Sunday, February 20, 2011

On, Wisconsin!

I am not a fan of teachers' unions, which I think have spent the last 30 years infantilizing a once-honored profession and turning its members into self-created wage-slaves instead of white-collar specialists. What other "profession" demands extra pay for everything from proctoring an exam to attending a workshop to mentoring a club to arranging an art show? I don't blame the teachers; I blame the superintendents and school boards who negotiated these contracts, failing to notice, for example, that in the 1980s, corporate America got out of the business of pensions, recognizing it as unsustainable (although they probably used a different word for it in the 1980s).

Paul and I, looking at the governor's budget in NYS, have glumly speculated about his constitutional ability to declare a state of emergency and void all state contracts. Would he do it? What then?

In Wisconsin, the newly elected governor went farther, tying loss of collective bargaining rights to his budget, despite the fact that WI is in far better financial shape than NY. We see the results in Madison and elsewhere, as the public sector comes out in droves to protest and the Democratic minority hides out in some no-tell motel across the border.

Rachel Maddow has the best information I've seen on what my cronies suspect is a GOP-supported test case that will lead to similar contractual crackdowns in OH, NJ, and elsewhere. In a nutshell, she answers the question "Why Wisconsin"? (Because of its union history--unemployment insurance and workers comp happened there first, and AFSCME was founded there. Over a century ago, Polish workers were gunned down with the blessing of the governor as they demonstrated for a shorter work-week.) More important, she points out the political ramifications: Get rid of the public-sector unions, and you get rid of the ONLY significant competition the GOP has for campaign dollars.

It's simple. If you want a nation run by the Tea Party, support the governor of Wisconsin. If you value the only remaining progressive organizations with any political clout whatsoever, you must support the unions, even the ones you consider a major pain in the ass.


mlutwak said...

My next door neighbors are both high school science teachers. One is an a private school, the other in a public school. Their pay doesn't even begin to enter the arena of other "professionals" (lawyers, doctors, not to mention highly-skilled bankers & stockbrokers. They leave for work at 6:30 AM, are back home by 5, grade papers and prepare lesson plans for a few hours every night, and on both weekend days.

I do not begrudge them a union that tries to protect them from the infinite non-teaching jobs asked of them by their administrations.

KAZ said...

Although it's common, I think it's a false analogy to compare teachers with doctors and lawyers. I was once a professional editor, making at the time the equivalent of a beginning teacher's salary. I worked 12 months, not 10, and I worked weekends and evenings, too. I got two weeks off after six months. If I went to a conference, my way was paid, as teachers' are, but if I went to a meeting or workshop, I did not get extra. I sometimes trained assistants or had to sit in a printing plant in NJ. I did not earn a stipend for those "extras." If my boss wanted me to switch offices or even departments, I wouldn't have thought to grieve that decision. If I changed jobs, even within the same city, I didn't keep my seniority.

I think teachers are ill-served by a union that ensures that the youngest and peppiest of them are the first fired, or that the general population turns on them because their health benefits far surpass those of shopkeepers, nurses, and professors. (BTW, even the package the WI governor wants beats anything we have locally in NYS--there's little equity even among union members.)

I wonder how much NEA's lobbyists make compared to the average member. I know Dennis Van Roekel makes about 10 times the average teacher's salary. I wonder what your neighbors think their unions have done for them lately.

I support the WI public sector workers, but I'm just sayin'....

mlutwak said...

You & I have both spent some time in the classroom (and in the editorial office); there's no comparison there, either. Would you rather be a full-time teacher right now or would you rather be a full-time (in-house) editor?

I think that rewarding teachers better than stockbrokers & lawyers would be an excellent first step towards repairing our society.

I wonder how much an NEA lobbyist makes compared to any other lobbyist? It's an unfortunate ridiculous expense of the system, not reflective of the union.

I wish my union (SDC) offered this kind of health plan. I wish we had a national health plan this good.

What we need are presidents & congresspeople & union leaders who can stand up and articulate a different framework for debate instead of ceding it to the Know Nothings.

Remember that Twilight Zone episode where the aliens tricked the stupid humans into turning on each other based on who had electricity and who didn't?

We're not going to find the cash to run this society by destroying people's pension plans. Or by wrecking unions that actually protect their members. (It was only my neighbor's union who stood by him after he was beat up by a student in his classroom.) It exists in two places: the military-industrial complex (sorry to use the cliched term, but what else should we call them) and in the pockets of the wealthy who have stripped the system of its productive capacity through the financialization of our economy.

I'm just sayin'....

KAZ said...

I do agree that pitting working class people against each other is the best way for evil to succeed.

I would probably choose full-time teacher over editor, though, because I couldn't drive my daughter around all day long on my old editorial schedule, and my benefits would suck.

You won't get any argument from me about where the money is.

mlutwak said...

You going to get your teaching certificate and get in the trenches? I think we could use you in the schools. (Paul Krugman has a reasonably coherent column on the issue today.)

Elizabeth said...


Stipend for staying three days a week for an extra hour and a half and supervising 50 students after school - $1,200. ??? Not really worth the money, but wanted the control over my library and was told I couldn't not take the stipend attached.

Lots of teachers at my school don't join the union. Some powerful ones are major players.

After 15 years as a lawyer professional, I can say,

1. the pay as a teacher is better than what I earned as a public lawyer (and I didn't get any benefits as a lawyer)

2. I did a lot of things that were not "professional lawyering" as a lawyer, but nothing like lunch duty

3. so far, my impression is that teachers do expect a lot more than the average lawyer in terms of quid pro quo for each thing and behave a lot less professionally, especially toward each other

4. the hours and vacation days are crazy when compared with any other form of work

5. the stress level is far lower than I've ever experienced before, even on the worst of days

I think one problem is that the output and expectations vary so greatly. Mark's neighbors are both putting in huge hours. I worked the entire summer last year and anticipate doing so again, because my library needs it, but a veteran social studies teacher told me last week that he felt incredibly put upon because this year, thanks to a new teacher's needs, he had to actually take home work every night.

What professional doesn't take home work? What professional gets out at 3? Even my 7:30-4:15, which is almost 2 hours longer than the teachers in my building work, is still below the 8-6 Robert puts in. And as a lawyer, I often worked holidays, too.

When faculty meetings run over the 4 pm cutoff, people actually stand up and walk out on the speaker. I can't imagine that happening anywhere else.

Just my experience so far as a baby teacher.


Robert said...

If the teachers and their unions want to be treated like modern professionals then they need to start behving like them.
As a non-union private sector professional, I work at the pleasure of my employer. I don't have tenure or a pension plan and could be fired with ZERO notice. I get paid for 40 hours/week but, if I want to succeed and stay employed, I routinely work 80 hours/week and occaionsally well over 100. I don't get summer's off or weeklong paid vacations every time the season changes. Sure, I am legally entitld to work a minimum of 40 hours/week and I am entitled to 15 days/year of vacation but, if I take them, I would fail professionally. Moreover, I don't expect extra pay for serving on committees, working late, etc. That's the definition of a Professional - I am paid for who I am and what I accomplish, not for how many hours I punch the clock.
I respect the unions, insofar as they protect the employees from abuse but, in this day and age, they have evolved into tools of greed.
Like any negotiation, there must be give and take. The problems are real - no industry can support pensions anymore. Sometimes bad teachers get tenure.
We can't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Teachers need the unions to protect them, like the teacher in AZ who was fired for her "Have you drugged your kid today?" bumper sticker but we, as parents and taxpayers, need the unions to behave rationally and make some concessions (like tenure and pensions).
Personally, I was astounded at the detail level in E's contract regarding pay increments for extra-curricular activities. She is right, of course, that $1200 is a pittance for running an after-school library program once a week and I wonder why they can't just write it into her job description and adjust her pay accordingly? this is the Union's fault, not the district's.
You can't expect to be treated like a professional if you don't behave like one.

mlutwak said...

How does Robert's pay compare to that of a typical public school teacher? The best-paid public school teacher?

In 2008, the median salary of all American wage-and-salaried lawyers was $110,590/year. I would be amazed if it were half that for a teacher with a master's degree.

I think the typical school teacher behaves just as professionally as the typical private sector physicist or engineer.

Having a pension plan would certainly be one sign of a modern professional. I think that it's unconscionable that Robert doesn't have a pension plan. He needs a union. Trust me, your bosses have a pension plan.

The real issue is that most pension plans are funded by the workers who are contractually entitled to receive them -- not the taxpayers. They have chosen to set aside a percentage of their salary each year to be invested for them. The employer (private, state, or otherwise) has contractually agreed to match that with some percentage -- That's the contract that was agreed on. It could have been health benefits, or scholarships or just a larger pay check. What was negotiated in good faith was a pension plan. The states chose to use that money to balance their budgets in other areas. Now the money is gone. It's the workers who put that money in there. And if there is any logic or justice in this society, they will get it.

Otherwise there is absolutely no reason not to just go take the investment accounts of the rich and use that to balance the budget.

Robert said...

I don't think the actual $$$ of my pay or that of teachers is at issue here. My point is that, as a professional, I work for a negotiated salary (no contract), for which my employer receives my undivided attention and dedication. I don't have a second job in the summer and I don't expect incremental pay for serving on committees, attending training, or other extra-curricular activites. When my salary comes up for re-negotiation (every 3-5 years) it is performed in the context of my personal performance (tempered by available resources).
Union-negotiated salaries may be appropriate for commodity workers, but certainly not for professionals, who self-differentiate on the basis of competency and achievement.
It is positively disgusting that E. has trouble scheduling a planning meeting because the other "Professionals" in her organization refuse to work past the 3:30 bell.
I apologize in advance if I am slow to respond but I have a meeting scheduled this evening from 6-9 p.m. which may run late.

Robert said...

I do not believe that the WI governor is threatening to seize the assets of the teachers' pension plan as you imply (that would be illegal). Rather, he is threatening to cease subsidizing the plan against the stock market losses that they (and all of the rest of us) have experienced over the last several years.
In private industry, defined pension plans have been largely extinct for 20 years now (except of course, for the auto industry, where it is killing them). Instead, ownership, responsibility, and risk have been transferred to the employee, in the form of a 401K.
My 401K lost almost 50% two years ago. The difference between me and the WI teachers is that nobody (not my employer or the taxpayers) has a union-negotiated obligation to fund my loss.
I'm not saying this is good (certainly not for me), but it is the way the world (outside of state employee unions) has evolved.

KAZ said...

This thread has devolved nicely. The average salary of teachers in NYS is about $57K; median across the country is high $40s, making Mark's salary comparison correct. I don't think anyone here is begrudging teachers their meager salaries. I think Robert's assessment of professionalism is on the money--it's about working to capacity and being rewarded for what you achieve. Of course that's hard to assess in a situation where you're turning out citizens of the world rather than widgets (or whatever it is that Robert turns out), but the fact that the state has to mandate "professional development" for teachers indicates to me that the state, at any rate, does not view teachers as professionals, and for that I blame the unions, which led the teachers to think that anything above and beyond clocking in each day should require additional compensation. What real professional doesn't want to grow and learn in his/her field? What real professional has to have wage increments or stipends attached to hours of professional development?

I think true pension plans of the sort that I once had in publishing have vanished in the private sector. They certainly have in publishing. Now you just hand over money to a money manager for your 401(k) or SEP or whatever, and the middleman gets rich while you watch your investments fail.

Tenure made sense when it began as a means of ensuring academic freedom in universities. I'm not sure where this concept honestly applies to elementary schools. I hear the argument, "Well, a lot of people stay in this low-paying career because of the stability tenure provides," to which I say, "If that's the only reason you're there, I don't want you teaching my kid."

Elizabeth said...

The maximum a teacher can make in my district, assuming a masters degree + 75 credits and 11 years (it's a complicated formula) is $75,568. Stipends range from my meager 1,200 to about 9,000. Per year.

I have never in my life counted on any type of pension. I assume my retirement (if that ever happens ...) is dependent on me for funding. I can't imagine anyone else of our generation thinking otherwise, yet I have met teachers younger than me by 20 years who know their magic date and plan to retire as soon as it comes along. I find this insane.

I have a hard time believing the median pay of lawyers is anything like that high. Having been a lawyer for 15 years, and having been active in a group trying to unionize my group, I can tell you that even if the average pay was that high it did not take into account insurance (required and high), medical (generally self provided and high), and overhead (self provided and high. Personally, I made from 2K to 30K per year. Not including the costs above.

I don't begrudge teachers their unions. Even with unions teachers are still an under-appreciated group (because of?). Collective bargaining power is necessary, and I wish Robert had it.

I also agree with Robert that, if you're a salaried professional, you do what you should do regardless of pennies here and there. I don't stay at my library 3 days a week because of the money, or skip lunch and go without any planning time, I do it because that is what my library demands at the time. It is what is best for my students and my library, which is what I was hired to handle. I get paid a salary and I do what needs to be done.

I find the nickel and diming of my new profession confusing at best and really dispiriting at worst. I can't count the number of times I've come home with the feeling that they are juvenile.

There are certain expectations of a salaried professional, first of which you do what you have to do to get the job done whether it takes 25 or 85 hours. And teachers don't seem to get that. I also blame the unions for this. They are the ones that take every little thing and attach a monetary value to it. Collective bargaining is one thing for salaries and another thing when it devolves into a dollar amount for every minute spent after the "contractual hours." That, to me, sounds like the counter guy at DD.

It was not until March of last year that a teacher, and big union person, told me what my hours were. Apparently, I had been working 2 hours per day beyond them. No wonder the parking lot is empty! I thought. But continued to work all summer. (admonished for that)

mlutwak said...

Teachers don't just clock in and out; they do tremendous hours of curriculum planning, grading & paper correcting in their off hours.

Perhaps if teachers were making $100K a year they wouldn't need to nickel-and-dime their bosses for the other time demanded of them.

Complicated union agreements exist because of hundreds of incremental battles fought and won over the years. Not so long ago, many teachers had such crappy salaries, they were also on some form of welfare in order to feed their families.

I'm sure no one would complain if If a school district came up with a simple, salary-for-job done plan that was adequately compensated. In the meantime, teachers are being asked to do thing well beyond their "profession." Things that have nothing to do with the teaching profession. They are being asked to carry the load of administrators, counselors, nurses .. and yes, parents .. in addition to their educational duties. Things that were formerly done by other "professionals."

If we keep treating teachers as we do, we are going to lose the few decent ones remaining to us. Why would any sane person go into the business?

Robert said...

By the way (and this is purely for comic relief), the State of Wisconsin Teachers Pension Fund owned 20% of my company until about 5 years ago. I assume they lost their shirts when they pulled out.

KAZ said...

Before 1936, schools in my town were scattered all over the 90+ square miles. Each had one teacher, whose job it was to gather wood in the AM, start the fire in the stove, and sometimes collect a few students on her drive to school. According to records, the teacher often cooked a hot lunch over the stove for the children. There were no counselors or nurses or administrators.

Today, my centralized schools have counselors, nurses, administrators, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, one-on-one aides, librarians, playground aides, etc. etc. I would argue with Mark that a teacher's life is easier now and her duties more clearly defined than at any time in the past. Curriculum work is done as a committee and is compensated. Most paperwork and reporting is done by the administrative team. Grading and paper correcting--well, that's the job, isn't it???

paul said...

First things first. At the present time only Elizabeth and I are the only ones who can really have any real first hand input here. We are the only two who actually experience what actually goes on in a school. Every school district has that group of teachers that have "IT" no one can define IT, but everyone knows which teachers have it. Those are the professionals; they are the ones working their lessons two or three ways the night before in case one approach isn't working. They didn't go into teaching for money; they went into it because it is what they love to do. I'm pretty sure Kathy, Mark, Robert, and Elizabeth did not enter our profession for the money. On the other hand, our teacher’s days are defined by a specific number of minutes. At 3:00pm there is a rush of teacher cars out of the parking lot to get out before they get stuck behind a bus. I, like Robert, am a union of one. If they want me back, I am given a contract. So far, they have always offered me a contract, and I have wanted to continue working there. Most of our coaches are community members because our school doesn't pay enough. (Luckily our play/music directors don’t make money the reason to do something or not)
Being a professional to me is how you approach your job, it's about always wanting to better at your job and constantly improving and changing so that you can be the best at what you do, it's about putting in long hours because that's what it takes for you to do what it is what you do. It's about not watching the clock; it's about not caring that someone makes more money than you. We have aids that make no more than minimum wage that are much more professional than some of the teachers.
Most of our best teachers have only been teaching for a few years. They are full of eagerness and energy. That's not to say that some of our more experienced teachers aren't great. However, at a time when we must cut back on staff it should be up to the administrators based on their observations (and other criteria) and not strictly seniority to determine the cuts. Two years ago at Olivia's school, they needed to cut a teachers, they cut a brand new science teacher, who happened to have just won the Teacher of the Year award. A victim of LIFO.
What I would like to see is a base teacher contract for all teachers that take out all the BS that has built up in the last 25 years. Some of which was put in in-spite and some just because it could be. I think all of the teachers in NY should be on the same health plan and pay the same towards that health plan. Why should, for instance, the teachers in one district pay 20% towards their plan, when in a richer district the teachers pay 0%-5%? I think the pay scales should be set by economic region. why should we hire a teacher out of college and train them for 3 or 4 years and then they easily switch to a neighboring district in which they can be paid more? This robbing of teachers puts smaller rural schools further and further behind. To sum up, I don't think that there shouldn't be contracts and unions; I just don't think that the contracts have to be as intricate as they have become. Holding up a contract because the two sides are arguing over how much money a teacher gets to chaperone a game, a dance, and yes even a play is moronic. It's moronic that this is even a paid thing. Teachers should want to go to the games, dances and plays because that's where their students are performing. I think that one of the growing problems in the schools is that the teachers aren't taking ownership and pride in their school, they see it as "only a job" The students can sense this. Olivia certainly can. I applaud Kathy on inciting a good discussion and everyone’s input. Too bad open discussions like this can’t occur at the legislative level.
I wrote this kind of fast, while under the weather, and in a spewing fashion so please excuse mistyping’s and misspellings.

Elizabeth said...

I agree, Paul. Teachers should do a lot of what they do because they want to be part of students' lives, not for dollar amounts. I also agree that Kathy has incited a great discussion, and that you and I are the only ones in it watching from the front row, where the view isn't always so pretty.

I just came home from our weekly faculty meeting. Wish you all could have been there. The argument was over the new schedule. We've gone to a waterfall schedule which is a boon to students - they have different subjects at different times every day, so math is not always the last block or the first block. they all have a chance to get every subject at their peak learning time. Whatever that may be.

The contentious part? The meeting times and planning/prep times at stake. No one wants to do ANY work outside of their 8-3 day. They don't want to sacrifice their prep time to meet as a team or department, because then they would have to take those papers/lesson plans home.

There are exceptions, of course. I smiled to hear a colleague grumble, "I have kids, too" under her breath when a young male teacher griped that he needed his personal prep time because he could not get his work done outside of school.

Some of us do take work home, but plenty do not. As Kathy rightly points out, curriculum planning is compensated as are most of teachers' other tasks, with the exception of those of us who choose to do more. Grading is largely done during department meeting time as per the new PLC model.

Teachers need unions and collective bargaining for salaries because otherwise we would not be paid a living wage. As it is, it is an undervalued profession, and that results in the kind of mediocre people that enter it counting hours each day and days until retirement. But the contract (mine is a small book) has become ridiculous. Paul is right - wonderful new teachers are the first on the chopping block, and people who long ago lost any enthusiasm for the job (and the kids, remember them?) are safe. It's silly. And no other group calling itself professional would stand for what goes on here.

As for behavior, well, I've never been in a more unprofessional atmosphere in my life. And I've worked a great deal of jobs. Petty, hyper political, sniping, backstabbing. A day at work. A group followed a young spanish teacher around last year writing down every time she was out of her classroom. She had negotiated with the principal to use her prep time to go nurse her newborn. That was unfair! They screamed. Really. In every other job I've held the bottom line was whether a person got the job done. Here it is whether everyone gets the same treatment and pay, regardless of what they're producing or not.

Either teachers act like professionals and earn that appellation or it should be re-defined to reflect the circumstances of hourly employees.

Robert said...

I generally agree with Paul, except to point out that my job is, in fact, to watch the clock.

paul said...

Tonight Kathy and Olivia are going to a benefit concert in which they ask for a donation in a range of $5-$15 (I guess based on how one likes the show) NOw, I'm sure some will pay the minimum because that is what they alwasy do, and some will pay the maximum because that is what they alwasy do. Then there will be the ones that actually will pay based on how they enjoyed the production. I'm not sure why I am writing this, but I believe that somewhere I read that a long time ago teachers used to be compensated by the parents. (this may have also been in another country) If a parent thought that their kid was being taught well, they paid well, if not, they didn't pay as much.

mlutwak said...

Paul, although I am not a public school teacher, I do spend a great deal of time in the classroom. I have the good fortune to battle with principals, schedules, mandates, paperwork, etc. before getting to the actual fun of the actual classroom battle.