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Saturday, July 11, 2009

District 6 Negotiations; Just a Slice Out of the Middle

Over the years, more than twenty-one of them, I've had a few great debates with various professionals and friends on the living wage concept. I'll leave the bulk of my thoughts on that for another Saturday. For now I just wanted to point out that in lieu of the major media making hay out of this report about teacher accountability the Union could still take the lead and turn it to the advantage of everyone by trading more accountability for higher wages.

Basically accountability has to come home to any organization or business. You gotta produce. We all know that. I have a dear friend who always tells me when I start complaining about gray hair, "You are gong to be just fine as long as you can produce." He's a man. His boobs don't get saggy. "Produce what?" I always ask.

But I digress into gender economics.

I want to focus on the economics of education. First a few stunning number facts from the NCES site
Elementary and Secondary Education

In fall 2008, a record 49.8 million students will attend public elementary and secondary schools. Of these, 34.9 million will be in prekindergarten through 8th grade and 14.9 million in grades 9 through 12. An additional 6.2 million students are expected to attend private schools this fall.

Public school systems will employ about 3.3 million teachers this fall, resulting in a pupil/teacher ratio of 15.3, which is lower than in 2000, when the ratio was 16.0. An additional 0.5 million teachers will be working in private schools this fall, where the pupil/teacher ratio is estimated at 13.0.

There are about 14,200 public school districts containing about 97,000 public schools, including about 4,000 charter schools. There were about 35,000 private schools offering kindergarten or higher grades.

Current expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools will be about $519 billion for the 2008-09 school year. The national average current expenditure per student is around $10,418, up from $9,154 in 2005-06.

That is 3.3 million teachers folks. Yet everybody wants their kid to end up with a very high-end performing teacher. Did I mention 3.3 million teachers? Just by nature of birth (genetics), education, experiential background, not every one of these teachers is going to be "high-end". That is just reason.

So the Union's job is to represent all the teachers--not just some. And I am guessing that the bulk of these teachers are not "high-end". Maybe they can all become "high-end" at some point and time and that is a great ideal to shoot for but again there is a common sense reason check here. These teachers are taught by, I couldn't find a quick stat on how many private and public educators are working in the college level sectors, a breadth of teachers. See the problem? The same system that worked well for the few doesn't work for the many. Think of it as Spockian logic if it makes stretch marks on the brain.

Now I am the last person who is going to argue that the crappy teachers don't need to be weeded out. I went through college sitting next to some of these Yahoos reciting to myself that "This person will never teach my kid!" But then I am fortunate enough to have the emotional intelligence and political intelligence to figure out how to move my resources around and always did a good job of placing my kids in the right class. But if every parent did that? Imagine being the board members of that district. You'd be haunted by angry parents every time you left your house. The general working class parent isn't likely to have the energy or political gaming time to spend making this happen for their kid. They are just trying to feed them and keep them off the streets. A lack of resources is the evil of poverty and the underclasses.

So back to my point. I can see why the bulk of these teachers are worried about having higher standards invoked. A lot of teachers are already working at their maximum capacity. Another straw and the camel's back breaks so to speak. Politically then where is a Union going to push? There are going to try to focus more accountability in resource management and the family homes of the students. Business is also another area to ask to cough up resources.

And on wages.

Wages? Wages? Why do we want to increase wages for teachers (I hear the audience's angry cry!). Because by raising the wage of teachers you reach beyond the existing pool and attract higher quality people to begin with. Hence you increase the pool of potential "high-end" teachers that enter into the labor force. People with higher values of emotional intelligence, test scores, organizational ability, and self-discipline will be drawn into the profession. Not just those who are born to teach and will do so at the risk of their entire family and their own emotional health.

In turn by bringing higher value candidates into the labor pool, teachers social status in our money-based society will be raised and possibly there will be more respect for their work and less discipline problems. Additionally, while initially offering higher based salaries will compete with the regular work labor pool for business (who like those high-end people too), in theory more "high-end" teachers will produce more "high-end" labor for business.

In my Good-Ship-Lollipop World each community should vote on a special tax for teacher's salaries beyond a standard government provides. That way each community gets back, competitively, exactly what it pays into the system. Unfortunately, poorer communities would suffer disproportionately until the quality of their education systems trickled down and created higher paying jobs. But in Lollipop World the gap between the rich and poor isn't a chasm to start.

Okay, that's it for my geeky rants today. I need to go out and play for a while. Anyone know the living wage for the Greeley area?

Here is the background reading material for my fellow geeks.

The first discussion below comes the Slate blogger. I tried to find the original source document, which led me to the National Education Association's site (below the Slate piece), but no luck. These two paragraphs, below, are being rebounded though all over the web. Out of context?

The unions have battled against the principle that schools and education agencies should be held accountable for the academic progress of their students. They have sought to water down the standards adopted by states to reflect what students should know and be able to do. They have attacked assessments designed to measure the progress of schools, seeking to localize decisions about test content so that the performance of students in one school or community cannot be compared with others. They have resisted innovative ways-such as growth models-to assess student performance.

In their attack on education reform, the national unions have often been unconstrained by considerations of propriety and fairness. They have sought to inject weakening amendments in appropriations bills, hoping that they would prevail if no hearings were held and the public was unaware of their efforts. They have used the courts to launch an attack on education reform, employing arguments that could imperil many federal assistance programs going back to the New Deal. They have failed to inform their own members of the content of federal reform laws.

NEA - The Lowdown on Living Wage Campaigns
The Lowdown on Living Wage Campaigns

Local Activism Centered on Pocketbook Issues Is Re-emerging, Especially for ESPs

The following report was prepared by NEA's Collective Bargaining and Member Advocacy (CB&MA) staff to provide members with background on living wage campaigns and NEA's involvement with these efforts.
Defining 'Living Wage'

The term "living wage" describes efforts by workers to increase their compensation to a level above the poverty line. Generally, a living wage means sufficient wages to pay for basic necessities in a given community. A living wage campaign is a grassroots effort by employees to win wages that are sufficient to pay for rent, food, utilities, taxes, health care, transportation, and childcare.

The guiding principle of a living wage campaign is that people who work a full-time job should not have to live below the poverty line. These campaigns hold particular promise for many of NEA's Education Support Professionals (ESPs). Living wage campaigns involve tactics and strategies that can benefit NEA and its members by providing higher earnings, by increasing membership through both new organizing and internal organizing, by creating a membership more responsive to action, and by mobilizing the membership in support of legislative agendas that benefit ESP members.

The term "living wage" was coined by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a coalition of religious leaders from Baltimore, Maryland who successfully launched a campaign in the early 1990's for a local ordinance requiring that city service contractors pay living wages. With strong community support, the first-ever living wage ordinance was passed by the city of Baltimore in 1994.

Since then there have been 103 similar ordinances throughout the country. When this report was written on March 10, 2003, there were 74 living wage campaigns underway. Syndicated columnist Robert Kuttner writing in the monthly magazine, The American Prospect , in 1997 described living wage as " the most interesting (and underreported) grassroots enterprise since the civil rights movement.. Signaling a resurgence of local activism around pocketbook issues."

In today's economic climate and among NEA's ESP members, the most compelling argument for a living wage for public sector workers is the notion that a communities' tax revenues, which are used to pay the wages of public school employees, should not create nor perpetuate poverty. When employers in the public sector (states, school boards, municipalities, townships, and the federal government) pay wages to working families at a level that results in these employees being eligible for public assistance the employer is not paying a living wage.

"Living wage" is not a concept that is owned by any single organization. The "living wage" concept has been utilized by student groups, political parties, neighborhood associations, women right's groups, and workers rights groups. Living wage campaigns can be organized by anyone who wishes to advance the interest of working people. There is no set structure to a living wage campaign. There are, however, many successful experiences and these can be replicated in different regions of the country.

A living wage campaign can be successful in states with and without public employee bargaining statutes. In non-statute states, living wage campaigns culminate with an ordinance issued by the school board or local jurisdiction outlining new wage rates. An example of this type of ordinance is a living wage resolution passed in 2001 by the board of education in Richmond, Virginia. In statute states, living wage tactics become part of a collective bargaining approach (e.g., a contract campaign) that culminates in the successful ratification of a contract: Ithaca, New York, 2001 which was led by Education Support Professionals-Ithaca; and Baldwinsville

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