“If we did not have teacher contracts in place, both teachers and students would be significantly worse off in Rhode Island,” said Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the state chapter of the National Education Association. “We would not have the quality of teachers we have and things like class size, the structure of the school day and professional development would not be protected.”
Putting more authority in the state or school administrators, Walsh said, would cause problems, not solve them. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Walsh said. “The issues facing Providence are different than those facing Westerly, and to say there is one answer is crazy.”
If a statewide health plan cost a community more than the current plan, who would pay the difference? he asked. If principals chose their teachers, doesn’t that open the door to favoritism? Job fairs and job placement based on seniority are more fair and objective than other methods, Walsh said.
And what were the major themes of that report that caused such a vociferous reaction?
“Unions have got to get back in balance so they aren’t focused solely on membership and benefits, and instead are focusing on the kids,” said Valerie Forti, executive director of The Education Partnership. “It’s not like we have the answers to all these things, but we know what we have now is not working.”
Despite the fact that Rhode Island teachers are among the highest paid in the nation, student performance continues to lag, particularly in urban districts, which have high concentrations of low-income residents, recent immigrants and English language learners. Taxpayers and parents are fed up, and are asking where the money is going, Forti said.
“Rhode Island has shown it is willing to pay top dollar for our schools, because we know good education is expensive. We are not advocating to reduce teacher salaries or remove health care [benefits] and we understand teachers need retirement benefits,” Forti said. “But it is not beneficial to bankrupt communities to provide excessive adult benefits.”
In addition, the unions earlier resistance to pension reform is also well known, even though we have the 4th-least funded pension program among the 50 states.
So did you see this week’s news that Teachers’ endorsement list snubs House leaders?
The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals has gone public with its first round of endorsements in General Assembly races. So have lots of groups.
What’s striking about the union’s list: no one on or aligned with House Speaker William J. Murphy ‘s leadership team is on it.
Federation president Marcia Reback said the endorsements reflect votes on the so-called “pension reforms” of last year that raised the age and work requirements for unvested and newly hired state employees to qualify for a pension and this year’s votes for a state budget that provides $1 million in tax credits for corporations that donate to private and parochial schools.
Democrats who sided with the teachers union by opposing both moves — and by backing reduced pension contributions for affected employees — got the endorsements which, over time, will come with campaign contributions and plugs for their candidacy in mailings to people who live in their districts, Reback said last week. The union has more than 12,000 active and retired members.
Conspicuously absent from the list: Murphy, D-West Warwick, and his top lieutenant, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox , D-Providence. Murphy’s earlier challenger for the top House leadership post, Rep. John DeSimone , D-Providence, topped the list.
Why? “Because they don’t have a good record,” Reback said of Murphy and Fox, while DeSimone — who, as a lawyer at one point represented the teachers in Providence — has “a 100 percent” voting record on RIFT issues.
Said Murphy: “The leadership team was proud to make some very difficult decisions. Most workers in Rhode Island’s private sector have seen their pension systems significantly revised over the past several years. In order to protect the integrity of the state’s pension system, we felt that reforms were necessary.”
Lo and behold, the Education Partnership was right: The union is acting petulantly because some of their unaffordable adult entitlements were reduced and a few kids in need will now be able to have some basic school choice via a corporate-sponsored scholarship.
The battle lines don’t get any more clear than that!
This is a potentially profound development in Rhode Island. The traditional political monolith has shown its first sign of cracking.
Kudos to the Speaker and his team for doing the right thing. Kudos as well to Treasurer Tavares and Governor Carcieri for their leadership on the important pension reform issue.
Speaker Murphy and his team know the pension and healthcare benefit financial liabilities are only going to get more visible as new reporting requirements kick in at the state and local levels. The upcoming transparency is ensuring they begin to face the impending disaster because the reporting will only put more pressure on all politicians.
Speaker Murphy and his team are intelligent people and they are also acting in their own self-interest. They know that it is their voters – especially working people and retirees – who are going to be asked to pay for a large part of the unfunded liability, something they cannot afford. And, they know we cannot continue to over-pay for under-performance in our public schools – and now a small number of kids will benefit by being free of the failed status quo.
In the future, remember this day well: When the chips were down, the teachers’ unions focused on their adult entitlements, not what was right for the working people and children of Rhode Island. But you aren’t surprised, are you?