Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Do Dead Weight Public Pensioners Belong on School Boards?

The Express Times' Joe Owens has these mild remarks today.
There ought to be a law that dead-weight public pensioners and fat-cat, public trough feeders who work for school districts should not be allowed to "serve" on school boards. Take a look at the Easton and Nazareth boards and you'll find people who been sucking off the public dime their entire lives and don't think twice about abusing the public trust as overseers of our money.
Don't hold back, Joe. Tell us how your really feel.

Many public "servants" are collecting public pensions from one job while getting paid for work at another public entity. It's commonplace. And it has become a burden on taxpayers.

School board members are unpaid, but have no incentive to be true watchdogs of the public purse.


LVDem said...

so a retired school teacher shouldn't serve on a school board?

LVDem said...

so a retired school teacher shouldn't serve on a school board?

Bernie O'Hare said...


In a word, no.

Our municipal governments are already infested with retired and current public school teachers from both parties. They have little incentive to curb public spending. And many government officials are double-dipping, drawing a public salary and a public pension.

I think we need to come to grips with this very real problem. The public pension funds are sucking us dry.

We could make a small start by prohibiting a public school teacher from sitting on any public school board.

House of Crayons said...

Let me hash this idea over... Don't elect some of the most knowledgable people on schools (teachers) to boards for schools. Genius!

I argue with Owens all the time about his predjudices towards public employees. In his opinion everyone should have shitty non negotiable benefits. Just because he had them.

Type with your heads not with your hearts. Passion doesn't equate to good sense.

Your Neighbor

Bernie O'Hare said...

House of Crayons, Being a teacher does not make you knowledgable about school administration. A plumber or barber who manages his own business might have much better ideas on saving money.

But for too long, teachers and other retired public employees have been responsible for runaway government budgets. They have no incentive to minimize costs. They have demonstrated an incliniation to feather their nests.

The public pensions being paid are a disgrace. The whole idea of paying someone's public pension based on his highest year or three years, leads to abuse. I'm sure you've seen it. How many cops and, YES, firemen pad their final years with all kinds of OT so they can have a nice pension? And then they get a part-time job with another public entity and get a pension or salary there, too. It's obscene and it has to stop. It's an abuse.

These are the last people who should be sitting on a school board or running for office. They milk the system.

I don't think someone should be penalized for hard work, but there has been too much abuse. In NC, I believce your pension is based on your highest three years. So someone could be a part-time county coiuncilman for 20 years and a county exec for 4, and hius pension will be based on his years as exec. It's wrong and needs to be changed.

These feather-bedders are running our school boards. Joe Owens is absolutely right. And I admire the passion with which he spoke. And if you don't deeal with and stop this abuse very soon, you're going to see some governments go bankrupt.

And frankly, what special qualifications does a teacher have? Are we supposed to genuflect at him or something. WE've elected some real idiots just because they happen to be teachers and know everybody. Three members of NC Council are teachers. That alone should be enough to convince you there is merit in what Owens says.

Thanks for the different opinion.

LSTresidentPIA said...

Who would they be?

Bernie O'Hare said...

LST, The three members of council who are or were teachers are John Cusick, Diane Neiper and Wayne Grube.

LSTresidentPIA said...

Wayne Grube, that might be scary, if he treated his students like he runs council adn treats council members meetings. I can't imagine him being a teacher, esp if a student might need extra help.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LST, Wayne Grube sure comes across as a gruff old cuss who just wants to get home. Half of the time he won't speak to me. And when he finally relents, I soon wish I was back on his shit list. I fight with him all the time. But I can't help liking him. And I've always voted for him. I know his heart is always in the right place and that he really does love the county. That means a lot to me, more than party affiliation. He thinks I'm a troublemaker who's just looking for problems. That's a fair criticism, although I'd argue that I'm trying to keep the county from going in the wrong direction. And I'll give him this. He generally is consistent. He does have integrity. And I will miss him when he's gone. He should not be presiding over council. He stinks as a facilitator. And I can't believe what he did to Ann McHale, a fellow Dem. That was so petty. But we're better off with him than we'd be without him. When someone was engaged in real criminal activity, i.e. bribery, it was Grube who spoke candidly and truthfully to the FBI. That's not very well known, but even Angle will concede that. He's a good man.

Anonymous said...

Bernie is so right on this one,
teachers on the school boards should be prohibited. It's a small step that would make a huge difference.

LVDem said...

Here's my problem with your thinking, though I do agree that there is a huge problem with ALL public pensions. But I contend that the lack of incentives extends to anybody elected to office, not just to those who have a pension rolling in.

Anyway, just last week you were talking about recruiting people to run for office. This week you are talking about dead weight serving on school boards. What gives? If somebody is qualified and capable, shouldn't they serve, regardless of previous profession? It's one thing if you are going to use this as your personal voting criteria, but quite another if you are saying that former public employees should intentionally be excluded. I would contend that this violates their rights, especially if they meet every other criteria to hold that office. The best candidates should be elected, whether they are teachers, plummers, barbers, lawyers or bus drivers. Rather than saying all public employees are dead weight, we should seek the best officials to remedy the problems facing our public pension system.

The problem of the public pension system, however, is well identified. I see two aspects at play: 1) we have too many local gov't in PA so our pensions are poorly managed 2) our elected officials in Harrisburg too often don't want to talk about this. While the local gov'ts have created most of the problems, I think we need a solution to come from Harrisburg to help remedy the problem. This would limit the ability of your dead weight to find ways to protect their pension b/c I do admit, it's a problem. I just don't think it has a local remedy.

Finally, I think there is a tendancy that I don't like. It's one that House of Crayons touched on: why are we happy to find the lowest standard of living for retirement and impose it on all people. Should we be looking for the highest standard of living for retirement and be looking to impose it on all people? I'd contend that the average Joe/Jane working on the street should be able to tap into the same high standard of living.

okay, now this is final: Bernie, you mention the three teachers that you have a problem with as elected officials. One, I find to be a very good councilman (Cusik). The other two not so good. But you've taken three people and applied the standard to the whole profession and said that b/c they are professionally affiliated they are all bad. That's just bull and I think you know it. That would be like me saying that I know three lawyers who have cheated on their wives (which I do) and therefore all lawyers shouldn't be allowed to have families b/c those three have proven to lack the integrity to be married. Come on. And I will answer the question, why are teachers so special? I'll first ask a question: have you walked into a classroom lately and tried to teach a class. I'll avoid the standard "kids don't want to learn reasoning" (b/c I think it's crap... kids want to learn) and skip straight to what a new teacher has to do to get a job. Today's new teacher must be extremely qualified and go through rigerous training. Yes, I'll admit that there are some bad teachers out there, but there are also some extremely good teachers out there, teachers that deal with crap that we don't have to deal with. Kids that come to school from the worst possible environments. Kids that come to school from the best possible environments and will use it to make life hell for a teacher. To anybody who says why are teachers so special, I'll ask them to go and teach a class for a year and come back to me and tell me if they don't feel special. I'm not a teacher, but teachers are remarkably special b/c they do this every day. Most have Master's degrees and few ever earn what they are truly worth in the private sector (their choice, but it deserves mentioning).

Please don't use the experience you have with people like Wayne Grube to say teachers aren't special. You're doing a disservice to yourself and to those that actually teach.

Bernie O'Hare said...


1) We agree about the public pensions problem. You identify hat it is poorly managed, etc., and that the solution must come from H-burg. That MUST include elimiation of a practice enabling a public employee to determine his pension basded on two or three years of service. That's outrageous.

2. I agree we need more people running for office. People who aren't teachers or otherwise sucking off the public teat. We've tried it your way too long. We have runaway spending on the schoolboards by people with no incentive to curb spending. It has to stop. Just as judges can be regulated from certain political activity, so should teachers. This is not as H/C calls it, a "prejudice." This is simple reality. I have seen it go on for too long and it has to stop before we go bankrupt. I believe legislation could be crafted in such a way to address constitutional concerns. If somone wants to run, he can quit teaching or refuse to accept a public pension. N ow don't get me wrong. I think educastion is one of our highest obligations. And unlike many, I'm not opposed to swimming pools or artificial playing surfaces. Physical education is part of our education. But we need to look at ways to cut some of the nepotism and top heavy administrations.

3) This has nothing to do w/ imposing a "lowest standard of living" on other people. When a cop decides to work OT in his final year or three years to really drive up his income and get the highest possible pension, he's milking the system. It's obscene and we ALL pay for that.

4) Just a slight correction about something, and this may just show I'm full of shit. You mention three members of council "who I have a problem with as elected officials." Actually, I don't. Grube is the hardest working member on council, and Cusick and Neiper aren't far behind. All three are dedicated public servants. I believe Neiper and Grube probably draw public pensions, but I think they earned them. But having said that, I don't think someone should work for a public entity while drawing a public pension. It's an invitation to abuse. I'll vote for a teacher, but I really think about it.

5) As far as doing a disservice to myself as well as those who teach,
I disagree. I have no problem with a teacher from the private sector sitting on a school board or in elective office. It is the inherent conflict brought about by public pensions that concerns me. I believe they have done a far greater disservice to us. Teachers are special because they have master's degress? Please. Just because someone has an education does not mean one is intelligent. I've seen a lot of well-educated idiots. Look at me. And your praise of this education seems to be some kind of concession that those who seek office must possess some "higher" qualifications I see that nowhere in the constitution.

5) My concerns are probably just a quixotic lament. Our legislature is stuffed w/ former teachers who won't be thrilled at a change like the one I suggest. And the teachers' union is very strong. But we are devolviong from democracy to some kind of ruling class.

LVDEm, Thanks for your great arguments and your point of view. I'll think about what you said. I'm throwing this out there primarily because we need to address the pensions.

LVDem said...

Silly question: do the decisions made by Norco council impact the pensions of teachers?

I think you missed my point about retired teachers... they are no longer working for the public. They should be allowed to seek elected office. I think a solution from Harrisburg would remedy some built in conflicts of interest. That's the solution we should be seeking, not excluding people who have unique qualities or experiences. I understand abuse can take place, but if we outlaw every activity that could lead to abuse, we'd have a very difficult system of government. Eliminate the potential for abuse, not the activity itself.

LVDem said...

Also, I'm saying that the higher education is part of what makes teachers qualified. Their willingness to step into a classroom every day and care about a room of 20-30 kids is what makes them special. It's so tempting to say that it's easy, but I challenge anybody to do it for a year. Perspectives change with that experience.

Finally, run away spending by school boards stems from another matter completely unrelated to the composition of the board itself. Remember how I lament about sprawl and foolish growth. Every new house built in a twp is likely to bring 2 kids that need to be educated. That's what causes run away spending. The need to actually educate more and more kids and a lack of commercial tax base to help suplement the cost of education. That, coupled with the drop in the state's stake in the total % committed to educating a child and local school boards are forced to should more and more. Poor planning and poor support from Harrisburg are the root causes of school board spending problems. Also, unfunded mandates from DC don't help much either.

I truly believe the problems you raise are not solved by the methods you proposed. This is bigger than who serves on a school board.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Retired teachers draw on a very public pension and often "know" people who somehow end up working in their school districts. But perhaps you're right. Perhaps Harrisburg will address the abuse of public pensions. And gee, I must also be imagining bonusgate. Harrisburg is taking baby steps and needs to address this NOW. This is no joke. We are going broke. Everyone is screaming about property tax reform. Looking at our school boards and public pensions goes a long way to solving the stress that property taxes have placed on those with fixed incomes.

As far as your "silly queston" is concerned, I see your point, which you make quite well. And it's true that retired teachers no longer work for the public. But they still get a public pension. It's a built in conflict.

And there is a mindset by those who draw public pensions that you just won't see in the private sector.

I think that, at the least, public employees should not be able to average their two or three highest years to determine their pensions. It leads to abuse. And we really need to take a cold and hard look at our school boards. We have too many. We do have favoritism and obscene spending. I saw county school districts trashed yesterday at KP by one or two commenters, but it's the only way to go. We need more regionalization.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem, Rampant overdevelopment is the main reason for increased taxes. Agreed. But it's not the only reason.

Once again, I'm not trashing teachers. It is a noble profession and they aren't paid enough. But that does not qualify them for public office any more than writing a blog or picking up garbage.

Anonymous said...

Gentleman your arguments are all well intended but ultimately miss the real issues of educating the youth (and older) of America. A long time ago the progressive movement took over the public sector with mixed results. The idea that all must be educated even by force has its problems but we must acknowledge the need for the population at large to have the tools of intellect to function and keep the republic going.

With that general point given the processes to a good education must come from competitive markets. The progressives have no use for true competition and logic eludes them on this issue. However, alternative ideas for public education are well known and hardly new. Milton and Rose Friedman wrote about it their widely acclaimed book “Free To Choose”. Chapter six (pages 150-188) touches on some basic points that would result in better-educated children at a far-reduced cost. And understand that competition in education is not simply putting parochial and private schools against public schools, it also places competitive standards on public verse public schools. The money should go to the winners and losers will need to just go away.

You can not simply ban people from running for public office. Engaging in political speech whether by protesting, voting or running for public office all fall under the 1st amendment and this should not be misunderstood. The double dipping and sometimes triple dipping (military pensions) are quite common. The issue should be whether public employees should be rewarded with such lavish benefits in the first place.

The quick fix the current problem is not stopping development but voting for new representatives in all levels of government. That means new school board members, new councils (local and county), new state legislatures, new federal legislatures, and a new executive. Clean house. The problems of public education are complex and made that way by political animals that like it that way. It will only be improved by changing the status quo.

A book was written in 1992 by Brian Kelly it was called “Adventures in Porkland”. With chapters like “Roll out the Barrel”, “The House that Pork Built”, and “Hog Heaven”, (the first three chapters, in all there are nineteen chapters of equal humor and horror) those who are political novices or those who need a refresher course on the American political workings will find this a real enlightenment, all be it fifteen years old (nothing has changed in Washington to date).

Liberty must be maintained regardless of the cost; “Give me liberty or give me death.” You know who said that and why, I hope.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Al, excuse me? The "progrerssive" movement took over the public sector? So I guess that Republican congress, Bush and the S court are progressives?

And no, you don't ban people from running. What you do is tell them they may not work for a school district or accept a public pension. That would pass a constitutional challenge.

Thanks for your interesting views.

LVDem said...

Bernie, I agree that the system of taking the 3 highest year's salary isn't a good system. But that's not a system wide senerio. That's part of union negociating. And I agree with you about teachers not necessarily being the best candidates. But I would contend that the voters are capable of making that determination.

Al, I can go all day with you on Milton. I agree with a couple of his points and disagree with a couple. But I would offer this up: on school choice efforts, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Philly Inquirer have both published recent reports about charter schools and private companies running schools. The findings? It's not looking so good for the private sector. Besides, education (as a product of knowledge) is considered a Public Good (in that my consumption neither prevents you from partaking or limits the availability of it) and therefore is subject to a whole different set of political economy discussions.

Now, if you want to talk about market solutions to public problems, I'd love to do so. But that would first require a widespread market based correction of goods and commodities. It would require that externalities be reflected in teh cost of doing business. For example, businesses should be forced to should the full cost of the manufacturing of their product, which would include pollution. If the true cost of business is factored into the equation, then the market becomes truly reflective and competition can be perfect. Unfortunately, in all of Friedman does absolutely nothing to talk about externalities in any of his writing. Until the Chicago School of thought can incorporate externalities and public goods into its discourse, it is an incomplete form of economic theory.

Bernie, my apologies for my monopolizing this discussion. I enjoy the give and take and think you at the very least raise some questions that deserve some very careful consideration. I just don't agree with your primary proposed solution (though we agree on the need to look at county based education systems).

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem, Love means never saying you're sorry. I want to thank you and Al for some very interesting and well-considered arguments. I already know what I think, but I love to hear from others and learn a lot from them, although I'm still an idiot. Thank goodness I'm cute.

Anonymous said...

ahhhh, nothing personal, but you aint that cte either.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Al, that's not what you were saying to me last night.

Anonymous said...

Ok maybe a little cute.

Most of the regulatory agency of the government today, both state and federal, are children of the late nineteenth century progressive movement. And both republicans and democrats have only added to them since their inception. Alcohol prohibition was backed by both parties. The conservatives and progressives (Marxist would be a better label) both agreed that the government should use force to stop you the individual from hurting yourself; even if that meant the government hurting you to accomplish that goal. A good example of this marriage of ideologies would be the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Francis Willard was president for about a decade at the end of the nineteenth century she was a sold progressive and there were many conservatives who backed the WCTU agenda. It’s worth noting that the current war on drugs is the spawn of alcohol prohibition and also is backed by both parties and both conservatives and progressives. Also the Supreme Court has done squat to reverse the last 100 years of court activism. Maybe you can pick a few cases out that appear to be constructivist in nature but in real terms there has not been any real effort by the court to restore individual autonomy as of late.

And your last point on the real topic (sorry, I have a short attention span and deviate often)

Bernie said “And no, you don't ban people from running. What you do is tell them they may not work for a school district or accept a public pension. That would pass a constitutional challenge”

I can not imagine that the court would look at the fourteenth amendment and support your contention. Equal protection when applied, as intended would never allow that type of discrimination, however, an activist court can do what ever it feels like doing so maybe you are right.

Lvdem; let me first address the example of private sector schools failing compared to public schools. As you know there are examples on both sides of this issue of success and failure. Been in a south Bronx school lately? Not real petty; and not real cheap. Incompetence can best be weeded out through competition. This is not simply an argument that is based on private verse public schools. It can and must address public verses public sector schools too. Milton stated this clearly and he was far from alone. It is also important to understand that education is a service and the idea of a “public good’ being excluded from market forces is simply not true. Everything comes with a cost, nothing is excluded. If you doubt this then there is no limit to spending on education, the sky is the limit, and with that concept we all will be living back in caves and communing with nature. Hey that may work!

Lastly, I have read and heard Milton and other free market economist address the issue of pollution or negative effects of their businesses and there is a solid consensus that accountability must be included. Where the argument may differ from the progressives is in how that accountability is effected. The progressives want it through direct regulation and punitive taxes that the government controls and spends on the collective. The classic liberals (freemarketeers as opposed to three musketeers) want the courts to intervene as arbitrators and if real damages are found then those who were affected would gain compensation. Also the word “perfect” does not apply to any economic system. In fact it probably does not apply to anything. In a nutshell there are few truths and even they can be debated.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Al, I'll only address a small part of your well-written argument. You don't think a restriction against a teacher or someone on public pension would fly. I do. It's beeen done before and has withstood constitutional challenge. People who work for the courts, even probation officers, may not get involved in politics and must resign if they wish to seek office. In some jurisdictions, that rule applies to police officers as well.

Anonymous said...

Bernie you are a great guy, cordial, polite, courteous, and wrong often. I am familiar with the cases you speak off; they are quite different from the issues you present with the teachers and pensions. The irony to the overall issue is that like you I find those who want to suck dry the government teat, repulsive. However, I have every reason to say that the court was wrong on the above issues also. Free speech means free speech. An activist court did its magic and produced new law where there was no new law. I am a strict constuctivist. If you want to change the constitution do it the old fashion way and amend it. If you do not want to amend it then live by it. And as before you are probably right; the court will find in your favor, they are progressives.