Wednesday, May 09, 2007

First Prize Is a 3% Raise
Second Prize Is a Set of Steak Knives
Third Place Is You're Fired

I want to take a crack at a local story before Travis Armstrong gets ahold of it in his no spin zone that makes Bill O'Reilly look like a poster child for sanity. (Of course, if the other blogs in town are right Armstrong has gone missing of late--perhaps he's in Cheney's undisclosed location, safe from the cabal, while Cheney is in Iraq in the secure Green Zone.) In today's Santa Barbara Newsroom Rob Kuznia reports, "The Santa Barbara school board laid off 48 teachers Tuesday night, largely in an effort to find money to give the rest of the K-12 school system’s 800-plus teachers a union-negotiated raise."

Union-haters are going to jump on that line and claim, "See, that's what unions do, get their own members canned." But as the full article points out, the real story isn't that simple. (Quick digression: of course in the News-Press the story would end with that sentence so as to better buttress editorial beliefs, which is why Kuznia has to be writing somewhere else right now.) Employers almost always try to play employees off each other, especially at the bargaining table. It happened with Unit 18 lecturers at the UC: when the Office of the President finally came through with something like a deal after years of bargaining, it helped lecturers who had taught for 6+ years and got through the legendary "eye of the needle" review (much of the work of tenure, all to get 3-year contracts instead of single year contracts), but didn't do as much for those with less seniority. Guess which group is in the majority. Guess which group was more invested in the first place and likely to be part of the bargaining team.

The same thing happened with the last grocery workers strike, when current employees got more benefits than new hires. This surely helps sell a contract, since future workers don't get a vote to ratify, but that's just the beginning of good rewards for the employer. It suddenly becomes less positive to be a new hire, so fewer people stick around. (Of course, the employer also believes there's an endless supply of talented employees, and losing people doesn't matter.) Of course now employees are split into two camps--the have-a-bits and the need-a-lots--so it's easier for the employer to negotiate with a much less unified union next time.

It's really surprising, given these patterns, that so many people aren't too fond of employers, no?

I feel for the teachers laid off, I do, but here's hoping they don't lose their jobs AND become evidence for the horribleness of unions, too. As the article says, "the raise--3 percent per year for three years--puts Santa Barbara teacher salaries more in line with others across the county." A 3% raise is nice, but it's certainly not anything out of line and indeed is behind what teachers would get if they were on Social Security (a 3.3% cost of living increase).

And don't think teachers make too much already. After all, if people don't learn, people can't work and our economy goes (further?) into the crapper. Here's what one impressive national think tank said last summer:

The College Board's Center for Innovative Thought, whose members include business and academic leaders, calls for a new education compact between America and its teachers, starting with the establishment of a public-private Teachers' Trust to finance an immediate pay increase of 15 to 20 percent and targeted programs to increase the number of qualified math and science teachers.

That call for change leaves us 12-17% behind annually. I don't even have children and that scares me.

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Blogger Ironicus Maximus said...

Of course if someone wants to give me more money, I'd be happy to accept it, but as a teacher, I'd much rather my employer helped me get the politicians, religious zealots and wing nuts out of my classroom and let me do my job.

Admittedly, I'm in the "have a bit" category at this point in my career, but when I see the shock and disgust on the faces of new teachers when they see what a 21st century classroom is really lie, I wonder if they'll stick around long enough. Well, I don't have to wonder. I see good teachers leave the field all the time.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something interesting that I noticed from the article yesterday. The layoffs are being blamed on declining enrollment due to families not being able to live in this community, which sounds reasonable. But the layoffs are all at the high school level... Do people leave when their kids hit high school, or are the elementary schools simply postponing the problems in their patch until later?

9:32 AM  
Blogger Trekking Left said...

It amazes me how we want to pride ourselves on our smart people and yet, we do everything we can to make teaching an unattractive profession. The solution to the education problem is not testing the crap out of everybody (see No Child Left Behind). The solution is paying more so that teaching is something people strive for (like being a doctor or a lawyer). And 3% doesn't cut it.

10:31 AM  
Blogger George said...

Ironicus, the increased salaries is just one part of the College Board's plan, and infrastrucutre is certainly part of it.

Anon, good point. It could be it's easier to let go people who teach one subject as opposed to those who teach multiple, and are therefore eaiser to re-assign. Just a guess.

Trekking, indeed, the drain in the fields of technology, math, and sicence are the worst--why become a teacher if you can make so much more elsewhere? We can't expect all our teachers to be martyrly saints.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Marty said...

It might be inaccurate to use the term "layoff" with respect to the teachers involved. Typically, new teachers are given annual contracts until they achieve tenure (after two years in CA), and so technically most of the teachers involved are not being rehired. It's not much of a distinction for those teachers who won't be rehired, but it's common for a district to have such a pool and such an announcement wouldn't be controversial to the union. I spent my first two years in that pool before I was picked up permanently back in my high school days.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

While I like the labor solidarity link between grocery store workers, newsroom workers, and teachers, I'd like to point to a difference in the case of teachers who are public employees. In short, it's about taxes. Teachers, and schools in general, are squeezed because people, especially rich people, especially super-rich people, don't show the public spirit to pay enough taxes to fund education properly.

Not only do employers funnel more and more revenues from the salaries of the rank and file to bloated salaries for CEOs and bonanzas for investors, those same beneficiaries keep too much of that money for themselves rather than caring for the public sphere.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unions are to blame in this case because they are laying off teachers based on seniority and not focusing on ability. We are talking about educating our children -- we are not talking about bagging groceries. The unions have set up a system that rewards mediocrity and even outright incompetence.

It is not that difficult to figure out. Ask the principal (whose butt is always on the line if the school underachieves) who he/she wants to keep. Ask the parents, ask the students. Just don't ask the unions.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

Anonymous, unions don't lay off teachers. Parents (and often the principals who keep their jobs because they please them) don't often know who the good teachers are. Go hang out in Kansas and try to discuss Origin of Species without a match and some lighter fluid, and you'll see what I mean. It's not seniority, per se, but the academic freedom that tenure guarantees. The best teachers would be fired if anti-unioin social conservatives could determine who those "good teachers" are.

11:02 PM  

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