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.
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.
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?
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