The NEA in East Greenwich: Reflections On The Week That Was

Some reflections on the week that was, on what happened last week in East Greenwich and how it connects to broader issues across Rhode Island:
LESSON #1: THE NEA LIES REPEATEDLY
Just like they did in 2004-05, the NEA resorted to its typical Kremlin-esque disinformation campaign of lies and distortions to the working families and retirees of East Greenwich – including these false claims:

  • Teachers would take pay cuts under any School Committee contract proposal. FALSE.
  • After informing the School Department on August 29 of their intent to strike at the beginning of school in September if there was no contract, teachers were not told in advance that their paychecks for September classroom work – to be paid prospectively on August 31 – would be withheld. FALSE.
  • Declining to pay teachers (prospectively for work not done) was a blatant act of coercion by the school leadership. FALSE.
  • Teachers were not paid for summer work done prior to the start of school in September. FALSE.
  • The School Committee forced the teachers not to report to work on September 4 because the Committee refused to bargain on September 3. FALSE.
  • Teachers can strike or do work stoppages. FALSE.
  • The School Committee has created an environment of intimidation and demoralization and failed to negotiate in good faith, including being unavailable to meet with the mediator until August. FALSE.

All of these NEA claims were debunked in Anchor Rising blog posts listed in the Extended Entry below. The bottom line: East Greenwich residents learned – again – how they cannot trust anything said by the NEA and its union hacks.
LESSON #2: THE TEACHERS’ UNION CONTRACT MATTERS GREATLY BECAUSE ITS TERMS DOMINATE TOTAL SPENDING IN EAST GREENWICH
Michael Isaacs, President of the East Greenwich Town Council and someone I have known for upwards of 10 years, was kind enough to pass along some summary 2007-08 budget information and related web links:

  • The town budget is $11,954,197.
  • The school budget is $30,889,947. (A not-quite-the-final version of the budget can be found here.)
  • Total debt service is $2,496,591, of which $1,049,503 is for the schools.
  • The total budget is $45,340,735.

More information here.
In other words, the school operating budget is 72% of the total town and school operating budget. I have been told that expenses related to teachers’ compensation are roughly 82% of the school budget.
Therefore, the teachers’ union contract is critically important to overall spending and taxation in East Greenwich because it represents nearly 60% of total town and school operating spending.
LESSON #3: RHODE ISLAND RESIDENTS ARE ALREADY GENEROUS IN THEIR SUPPORT OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
A new study from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC), entitled How Rhode Island Schools Compare, notes:

  • Spending per pupil of $11,089 in Rhode Island is the 9th highest among the 50 states and 122.9% of the national average.
  • The average Rhode Island teacher salary of $54,730 is the 8th highest among the 50 states and 111.4% of the national average.

Given the performance of our public schools, it is easy to say that Rhode Island taxpayers are overpaying for under-performance.
LESSON #4: RHODE ISLAND RESIDENTS HAVE THE 7TH HIGHEST TAX BURDEN AMONG THE 50 STATES
But there is a price being paid for that generosity: Another report by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council documents how Rhode Island has the 7th highest tax burden among the 50 states, up from 14th highest in 1995.
It is this high and perpetually increasing tax burden which led to the passage in 2006 of Senate Bill 3050. The goal of the tax cap is to ensure taxes do not keep going up faster than the taxpaying public’s incomes, thereby reducing their standard of living. The latter is what has been going on for years in Rhode Island and nobody in the NEA cares about all the working families and retirees in our towns who experience that decline. But residents in many towns are the (increasingly less silent) majority who are now saying enough already, we have been generous for years and willingly so – but we will not fund the gravy train ride any longer.
LESSON #5: IT IS TIME FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT IN OUR THINKING
We cannot afford the status quo in Rhode Island – financially or educationally. It is time for a paradigm shift.
Financially:
A crushing tax burden and the tax increase limits imposed by 3050 together create a new incentive for thinking outside the box, for a change in our approach to the financial structure of public-sector union contracts, including teachers’ contracts.
Alternatively, the aggressive actions this Fall by the NEA confirm its goal is to blow up or neuter the tax cap so it can continue its relentless campaign for higher spending and taxes which enable further adult entitlements in its contracts.
History shows that public-sector players – like the NEA – always fight relentlessly to undermine spending limitations imposed by the will of the people. We are in a race against time to determine if we can develop a public consensus around a paradigm shift before the tax cap possibly gets watered down.
Along the way to developing such a consensus, be leery of fanciful talk that a new statewide education funding formula will somehow magically solve our problems. Here is why:
An earlier cited RIPEC report and this ProJo article note that:

Rhode Island, which has long depended heavily on local property taxes to pay for schools, has become even more reliant on those taxes over the past decade, and now ranks third highest in the country.
Nationally, local property taxes covered 43.3 percent of school costs in 2006, compared with 60.2 percent in Rhode Island…This year, the council compared information from 1996 to 2006.
RIPEC’s analysis found that a decade ago, Rhode Island ranked 14th highest in its dependence on local property taxes to finance schools. By last year, the state had jumped to third…

But then ask yourself: What caused this huge increase in local property taxes? It was the terms of the teachers’ union contracts negotiated over the last decade in each town. In other words, there have been tangible and adverse financial consequences to giving out 8-12%/year increases to 9 of the 10 job steps as well as having almost zero health insurance premium co-payments, $5,000/year cash bonuses for not using the school insurance program, and outlandish pension benefits. 3050 is a direct response to the never-ending increases in local property taxes.
Unlike the local tax cap, a statewide funding formula – as discussed to-date – does nothing to change the incentives which have resulted in far-too-expensive public-sector contract terms over the last ten years. In fact, it would neuter the local community tax cap by shifting more education funding from those communities to the state level where there is no cap and where the public-sector unions’ power is greater. Why is this in the best interests of the average taxpayer? How does this encourage economic growth in the state?
Besides, when Rhode island already spends the 9th most out of 50 states on education, there is not an overall educational funding problem. It could be said that we have an overspending problem. Why is it in the best interests of the local taxpayer to transfer more spending power to a state government which has no history of disciplined financial behaviors and where the taxpayer has less direct input and control over their spending and taxation practices?
Furthermore, there have been ongoing disagreements between the urban and surburban towns on how to structure a statewide funding formula. If there was a logical and affordable solution, it would have surfaced already. But it has not and Andrew explains why. With thanks to Andrew for a brainstorming session, here are some further thoughts: As a result, it could be argued that a single funding formula will be deemed acceptable to politicians and bureaucrats across the entire state only if all of them get more money. But there is no extra money to be had in this era of endless budget deficits. So that only leaves one option: New tax increases on an already overtaxed citizenry. Think of the storyline they will pitch to provide political cover: “It is for the children.” Nope, it is just to provide more adult entitlements. Why is this in the best interests of the taxpayer? How does this encourage economic growth in the state?
In summary, taxpayers need to be vigilant to ensure that the purpose and power of the 3050 tax cap is not diluted by power plays from politicians, bureaucrats, and public-sector unions – all of which have no incentive to look after the personal interests of taxpayers.
Educationally:
The second area requiring a change in our thinking revolves around these four strategic questions about public education:

  • Do we believe a quality education is the gateway to the American Dream for all children?
  • Whom do we trust to make better educational decisions for children: their parents or the government?
  • Within each neighborhood school, who is in the position to make the best decisions regarding individual students, individual teachers, and the curriculum: federal bureaucrats, state bureaucrats, unions or the school’s principal and teachers?
  • What incentives will ensure accountability to taxpayers and parents as well as reward behaviors which lead to improved educational performance outcomes?

Summary:
The overarching strategic question which should drive our thinking about the required paradigm shift is this:

  • Can the failed status quo be made to work by minor adjustments at the margin OR will the delivery of affordable and high-quality performance only come from a completely different structural approach to union financial contracts and to how we deliver educational services?

Stay tuned for more thoughts in the coming days on how to shift the paradigm.
LESSON #6: GETTING UP TO SPEED ON THE BASIC ISSUES IN EAST GREENWICH
If you are new to these issues, I would strongly encourage you to read 3 important blog posts.
The first two define the issues in East Greenwich:
More on the Issues in the East Greenwich Teachers’ Union Strike
Another Lie by the NEA: East Greenwich Teachers Would Take Pay Cuts Under School Committee Proposals
The final post highlights the political agenda and financial resources of the NEA itself:
Reflecting on Labor Unions on Labor Day
Remember: Anchor Rising is THE place to go for information on the teachers’ strike and contract issues in Rhode Island. See the Extended Entry for all relevant links.


To get up to speed, here are the links – in chronological order – to all Anchor Rising posts about the East Greenwich teachers’ strike and the NEA:
Saying “No” to Legalized Extortion
Education Partnership Reports: Learning a lot more about RI teachers’ union contracts (The reports linked to in this post make an important contribution to understanding how teachers’ union contracts are about adult entitlements, not the education of our children.)
Reflecting on Labor Unions on Labor Day (This is a particularly important post for understanding the NEA’s political agenda and financial resources.)
Update on the East Greenwich Teachers’ Contract & Suggested Future Actions
Breaking News on Anchor Rising: East Greenwich Teachers to Strike on Tuesday
More on the Issues in the East Greenwich Teachers’ Union Strike (This is a particularly important post on the substantive issues in dispute in East Greenwich.)
The NEA’s Latest Disinformation Campaign in East Greenwich
Sometimes What is Old is New: Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation
East Greenwich School Committee: Press Release & General Update
Mr. Subliminal Must Have Written the EG Teachers “Open Letter”
The Continuing NEA Disinformation Campaign in East Greenwich: Lies, More Lies & Even Some Melodrama
News Flash: Judge Orders East Greenwich Teachers Back to Work on Friday, September 7
Another Lie by the NEA: East Greenwich Teachers Would Take Pay Cuts Under School Committee Proposals (This is an important post to read as it torpedoes another critical lie by the NEA.)
Other relevant posts on Anchor Rising include:
Burrillville Teachers to Students: Let the Pawns Skip School
Crowley, You Charmer
Researching from Outside the Library
Children Are Their Life? No, Children Are Their Leverage.
Citizen Context for Negotiations
One Side of the Phone Conversation
My Favorite Samuel Gompers Quote
The Guidebook to Public-Abuse
Not Quite Breaking (Except of Taxpayers’ Backs)
The Other Side of the Conversation in Tiverton
The Rhode Island Right’s Bizarro Politics
A Case of Crossed Hands
Best We Can Do Is Get Involved Every Time
The Continuing Saga of the Funding Formula Distraction — A Tale of Two Cities
(These three posts immediately above in this section address the important questions of (i) what RI law and court decisions say about teachers’ strikes; (ii) the tax cap and level funding of education; and, (iii) statewide education funding formula.)
This Is the Way the System Works, the System Works, the System Works
A Mere Suggestion for the Teachers’ Unions
Tiverton School Committee Shuffles Its Offer
Hold on, hold on. Keep the money coming!
These Are Professionals?
Other Public Education News

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Ken
Ken
13 years ago

You failed to mention all of the tax cuts to the rich in Rhode Island and heavy reliance on the lottery and gambling income and the total mismanagement of trying to move the State of RI public service model (break-even) and turn it into a privatized model (for profit).
See http://whatcheer.net/ripr/ripr24.pdf
You are doing exactly what Governor Carcieri and the Republican Party wants you to do which is to blame the unions and teachers for all of the current state, cities and towns budget problems.
It seems to me no matter what information or counter argument is presented to you, NEA and the teachers will always be the root of the problem.
Like all little children with an axe to grind because they were sent to the “time out corner” too many times you’ll find some way to discredit NEA and teacher even at the same time you discredit yourself.

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

>>You failed to mention all of the tax cuts to the rich in Rhode Island and heavy reliance on the lottery and gambling income and the total mismanagement of trying to move the State of RI public service model (break-even) and turn it into a privatized model (for profit). Tax cuts for the rich? Pleeeeeez! RI remains one of the highest taxed states in the country. Look north to NH – no income or sales tax, yet better roads, schools and economic performance than RI. And the only mismanagement of a “break even model” (there’s no such thing in the public sector) to a “privatized model (for profit)” is that the DEMOCRAT General Assembly just short-circuited it with another of their infamous midnight bills (just following orders from their union bosses, of course). There’s nothing wrong with “for profit” – what IS wrong is Cranston crossing guards, teacher union featherbedding and protection of mediocrity, etc. >>You are doing exactly what Governor Carcieri and the Republican Party wants you to do which is to blame the unions and teachers for all of the current state, cities and towns budget problems. It seems to me no matter what information or counter argument is presented to you, NEA and the teachers will always be the root of the problem. Follow the money. The “unions and teachers” pay and benefits constitute the bulk of municipal budgets. But it comes down to two different questions. Raising sufficient revenue to cover expenditures, AND are those expenditures reasonable and necessary. As to Rhode Island’s public school teachers, given the totality of their compensation (salary, benefits, pensions) – given their poor performance (in the aggregate) they are grossly overpaid (in the aggregate). Are there stellar teachers that are worth more than they are paid now? Darn right. But… Read more »

Frederick
Frederick
13 years ago

Quote: As to Rhode Island’s public school teachers, given the totality of their compensation (salary, benefits, pensions) – given their poor performance (in the aggregate) they are grossly overpaid (in the aggregate).
Yes, Tom and remember because YOU said so makes it all true!

Ken
Ken
13 years ago

TomW Quote: “Tax cuts for the rich? Pleeeeeez! RI remains one of the highest taxed states in the country. Look north to NH – no income or sales tax, yet better roads, schools and economic performance than RI.” True evidently they are managing resources and manpower better than RI but New Hampshire gets its dollars from other sources mainly Business Taxes (7 highest in nation), Corporate taxes (6 highest in nation), Property taxes (3 highest in nation). Resource The Tax Foundation, Washington, DC: http://www.taxfoundation.org/ New Hampshire THE FACTS ON NEW HAMPSHIRE’S TAX CLIMATE Here are some basic facts on New Hampshire’s tax system and how it compares to other states: Tax Freedom Day Arrived on April 22nd in New Hampshire Tax Freedom Day is the day when Americans finally have earned enough money to pay off their total tax bill for the year. In 2007, New Hampshire taxpayers had to work until April 22nd to pay their total tax bill, ranking it 33rd in the nation. This is over a week earlier than National Tax Freedom Day (April 30th). The Tax Freedom Days of neighboring states were; Vermont May 9th (ranked 4th nationally); Maine, May 4th (ranked 11th nationally) and Massachusetts May 6th (ranked 9th in the nation). Full study of Tax Freedom Day, nationwide and in each state New Hampshire’s State/Local Tax Burden Among Nation’s Lowest During the past three decades, New Hampshire’s state and local tax burden has consistently ranked among the nation’s lowest. Estimated at 8.0% of income, New Hampshire’s state/local tax burden percentage ranks second lowest in the nation behind Alaska. Taxpayers in New Hampshire pay $3,504 per-capita in state and local taxes, and per capita state income is $43,745. New Hampshire’s State and Local Tax Burden, 1970-Present New Hampshire’s 2007 Business Tax Climate Ranks 7th… Read more »

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

>>Yes, Tom and remember because YOU said so makes it all true!
No Frederick.
Virtually every comparative study, if not every single one, such as the NEAP (a/k/a “nation’s report card”)ranks RI’s school performance as below average.
In turn, virtually every comparative study, if not every single one, comparing U.S. public schools’ performance against other advanced nations, ranks U.S. performance as below average (in the mid-twenties out 30 according to the OECD).
Studies show that once adjusted for an apples-to-apples comparison, public school teachers in the U.S. make significantly more than comparable professionals (see, e.g., the recent Manhattan Institute study which, significantly, found such results before even factoring in the high value of the pension benefit).
In turn, RI’s public school teachers are among the Top 5 in the U.S. based on salary alone.
So we’ve below average public schools in a country that in turn has below average public schools and teachers that are among the highest paid in the world.
I stand by my statement.
If you’ve got links to studies showing that RI’s schools are performing well – credible studies, therefore RIDOE doesn’t count – by all means share them with us! (Good luck finding them, for if they exist NEARI would be already have been trumpeting them as a reason why they deserve the raises they are demanding.)

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

And the Tax Foundation on RI: Tax Freedom Day Arrived on May 9th in Rhode Island Tax Freedom Day is the day when Americans finally have earned enough money to pay off their total tax bill for the year. In 2007, Rhode Island taxpayers had to work until May 9th to pay their total tax bill, ranking it 5th highest in the nation, 9 days after national Tax Freedom Day (April 30th). The Tax Freedom Days of neighboring states were: Connecticut, May 20th (ranked 1st nationally) and Massachusetts, May 6th (ranked 9th nationally). Rhode Island’s State/Local Tax Burden Among Nation’s Highest Since 1990, Rhode Island’s state and local tax burden has generally increased. Estimated at 12.7% of income, Rhode Island’s state/local tax burden percentage ranks 4th highest nationwide, well above the national average of 11.0%. Rhode Island taxpayers pay $5,291 per capita in state and local taxes, and per capita income in the state is $41,809. Rhode Island’s 2007 Business Tax Climate Ranks 50th Rhode Island ranks 50th in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index. The Index compares the states in five areas of taxation that impact business: corporate taxes; individual income taxes; sales taxes; unemployment insurance taxes; and taxes on property, including residential and commercial property. Neighboring states ranked as follows: Connecticut (37th) and Massachusetts (36th). Rhode Island’s Individual Income Tax System Rhode Island’s personal income tax system consists of five brackets and a top rate of 9.9%, kicking in at an income level of $336,550. Rhode Island’s income tax system closely adheres to the federal income tax code. Among states levying personal income taxes, Rhode Island’s top rate of 9.9% is 2nd highest nationally. Rhode Island’s 2004 individual income tax collections were $883 per person, which ranked 17th highest nationally. Rhode Island’s Corporate Income Tax System… Read more »

Ken
Ken
13 years ago

Tom W
Oh I am so sorry!
I used data from Tax Foundation that was 2005 ranking New Hampshire #3 highest in property tax to counter your assertion that New Hampshire was accomplishing more with fewer taxes than Rhode Island.
I should have used newest data as of 2006 which ranks New Hampshire # 2 highest in “median property tax paid on homes” right after #1 New Jersey. Rhode Island only ranks #6 highest in “median property tax paid on homes”
See: http://www.taxfoundation.org/files/propertytax_state%20_owneroccupied_2006-20070912.pdf

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

Ken –
I’ll gladly take the somewhat higher property tax in return for no income or sales taxes … and better roads, schools and economy.

SusanD
SusanD
13 years ago

“Rhode Island only ranks #6 highest in “median property tax paid on homes””
Yes, Ken. Sixth highest out of fifty. Pretty bad, isn’t it? And Rhode Island is the seventh highest taxed overall.
By contrast, its schools are ranked 46 and they get an “F” on Academic Achievement of Low Income and Minority Students, an “F” on Flexibility in Management and an “F” in Return on Investment. Remember, this is comparing apples to apples – Rhode Island schools to other schools, not to the private sector.
Keep spinning numbers like cotton candy, Ken. It looks pretty but it’s all air. There simply is no defense of the ratio of compensation to results in Rhode Island’s schools.
http://www.uschamber.com/icw/reportcard/default

SusanD
SusanD
13 years ago

(Another terrific, fact packed post, Donald.)

Ken
Ken
13 years ago

Rhode Island education ranking depends on what report you are putting stock into. Ranking the State of Rhode Island and pointing the finger to just one entity without looking at all interacting factors does a disservice to the state as a whole.
Don’t forget Justin (Anchor Rising) reported and was quoting the Rhode Island Association of Principals that a new State of Rhode Island educational standard in conjunction with Federal “No Child Left Behind” standards and law (which teachers must teach to in the classroom) are being implemented in Rhode Island.
2006-2007 Rhode Island is ranked (1 is highest) 14 out of 50 states as smartest state award K-12 education.
2005-2006 Rhode Island is ranked (1 is highest) 16 out of 50 states as smartest state award K-12 education.
See 2006-2007: http://www.morganquitno.com/edrank.htm
See 2005-2006: http://ri.localschooldirectory.com/index.php/cPath/40
2007 Rhode Island is ranked 15 out of top 20 states for education climate.
2007 Rhode Island is ranked 11 out of top 20 states most educated workforce.
See: http://www.businessfacilities.com/SecondRankingPR2007.pdf
2007 Governor Carcieri Announces 85% Rhode Island Elementary and Middle Schools are meeting their educational targets (that is 213 out of 250 schools passing required tests in subject matter)
See: http://www.ride.ri.gov/Commissioner/news/pressrels/2007_pressreleases/news%20release%20%20-%20final%205-30-07%20%20classifications.pdf
If you need more, I can retrieve Federal Department of Education rankings data.
I guess the above rankings and Governors press release is wrong according to Don Hawthorne, Tom W and Susan D because unions, NEA and teachers are involved.

Donald B. Hawthorne
Donald B. Hawthorne
13 years ago

Seems to me that some people are having trouble staying on topic, so let me rephrase the questions for Ken:

  • Do you assert that the many public comments by the NEA listed under Lesson #1 are true?
  • If so, on what basis?

It is most amusing that Ken would state that I will find a way to discredit the NEA “no matter what information or counter argument is presented.”
Geez, I didn’t make all those claims in Lesson #1 that are demonstrably false – but the NEA did. Nobody has to work hard to discredit the NEA because they have shown that they are more than capable of doing it to themselves.
How does pointing out the obvious discredit the person pointing out the falsehoods?
So I will turn the tables on Ken and ask him to answer the following specific questions:

  • Which of the Lesson #1 statements and actions by the NEA can you document as true?
  • Will you defend the NEA even if they put forth documented mistruths?
  • Do you support the 3050 tax cap which says local taxes can only go up 4-5.25%/year, i.e., do you support a tax cap which requires taxes not to increase faster than the rate of increase in the incomes of the very people who pay the taxes?
  • Should School Committees agree to teachers’ union contracts whose terms would cause tax increases which violate state law, i.e., the tax cap law?
  • Should School Committees agree to teachers’ union contracts whose terms would result in taxes increasing at a rate faster than taxpayer incomes?
Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

Ken:
You “Business Facilities” link also demonstrates that NH ranks far above RI.
“Most educated workforce” is a matter of coincidence, e.g., many educated folks who have jobs around the 128 belt commute from Rhode Island. That has absolutely no evaluative bearing on the quality of RI schools. (The only thing it indicates is that highly educated people can’t find jobs in RI because of RI’s anti-business climate.)
In any case, that and the Morgan Quitno stuff, when you look at the methodology, is weighted primarily toward INPUTS, i.e., spending, teacher-student ratios, etc. We will stipulate for the record that RI ranks high on INPUTS (i.e., taxpayer funding).
But it’s the OUTPUTS that matter. RI’s rankings on, e.g., the NEAP, measure the outputs – the proficiency of the students after the educational establishment has had its way with them. On outputs RI consistently ranks poorly.
With all due respect to Governor Carcieri – and none offered or intended for RIDOE, and its Educrat in Chief McWalters, whose sole reason for existence appears to be to bide time until his pension bell goes “ring ring ring” – that statement(s) that 85% of RI schools are meeting their targets may be factually true, but on its face demonstrates that the targets have been “dumbed down” to reflect the “dumbed down” performance of RI’s schools. If RI’s targets had any teeth then there’d be some correlation with those results and NEAP etc.

Frank
Frank
13 years ago

One more question for Ken. Which school district do you (or your family member) work for?

Ken
Ken
13 years ago

As I said before, I’ve done volunteer work in various RI school systems. I am not a teacher or union member.
I am retired.

ken
ken
13 years ago

Don,
When I find an EG NEA member and sit down face-to-face to go over what has been said, then I’ll decide what to say. Maybe a long cup of coffee over looking the harbor.

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