Tall Tales from the Teachers Unions

The headlines last week described a deadlock between the teachers unions and the North Clackamas School District. The essence of the story was that the teachers unions had refused to accept a pay freeze for the ensuing year and that the school district was forced to lay off approximately sixty teachers because it lacked sufficient funds to pay for any increase.

It was great theatre for all sides — Republicans declared that the teachers unions weren’t really interested in the “kids” because the anticipated layoffs would result in larger class sizes; Democrats got to wax ignorant about the cheap taxpayers for not providing even more money despite tax increases already amounting to $1 Billion; and the public employee unions donned their hair suits declaring that they had already given more than is fair by reducing their demands from a three percent increase to a one and a half percent increase.

It was great theatre, but like most theatre it was all just make believe. And, amongst all of the baloney being peddled, it was that of the teachers unions that was the most egregious.

But let’s dispose of the minor players first.

In declaring that the teachers unions are greedy and don’t really care about the “kids”, the Republicans hit the nail on the head — after all these are public employee unions we are talking about and all they really care about is increased pay and benefits and retention of their extraordinary political power. But you would be hard pressed to find a bona fide initiative by the Republicans to improve education in Oregon — even during a time when Oregon’s students are falling farther behind when compared to their counterparts nationally and even more so when compared internationally. During the time that the Republicans held strong majorities in both houses of the legislature they failed to enact meaningful reforms (merit pay, budget accountability, school vouchers, elimination of non-educational mandates, etc.) While there have been Republicans who have discussed these — even offered specific plans — they have failed, even in their own caucuses, to gain approval. Instead, like the Democrats, they have allowed the amount of money budgeted for education to be the “determinative” for whether they “care for the children.”

The Democrats are even worse. As in almost every government program they have become a “one-trick pony.” Their solution is to throw more money at the problem. The education establishment is dominated by the public employee unions who, in turn, are the primary funding source for the Democrat party. Since at least 1991, with the introduction of CIM/CAM, the education establishment — dominated by the teachers unions and fronted by the Democrats — have demanded more and more money on the pretext that its “new initiatives” would not only produce a better educational system but would become a model for the whole country. The results have been abysmal — so much so that even the Democrats decided to abandon it. By some legislative estimates the cost was nearly $500 million per year and produced no positive results. It was so poorly conceived, planned and implemented that less than one-third of the students tested could pass the CIM exams, attempts at implementing the CAM portion were finally abandoned, not one higher education institution accepted its results and not a single other state adopted it or anything like it. And yet the same Democrats and education establishment who failed so miserably, insisted it was because more money wasn’t spent. It’s the moral equivalent of some obese kid declaring that the reason he doesn’t get more exercise is because he doesn’t get enough food to provide the energy to exercise.

But on to the biggest liars in the bunch — the teachers unions with the other public employee unions in full chorus.

The teachers unions talked about the great sacrifice they were making, in light of Oregon’s distressed economy, in offering to reduce their salary increase to one and one-half percent. That is simply not true.

The teachers unions, like they other public employee unions, use a two-part equation for determining salaries for their members. The first one is the annual salary increase for which they bargain — it’s the one you read about in the papers and is the one that they were talking about in regard to North Clackamas schools. The other one is the “step increase” that they never talk about. It is an annual salary increase based solely on seniority — in other words you get a salary increase just for showing up for a year. So, when the teachers unions talk about “accepting” a salary freeze, or in the case of the North Clackamas School District a reduced salary increase, they are talking about an increase IN ADDITION TO their automatic annual salary increase.

And, just so we are mindful of just how much the public employee unions, including the teachers unions, are getting paid, let’s review the total package of compensation. There is the base salary (the one they talk about), the step increase (the one they never talk about), the annual increase in the cost of a gold plated health insurance plan (now currently averaging between $1200 and $1400 per month — for those of you forced to endure a public education in Oregon that is $14,400 to $16,800 annually), and a defined benefit pension plan (now resulting in about a twenty percent surcharge to salaries and scheduled to climb into the thirty percent range over the next four years). In a more acute example, that means for a public employee earning $50,000 per year, the actual cost to taxpayers is about $75,000 per year (not including employer contributions to FICA). And for teachers working 180 days per year at a base salary of $50,000, it means they are earning about $52.00 per hour.

Now, for those 133,000 Oregonians who have lost their jobs in the private sector and for those countless other Oregonians who have experienced actual pay freezes, pay decreases, or reduction in hours, don’t you feel proud of the sacrifices made by Oregon public employee unions — including its teachers unions. And aren’t you particularly proud that all of this occurs while Oregon’s educational results when compared nationally have resulted in a record number of Oregon schools being sanctioned by the federal government.

But with Oregon’s public employee unions in full control of the state legislature and the governor’s office and dominating the educational establishment, don’t expect any change soon. Oregon’s future looks like its past — more money for less performance on a routine basis — including the tax increases this year upon which the Democrats, at the behest of the public employee unions, refused to allow you to vote.