Teacher Unions

Corbett Calls for 4% Pay Cut for State Workers as Dark Shadow of Government Shutdown Hangs Over Capital Hill

Teachers in Pennsylvania may be the envy of the state’s public workers.  Teachers unions were asked to consider a one-year pay freeze, but many state workers may not be so lucky. In fact, a pay freeze looks charitable when compared to the sacrifice asked of state workers in Pennsylvania’s largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

To help close the $4.2 billion budget deficit, Gov. Tom Corbett wants the 45,000 public employees to help by absorbing a 4 percent pay cut in the first year of a new three-year contract.  Corbett’s administration suggests that the workers would be made ‘whole’ again within two years. AFSCME’s agreement usually provides the guidepost for pacts with other unions.  Contracts with AFSCME and 16 other state employee unions will expire on June 30.

Some of the lowest-paid workers in the state, AFSCME workers are paid about $34,000 a year on average.  The state custodians, nursing assistants, clerical workers and snowplow drivers would see their salary drop to $32,640 under Corbett’s plan. It is anticipated that the AMFSCME pay decrease would save the state more than $60 million. If my math is correct, the cost savings from the 4 percent pay cut would equate to approximately 1.5 percent of the state budget deficit or $6 million. 

Many of the public workers are already living paycheck-to-paycheck.  Question, is it fair to ask for this level of sacrifice from those already struggling to get by? AFSCME workers offered Corbett their willingness to take a salary freeze for one year but the Governor rejected their offer.  After all, isn’t this what Corbett had proposed for the state’s teachers?

In Corbett’s budget address last month, he warned that he would be seeking concessions from public workers.  His words spoke of the painful steps that would be required to close the budget gap but I don’t know that the state workers were prepared for the level of pain they may be forced to feel!

I certainly support the notion that these difficult economic times require all of us to sacrifice, but . . . . I also have to wonder if lawmakers and top-level state managers will be asked to share the same level of pain as the public workers. I have not heard mention of suggested pay cuts for our elected officials.

As I complete this post, there is a dark shadow hanging over Capital Hill as the federal government shutdown clock continues to tick down.  Washington is scrambling as the clock counts down.  Failure to reach a deal for the remaining six months of the fiscal year would trigger a government shutdown at midnight tonight, causing more than 800,000 nonessential employees to be furloughed without pay. It is interesting to note that our nations lawmakers would continue to receive their paycheck!

Here’s hoping for a last-minute agreement; a government shutdown is in no one’s best interest!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

“Don’t Read my Lips; Read my Budget” . . . so said Gov. Corbett at today’s Budget Address

 Gov. Tom Corbett delivered his budget speech at midday to a joint assembly of the House and Senate, suggesting “Don’t read my lips; read my budget.” For a full text of his speech, click here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/50290282/Corbett-Budget-Speech

In his opening remarks, Corbett’s presented an overview of his budget including  “ . . The substance of this budget is built on four core principles: Fiscal discipline, limited government, free enterprise and reform. . . ”  Corbett’s fiscal year 2011-12 budget totals $27.3 billion, but no new taxes.

There has been much discussion concerning the economic woes facing school districts across the state.  In his budget address, the Governor supports letting the taxpayers decide . . .

” . . . Now, we all know that there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to education funding: The property tax. Too often we have seen school boards raise property taxes to avoid hard and necessary choices. It’s human nature. When you’re spending someone else’s money it’s easier to say yes than no. I believe any new property tax increases beyond inflation should be put on the ballot. If school boards can’t say no, maybe the taxpayers will. Let’s listen to the taxpayers on this one. . . “

The governor takes on the teacher unions with teacher furlough remarks,

” . . . At the same time we need to give school boards some breathing room. There are too many mandates that tie the hands of local school boards. This administration is committed to curbing these mandates, including one that violates every law of economics: the inability to furlough employees when there isn’t the money to pay them. It puts the entire enterprise of public education at risk. . . “

Specifically, how did the Department of Education fair in Corbett’s budget? A quick review indicates that education will receive an expected major cut in funding. The proposed cuts to education include a 10 percent cut in basic education (K-12), which is a loss of $550 million across the state.  The budget also eliminates all $260 million in grants that are being given this year to school districts to invest in learning, including pre-K, full-day kindergarten and class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade.

In his speech, Corbett asked public school officials to consider pay freezes; calculating that each year of this cost-saving measure would save school districts $400 million.  Corbett said that he was returning the state education funding to the pre-stimulus funding level.

Addressing the state workers, unions, pensions and collective bargaining, Corbett’s approach was direct –

” . . . In Pennsylvania, we will be looking for salary roll backs and freezes from state employees as well as asking them to increase their contributions for healthcare benefits. We also need to start the conversation about the necessary repairs to our public retirement system.

I want to be clear about this to our union leaders. Collective bargaining doesn’t mean some ill-defined middle ground. It means finding the spot where things work. In this case it is going to have to work to the good of the taxpayer or it’s not going to work at all. Let’s find that place and meet there. Let’s keep things working. Neither side need lose for the taxpayers to win. We need to act on our financial challenges now, before they act on us. . . “

Although Corbett did not use the word, ‘voucher’ in his budget address, he was specific about his desire for school choice . . .

” . . . Pennsylvania needs to re-think how best to educate our children. We simply can’t work within a  broken system. We need to change the whole system. We need a new set of priorities: child, parent, and teacher – and in that order. What we have now in too many places are schools that don’t work. Families are trapped in failing schools, or schools that are a bad fit. We need to develop a system of portable education funding; something a student can take with him or her to the school that best fits their needs. One size does not fit all. But as it now stands, not all get to choose. Let’s give them school choice. . . “

During his budget address, the Governor referred to the ‘Budget Dashboard’ available online.  The dashboard is on the state website, is user-friendly and provides an easy access for information of individual state agencies.  Here is a link to that reference:

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/imageserver/budget2011/GBD_2011.html

If you are interested, here is a link to the entire budget — all 1,182 pages.  If you decide up upload the file, remember this is very large file and suggest patience.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/50277977/2011-12-Budget-Document

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Red-Hot State Voucher Program Clears Initial Hurdle

Teacher unions and school board members must be lining up across the state this morning in opposition to the latest Senate Education Committee vote. 

Calling the proposed school voucher bill, an ‘opportunity scholarship’, the committee voted 8-2 yesterday in favor of the proposed legislation. The bill intended to help the state’s poorest children from the lowest-performing schools by providing options of attending other public, private or parochial schools, did not pass the committee without debate.  The troubling issues that many of us have discussed, including constitutionality, religious freedom and the cost to public schools were sticking points for two members of the committee.

The Senate Education Committee is composed of six Republicans and four Democrats. Co-sponsoring the proposed legislation is Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams and Senate Education Committee Chair Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin).  All six Republicans supported the bill, as did two Democrats, Williams and Sen. Andy Dinniman.  If you recall Dinniman had some suggested amendments to the bill, including testing and accountability from the non-public schools.  The opposing school voucher bill members of the committee were Democrats Jim Ferlo and Daylin Leach. 

Leach debated the proposed legislation on the grounds that the bill is not constitutional.  Ferlo and Leach are concerned that the voucher system could erode public schools whereas the others feel that the legislation actually offers a lifeline to those children trapped in the low-performing schools. The opposing sides present two distinctly different ways of looking at the same situation.  Piccola suggests that Leach’s argument that the school voucher legislation is unconstitutional is an erroneous interpretation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The chair of the Senate Education Committee also dismissed the argument that the bill is in conflict with the state constitution in regards to support of religious schools with public money.

With all the questions swirling around this legislation, why did the Senate Education Committee seemingly just push it along through the system?  Usually, I would be complaining about the slowness of government process, but it is amazing the way this school voucher bill is bulldozing its way through Harrisburg.

Aside from the many questions, concerns and debates swirling around this voucher bill, why don’t we hear much about the cost of this ‘opportunity scholarship’?  Gov. Corbett swept into the Governor’s office under the umbrella of austerity and budget constraints, so can someone please explain to me how the estimated $860 million in taxpayer costs by the end of the third-year phase of the voucher program, meets that mission?  And the $860 million does not take in to consideration the dollars the bill will siphon from the public schools. 

Help me understand . . . what am I missing?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Nationwide Collective Bargaining Solidarity – Saturday, February 26

“Employers and employees alike have learned that in union there is strength, that a coordination of individual effort means an elimination of waste, a bettering of living conditions, and is in fact, the father of prosperity.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1929

For the past nine days, we have watched as teachers, students, nurses, state workers and others protested in Madison, Wisconsin. This week we understand that many of our own school district teachers showed their support for fellow teachers with the ‘wearing of red’.  We now learn that this Saturday at noon, across the country, the protest and show of solidarity is going national.  In cities from coast to coast, including every state capital, people will come together to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin.

Union leaders in Wisconsin agreed to Gov. Walker’s proposal to increase contributions to their health and retirement plans to help close a projected $3.6 billion budget gap.  The move would cut the take-home pay of many union workers by about 7 percent.  However, union leaders nationwide are incensed about Walker’s additional proposal to strip public employees of the collective bargaining power – the lifeblood of a union. 

I received an email announcement from political action organization, MoveOn.org about the  ‘Rally to Save the American Dream’ offering details of Philadelphia’s planned solidarity rally at:

Love Park
Broad & JFK Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19101
Saturday, February 26
12 Noon

The invitation asked for us “. . . to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin and for all the people of Pennsylvania to stand up as well.   It is time we all speak out and demand an end to the attacks on worker’s rights and public services across the country.  We demand investment, to create decent jobs for the millions of people who desperately want to work.  And we demand that the rich and powerful pay their fair share.  We are all Wisconsin.  We are all Americans.  Please join me at the rally and bring a friend!”

The announcement further suggested that if you believe in the middle class and the American Dream, you fight for collective bargaining rights.  Declaring your support for the Wisconsin workers, attendees on Saturday are asked to show up wearing the Wisconsin Badger colors: red and white.  

From Clarence Darrow in 1909, the words “With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed.  They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the development of character in men.”

I think we can all agree — these are historic times in our country.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Teachers’ Unions Set ‘Blocking School Vouchers’ as Priority

Two sides to every coin . . . supporters call school vouchers a right; a matter of choice.  Opponents believe that the proposed voucher program is unconstitutional and will further erode the state’s lowest-performing schools.

The teacher union opposition to school vouchers became clearer this week when representatives from the two major unions brought their case to the state’s House Education Committee.  Representatives from Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania (AFT-PA) told the Education Committee that the teacher unions were focusing on two major priorities for 2011 – budgetary assistance and blocking the proposed school voucher legislation.

Pennsylvania is loosing federal stimulus money, which will create a shortfall of $1 billion in education funding.  According to Gov. Corbett, the state is facing a $4 billion deficit in next year’s budget so education-spending cuts are expected. If you recall, Corbett and Democratic state senator Anthony Williams of Philadelphia (one of school voucher bill SB1 originators) supported school vouchers in their individual campaigns last year.  At this point, we do not know how steep the cuts in education spending will be and no one may know for sure until Corbett unveils his preliminary budget, which is expected to be delivered sometime in March.

Although the school voucher bill will have several hearings in the state House during the next couple of months, Corbett’s budget address in March may see the proposed legislation moving forward.  As the proposed SB1 now stands, it would direct over $50 million to the neediest families in the lowest-performing schools in the state.  The estimated cost of the program is less than 1% of the current education subsidy. 

Besides the school voucher program, the other major education issue that must be addressed by the state is the funding of the Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS).  PSERS as currently designed is not sustainable and threatens to break the budget of school districts across the state.  Although the State Legislature recognized the significance of the PSERS funding problem last year, a long-term solution is needed.   

Anticipating a major battle ahead over the proposed school voucher legislation, the PSEA union, which represents 190,000+ teachers in Pennsylvania, has announced an 11% increase in dues for its members.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Should Teachers Be Consulted in School Budget Discussion?

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 12.  While many school districts across the State, including Tredyffrin-Easttown, are facing multi-million dollar budget deficits, this editorial explores the problem from a different angle; through the eyes of a teacher.

There has been much discussion on Community Matters about our school district budget problems.  Question, do you think that  we (the school board, administration, parents, and taxpayers) give adequate attention to the opinions of those most affected in this process . . . the teachers?  Do you think the teacher’s voice is disregarded (or minimized) in budget discussions? Or, is it the teacher unions that are quieting the teacher voices? 

If you did not see the editorial, please read it and weigh in on this discussion.

Our least-consulted experts on education
. . . Teachers are rarely given a say on school policy
By Christopher Paslay, a Philadelphia schoolteacher and the author of “The Village Proposal,” to be published this fall.

The Philadelphia School District is facing a projected $430 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year. As a result, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has asked her administrators to prepare contingency plans for a massive budget cut. There will undoubtedly be a significant impact on students and staff in the city’s schools.

To soften this impact, administrators could ask teachers what support they need in classrooms and what they can do without. Teachers are ultimately held accountable for student learning, so it would make sense if they were consulted on the budget overhaul.

Unfortunately, though, when it comes to matters of budget and education policy, the opinions of schoolteachers aren’t given much credence. In the 21st century, public educators are paid to perform, not talk.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan exhibited this attitude last year in a speech to students at Columbia University. “In our new era of accountability,” Duncan said, “it is not enough for a teacher to say, ‘I taught it, but the students didn’t learn it.’ As [Stanford education professor] Linda Darling-Hammond has pointed out, that is akin to saying, ‘The operation was a success, but the patient died.’ ”

Like a surgeon?
The analogy comparing schoolteachers to surgeons is an interesting one. Surgeons are regarded as experts and treated as specialists. During surgery, they are provided with a complex system of support so they can focus on their area of expertise.

Teachers, on the other hand, are treated as jacks of all trades. They teach, but they also discipline, police, and parent. They write and grade lessons, but they also make phone calls and photocopies. They calculate report-card grades and compose syllabi, but they also chaperone dances, monitor hallways, and break up fights.

Teachers are basically responsible for everything that needs to be done to allow their students to learn. Their instruction is highly scrutinized and held to rigorous standards, but they are not treated as instructional specialists.

Imagine if a surgeon were expected to administer anesthesia, monitor vital signs, and give blood transfusions during a surgery. Imagine if he were required to make all the phone calls to patients to remind them not to eat for 12 hours before the operation. Imagine if he were responsible for maintaining order in the waiting area. How might this affect his performance?

But we regard surgeons as highly skilled, and we respect their opinions. We regard teachers, on the other hand, as educational grunts. Their insights about their own profession are often dismissed by education leaders as uninformed.

Data and power

Education is one of the few professions in America in which policies are written and decisions are made by governing bodies outside the field. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers all govern themselves. Their panels and boards of directors are made up of other doctors, lawyers, and engineers. The same holds true for counselors, carpenters, and electricians. Even professors and researchers are subject to peer review.

Not teachers, though. Politicians make the decisions when it comes to education in K-12 schools. So do researchers, think tanks, and lobbyists. Does it matter that most of these people have little to no experience teaching in a K-12 classroom? No, because they have the data and the power.

And what do the teachers have to offer? Just experience. Just thousands of hours of trial and error, of dealing with children, parents, curriculum, and content. That’s all the teachers bring to the table. Unfortunately, these contributions aren’t “data-driven,” and they lack political backing. As a result, they aren’t accorded much value.

But if education leaders are going to demand that teachers perform with the precision of surgeons, then teachers should be treated as specialists. Their experience and expertise should be used to reform policy and set budgets so they can get the educational support they need to help children succeed.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Teacher Layoffs: Should Seniority Rule?

A Community Matters reader sent in a link to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Teacher Seniority Rules Challenged.  (The full article is below).  I wonder if the majority of educators favor or disfavor seniority-based layoff protections. I wonder how the majority of citizens feel as well. If I had to guess, I’d venture that most citizens are against teacher seniority serving as the primary determinant of job protection. I’m not sure about public school educators. What do you think?

I know that the challenging of teacher layoffs based on seniority is not a favorable teacher union approach.  But if school administration did not use seniority to make the necessary budget cuts, what credible evaluation system could be properly used? Isn’t the major issue with “merit” based decisions on either pay or layoffs and even staffing is who is deciding?  In the case of the TESD 2010-11 budget, it is understood that the District will not use teacher layoffs as a means to correct the budgetary gap . However, there will be programming cuts which will cause the furlough of teachers.  Within the programming cuts, is it a correction assumption that teacher seniority will determine which teachers stay (or go) correct?  This is an interesting topic; I’d like to hear from teachers, parents, administrators, residents.  But do read the following article, think you will find it of interest:

Teacher Seniority Rules Challenge

With Tens of  Thousands of Layoffs Looming, Government Officials and Parents Want to Change the ‘Last in, First out’ System

By Barbara Martinez 

Teacher seniority rules are meeting resistance from government officials and parents as a wave of layoffs is hitting public schools and driving newer teachers out of classrooms.

In a majority of the country’s school districts, teacher layoffs are handled on a “last in, first out” basis. Critics of seniority rules worry that many effective and talented teachers who have been hired in recent years will lose their jobs.

Unions say that seniority rules are the only objective way to carry out layoffs, and that they protect teachers from the whims and bias of managers, who might fire effective teachers they don’t like.

This year, because of cuts in state aid to New York City, the city could be facing a loss of about 8,500 teacher jobs out of a total of 80,000. The last time the nation’s largest school system laid off a teacher was 1976.If New York City is forced to lay off some of the more than 30,000 new teachers it has hired in the past five years, it is “going to be catastrophic,” said Joel Klein, chancellor of the city’s school system. “We’re going to be losing a lot of great new teachers that we hired” in recent years, the chancellor said.

Mr. Klein added that another problem with “last in, first out” was that because newer teachers earn less than veterans, more teachers will end up losing their jobs.

First-grader Victoria Bernade copies a sentence as teacher Lori Peck goes over sentence structure at Grace L. Patterson Elementary school in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 12.

What Mr. Klein “is really trying to say is, ‘I would like to churn the work force by keeping cheaper teachers on the payroll,’ ” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers union in New York. “If we can do our work in a constructive and collaborative way, we can avoid the layoffs. That’s where we should be focusing our energy.” Mr. Klein has requested a number of times that the state legislature ban the sole use of seniority in layoff decisions. California’s governor made the same request last month. While politicians in these states are unlikely to enact such bans, the movement is gaining traction elsewhere.

Last year, Arizona passed a ban, and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., in addition to letting go some new teachers, laid off some who would otherwise have been protected by union seniority rules. Teachers unions in Arizona and Washington sued over the moves, but they lost their court challenges.

“It is a pent-up issue that has been pushed off and pushed off, and now we have to deal with it,” said Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that helps recruit teachers in mostly urban school districts and opposes seniority-based layoffs.

“It’s not just that you will lose teachers that you invested a lot in,” he said, “these cuts are being made in a quality-blind way.” Mr. Daly said some school districts were forced to lay off teacher-of-the-year nominees last year.

About 60,000 school workers were laid off across the country last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, double the number laid off in 2008 and three times the level in 2007. The total number of public education jobs fell in 2009 for the first time since 1984, according to the BLS. Declining state revenues, which result from the country’s economic turmoil and high unemployment, only increase the probability of more large-scale teacher layoffs ahead, said Marguerite Roza, a professor at the University of Washington’s College of Education.

“We would expect that education jobs will be hit harder in 2010,” Ms. Roza said. “Given last year’s layoff trends, we should expect even more layoffs this year.”

Parents in some school districts are beginning to organize over the issue. In Seattle last year, parents started asking, “Why is my great teacher being laid off while this teacher, who everybody knows is not a good teacher, doesn’t get laid off?” said Venus Velazquez, a parent who said she is one of dozens attempting to remove the seniority protection from the next teacher contract. “We don’t want to go back to the ’50s or ’60s, when people were laid off because of the color of their skin or because a woman was pregnant,” said Glenn Bafia, executive director of the Seattle Education Association, a teachers union.

Mr. Bafia said poor-performing Seattle teachers need to be encouraged to leave teaching through an administrative process. “That’s the principal’s responsibility. If the principal refuses to do their job, that’s an issue,” he said. When it comes to layoffs, “seniority is the only objective criteria there is out there.”

For the unions, the pushback is in some cases coming from people who consider themselves liberal and pro-union. “I consider myself a union supporter, but I don’t support the seniority system,” said Lynnell Mickelsen of Minneapolis, who is organizing a community group to oppose the main use of seniority in layoffs. In a shrinking school system, which has resulted in the loss of 1,300 teacher jobs since 2001, “terrific teachers have been laid off, and [some of those remaining] are depressingly, relentlessly mediocre,” Ms. Mickelsen said. “People are so frustrated about this.”

Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis teachers union, said the union and the system already work together to remove ineffective teachers, pushing out between 400 and 500 teachers in the past 10 years. With poorly performing teachers already being addressed, “seniority gives us a fair way of saying how do we lay people off in a way that’s equitable,” she explained.

 Ms. Mickelsen isn’t buying it: “When it comes to key contract clauses like seniority, the needs of teachers and kids are not the same.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Community Matters © 2017 Frontier Theme