The Tuesday headline of the Oregonian read, State’s Teachers Walking Jobs Tightrope.” The purpose of the headline was to suggest that Oregon has lost a significant number of teachers over the past three years and is in jeopardy of losing even more in the coming year. What is most discouraging is that there wasn’t a single critical question asked by the Oregonian that would have provided critical context or information for Oregon taxpayers.
Let me suggest some of the critical questions that should have been asked.
The article juxtaposes the gain of 25,000 private sector jobs over the past year with the loss of 6,500 education jobs over the past three years. Lost in the article is that 152,000 private sector jobs were lost during the last recession. At the rate of 25,000 per year, it will take slightly over six years for Oregon to regain the private sector jobs lost during this last recession. But, Oregon is not adding 2,000 jobs per month – during the last several months private sector job creation has actually averaged around 1,000 per month meaning that recovery of the 152,000 jobs lost will take closer to ten years than six.
Also lost in the article is that while Oregon was losing 152,000 private sector jobs, Oregon’s Democrat administrations and its allies in the public employees unions, including the teachers unions, were adding thousands of new public employee jobs. Not only adding thousands of public employee jobs, but ensuring that the twice annual pay increases to public employees continued unabated. Worse yet there was a stunning silence at the loss of the private sector jobs – a silence that conveyed disinterest on the government’s part. There were no front-page, above-the-fold headlines in the Oregonian bemoaning the loss of 152,000 private sector jobs. There were no declarations from the state economist that the loss of 152,000 private sector jobs was going to blunt Oregon’s economic recovery. Seemingly, only when the growth of government is threatened is it deemed newsworthy.
So here are the questions.
1. Of the 6,500 jobs lost over the past three years, how many represented classroom teachers in primary and secondary schools? We already know that only 3,700 of that number represented employment in the primary and secondary schools which means that 2,800 of those “education” jobs lost were bureaucrats in the Superintendents of Public Instructions office or in the various education service districts. We also know that the 3,700 jobs in the primary and secondary schools included administrators, clerical and maintenance personnel, and security and other non-teaching personnel. Most schools run about a 1:1 ration of classroom teachers to other employees, which would then suggest that only 1,800 classroom teachers (or 600 per year) – at most – would have been involved.
This number becomes critical when we are testing the thesis that the loss of 6,500 jobs has somehow blunted Oregon’s economic recovery. Most private sector economists (maybe all economists except those employed by state government) agree that the growth in government does not translate into economic growth. I think that classroom teachers occupy a unique position in that actual education is a prerequisite for economic growth. Not so with the remaining “education” personnel referenced in the Oregonian article. It is only the creation of goods and services for public consumption that adds to economic growth. At best, government is an expense item – not a revenue producing item. And you need revenue producing items to expand the economy.
And even at that, the reduced number of actual classroom teachers begs additional questions.
2. How many of the classroom teachers retired, quit teaching prior to termination, or moved elsewhere for other opportunities? The voluntary attrition rate among teachers is relatively high compared to other occupations. Those who retired, quit, or moved should not be included in the number of “teachers” lost.
3. Who is to blame for the loss of teachers? The teachers’ unions routinely point to the Legislature as having failed to adequately fund education. However, it is the teachers’ unions themselves who are largely to blame. The gold-plated Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) now commands a greater share of the state budget than does the education budget. The public employees unions, including the teachers unions blocked any consideration of PERS reforms during the past session that would have freed up additional money to hire or retain teachers. And, under an Oregon law passed by the Democrat dominated legislature at the direction of their primary campaign funding source – the public employees unions, including the teachers unions – PERS must be paid before any other function of government, including the education of the state’s children.
4. Are all of Oregon’s teachers “walking the jobs tightrope?” Don’t be ridiculous. This is a union, not a professional organization. Job reductions, if any, are done on the basis of seniority. Every teacher knows precisely their “hire date” and their position in the seniority pecking order. Only those at the bottom of the seniority ladder have any concerns about future employment.
5. Are Oregon’s best teachers protected against “downsizing?” Of course not. Like I said, this is a union, not a professional organization and the teachers unions have successfully avoided any workable “merit” system that would ensure retention of quality teachers. One would expect that in a downsizing, it would be prudent to eliminate the poorest performers first. But not so in Oregon’s education system. It is about seniority and you are likely to see the worst teachers retained because they have been there so long that they are untouchable.
As I said before, the loss of any job is a personal tragedy. But the suggestion that the loss of 6,500 public employee jobs over three years has some greater relevance than the loss of 152,000 private sector jobs is just bizarre. The suggestion that because Oregon cannot afford to maintain a bloated bureaucracy somehow “blunts” economic recovery demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding about the economy, and a tin ear about the plight of those in the private sector who have lost their jobs and have remained unemployed for over two years.
Until the state’s policymakers and the mainstream media turn away from the primacy of government and recognize that it exists to serve, not to be served, Oregon will continue to founder economically.