Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Teachers

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Although that Shakesperean one-liner is loved by lawyer-bashers far and wide, it was actually made by an anarchist who thought pesky lawyers might get in the way.

I have at least one reader who sings a similar refrain about teachers. They do infest most levels of government. It's thanks to them that we're going to see a dramatic increase in pension costs. Although not exactly advocating that we kill them, he does think we should stop electing them.

But that's the problem. They win elections. Ron Angle and Rich Grucela both tell me that whenever they went anywhere with Wayne Grube, they'd be mobbed by people he coached or taught. He was always top vote getter in Northampton County. Now it's Peg Ferraro, who made her mark as a teacher in Nazareth schools.

Here's his argument:

""One of the most pressing issues - if not THE pressing issue - is the coming SERS/PSERS pension crisis. It is not an attack on teachers to state that you believe they will not be objective and prepared to make the hard decisions necessary and required by the public. Someone eligible for multiple public pensions should be fair game, as they are part of the problem, and the last thing we should want is a rooster in the henhouse.

"At best, they can abstain, but that seat is needed for someone who will undertake the mission of serious reform which can only originate in Harrisburg.


"There is ample evidence that [teachers] have little empathy for anyone outside their world.

"I have seen non-public unions agree to concessions to save their company and their jobs. I have not seen that from the PSEA. Take a look at Saucon Valley. Their idea of concession is an annual raise in excess of three percent. Any attempt, ANY attempt to get a handle on the unsustainable expense of teacher compensation is met with the predictable "You don't care about your kids", "The best and brightest will leave" "If you don't pay, we'll go on strike" and other Chicken Little nonsense that would get your ass thrown out the door anywhere else.

"And how do they get away with it? Because their right to strike -to use children as economic human shields- is guaranteed by statute. While other unions have that same guarantee, in the end, private sector unions always face the possibility that the business will simply close up shop. Not so in the world of public education. Their right of entitlement has been purchased by the PSEA with their support of those in the state legislature. When they get their own in, they won't even have to buy the vote anymore."

What do you think? Is it fair to make this sweeping condemnation of teachers as a group? If we refuse to elect teachers, won't we just end up with more lawyers? Where will it end?


Anonymous said...

The performance of elected teachers is why the county and local school districts are fiscal disasters. They are teachers. Their core skill set is to get raises and collect pensions. Grucela is a zen master. If we want fiscal responsibility, we should elect accountants.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday you complained that someone on school time is posting. That is an abuse of time in school and shouldn't be done. Frank Scagliotta is using school time in this election, with help from Rich, and thats not right either.

Ty Webb said...

The PSERS is fast becoming insolvent and will fail. That means that public educators, who were perfectly capable of saving for their retirement through a defined contribution plan (IRA), WHICH THEY OWN AND CONTROL, will be left with little or no retirement income. Teachers refuse (and have refused) attempts to save the system, such as freezing the PSERS plan and creating defined contribution plan options.

Teachers, you are responsible for your retirement fate.

Anonymous said...

And those who double dip are twice as much to blame. Just plain geedy!

Anonymous said...

GREEDY, sorry

Anonymous said...

Teachers are not greedy.

Just better than you and more entitled.

Their union says so.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Let's seperate the two matters:
-Are teachers capable of serving in elected positions? YES, if elected. This would be the answer for anybody elected for office.

-Is the system of public pensions broken? Yes. This is the same answer for any pension system.

I find the nastiness just horrible. Any world view that says teachers' only skills are to get raises and collect pensions ignores what teachers are trained to do: TEACH.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Frank Scagliotta is using school time in this election, with help from Rich, and thats not right either"

Do you have any evidence of this or would you just prefer to make wild accusations to help union pal Dertinger?

That's another reason i don't like him. His campaigns are always ugly.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'd agree that teaching is a noble profession. I generally respect teachers, including teachers who are elected to public office. But I thought I'd cast a light on this undercurrent of resentment against them. Don't know how strong it is, but it's there.

Jon Geeting said...

The pension crisis for teachers and civil service employees is the direct result of political hostility that keeps their take-home pay far too low (talking about average teachers, not long-serving ones who get higher pay), creating pressure to give them raises in the form of more generous deferred compensation like defined benefit plans. The right approach is to stop being babies about raising their salaries so they can afford to pay into a defined contribution plan.

As to the idea that teachers should be barred from holding public office, that is pure anti-intellectual drivel. Teachers, whose job it is to break down complicated issues and explain them to people who don't yet understand them, have precisely the qualities that we should want in politicians. The group that actually needs much less representation in the legislature is the business class - especially wealthy self-funders and retired people.

Bernie O'Hare said...

And so we go from one extreme to the next.

Anonymous said...

@ 10:22 -

The post questions whether we should elect them, not whether they have the right to hold office.

As for your point about "having" to provide defined benefit pension plans, we don't have to do anything. In public education, the labor market has not been able to function naturally. The system is artifically sustained by the Legislature.

Again, let the best and brightest walk if they are not happy with what the public can afford in terms of all elements of educator compensation. We will learn, quickly enough, if they are the rocket scientists you claim and will run off to greater prosperity elsewhere, and if the market truly requires us to pay more to get the results we want. My sense is, if that proved to be the case, we would pony up. But we would do so based on information and experience, not as a reaction to codified fear-mongering and extortion.

Trying to reduce the debate on responsible spending for public services to anti-intellectual bias is typical leftomatic reaction. Similarly, if we didn't vote for Obama, we have to be racist, right?

I have no interest in embarrasing individuals, but I have encountered enough "Intellectuals" in the public school system who can barely log on to their email and who don't know how to use an apostrophe, to conclude that they are hardly the intellectual elite. I've met my share of bright educators as well, but nothing that would lead me to believe they are above and beyond, or more deserving, than those who provide for them.

If you need proof of the selfish attitude a public educator would take to Harrisburg, you need look no futher than Easton. They would rather watch 70 of their own sent to the unemployment line than simply accept a freeze. If you'll eat your own to save yourself, you have no business in public service, though today that characteristic seems to be a BFOQ.

Anonymous said...

7:13 am and Bernie 9:56 am. The proof if you will believe it: Rich Grucela spent at least one class period this semester at the high school in franks class. They sat in the back of the room with their heads together. he had the class watch a film. Ask Rich if you know him so well. this is fact

Anonymous said...

Why do you assume every criticism of Scag is done by a Dertinger supporter? Your hate for him over rides your senses.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:28, Geeting would rather have needles driven into his eyeballs than agree that a market can solve anything, because that implies that ordinary people don't need his ilk to make their basic decisions

Anonymous said...

Why do I have to pay their pension when I don't have one??? Let them do it on their own the are the ones who screwed up. They work 9 months a year and cry 12 months long.

Chris Casey said...

My 30 year old niece is a special ed teacher at Raub middle School in A-town. I would really prefer she not be harmed. The problem in education is priorities.
My niece buys school supplies for some of her kids with her own money. Bill White had a good column today about societies' priorirties. My question is, why do we spend millions for athletic facilities instead of text books?
We need a hell of a lot more kids who can add and subtract than we need kids who can catch a fade pass in the endzone. We need kids who can communicate in proper English more than we need kids who can crossover dribble.
We do our children a disservice by emphasizing excellence in activities that do not prepare them adequately for life in the real world.
Why do we put so much funding into activities that offer little training for job skills in the real world at the expense of the educational ones that do?
Make all sports club sports and don't fund them with public money. Schools were founded to educate our children, not entertain and occupy them, yet that is what they have become.
We need to rethink what our priorities are.
One last shot, in ASD there is a ratio of one administrator for every three teachers. Am I wrong to think that is far too many?

I believe teachers who actually teach deserve what they get, but clean out all the administrators and coaches and get back to business.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"7:13 am and Bernie 9:56 am. The proof if you will believe it: Rich Grucela spent at least one class period this semester at the high school in franks class."

I see that the Dertinger camp is wasting no time playing dirty. Maybe you can send out KKK brochures, like you did against Angle.

This anonymous claim means nothing.

Rich is a state rep. who sits on the education committee. I do not believe that his decision to drop in on one class is proof of anything, assuming it is even true. It may very well have been related to something connected to his job in Harrisburg.

"Why do you assume every criticism of Scag is done by a Dertinger supporter?"

Two reasons. First, it's Dertinger's style to play dirty. Second, Scagliotta has only one opponent, who happens to be Dertinger.

Whethervain said...

Gotta watch myself here; got two folks in the family who are in the teaching profession: one Catholic/one public.

When the Parkland School District went on strike a few years back, I sent this LTE (to the Morning Call).

"Glad that the Parkland strike was resolved Wednesday evening. You see, my wife teaches in the Allentown Diocese. She was beginning to think that she might start devoting some time providing humanitarian advice to the Parkland union members on how to function on their PRE-strike income levels. She considers herself to be an excellent teacher too but yet manages on a salary that is probably 40% less than her public school counterparts!

Yeah, I don't think our church congregations could keep their rosaries untangled if they saw the Catholic teachers salaries rise to the figures seen in the public sector. I've always wondered how our private schools turn out such good students too!

Must be a miracle!" --end of LTE--
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yes, it was my wife's choice to teach where she did and accept the remuneration that was offered. Yes, the sports offerings are a little (a lot?) leaner than that our of public schools. Yes, the private schools can more easily expel the diciplinary-problem-kids that must be dealt with in our public schools(either in the school or in some other tax-inflating special program).

And now she's retired after 23 years; her monthly (non-publically funded) pension is a paltry $227/month. But she was always about teaching & the 3 "R's". BTW, she also bought things for her classroom out of her own pocket too! It's called DEDICATION with a little bit of SELF-SACRIFICE blended in.

I'm tired of paying taxes for our Taj Mahal schools, elaborate sports infrastructures and handsomely paid teachers who have guaranteed pensions (while holding a legislative gun to our heads!) and produce students who generally fall short of acceptable achievement levels.

...or even know how to make proper change at a cash register.

Larry Kisslinger said...

When I was campaigning for BASD board position in 1988, teacher Union President advised me during a private meeting what I needed to know and understend if I won a seat. He said I should think of BASD as a plane where he and his members were pilots and I would only be a passenger! I told him he was sadly mistake in my case and hopefully with all board members. I won and then argued with some, winning many times, for taxpayer savings but not nearly enough to suit me. I tried but with Union demands, ever shrinking state funding, unfunded state mandates and other such nonsense is very difficult to change things for the better. What to do? Four years of that crap was plenty enough for me. go figure. www.kisslinger.com

Anonymous said...

The PSERS is fast becoming insolvent and will fail. That means that public educators, who were perfectly capable of saving for their retirement through a defined contribution plan (IRA), WHICH THEY OWN AND CONTROL, will be left with little or no retirement income. Teachers refuse (and have refused) attempts to save the system, such as freezing the PSERS plan and creating defined contribution plan options.

Teachers, you are responsible for your retirement fate.

Not everyone in PSERS is a teacher. And PSESRS was perfectly fine 5-10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Jon Geeting is the blogger who posted that PA PSERS participants get their pension with no contributions. He refused to post a retraction of the lie. I wouldn't take anything he posts seriously on the topic. A source of news actually researches and willingly posts corrections.

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.

Teacher-bashing has always been one of America's favorite pastimes. I'm not surprised to read such negativity and misinformation here.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal did a piece on projected public pension shortfalls in about a dozen states. Most experts agreed public pensions are considered to be adequately funded at 80% of current obligations. Pennsylvania's situation was better than most at about 78%.

The time value of money has always been cyclical. I'm not ready to proclaim the sky is falling. Certainly, some changes should be made for new employees.

Please keep in mind, PSERS pensions were designed to be funded by three equal contributors, the state, the local district, and the employee. Teachers DO contribute into their own pension annuity. Right now, the teacher portion has been increased to about 7.5% of salary.

The state and local districts however, have frequently LOWERED their own contributions, particularly during the past decade. Had all three contributors remained equally invested, today's shortfall would be less a problem.

Also know, your taxes no longer pay for CURRENT retirees (like me). Upon retirement, each employee's account is frozen,then converted like a typical annunity and paid out, mostly monthly.

I see no reason why the Pennsylvania system would actually fail. I do see a need for contributions into the system to once again be equalized and of course, for the economy to rebound. It will.

Anonymous said...

"If you need proof of the selfish attitude a public educator would take to Harrisburg, you need look no futher than Easton. They would rather watch 70 of their own sent to the unemployment line than simply accept a freeze. If you'll eat your own to save yourself, you have no business in public service, though today that characteristic seems to be a BFOQ."


Bernie O'Hare said...

Retired ASD, As you know, I tend to admire teachers, an the purpose of this post is to discuss the undercurrent of resentment I have been sensing.

Anonymous said...

Bernie there is an undercurrent against all public employees. Sadly, I think some political pundits and those in the private sector know people love to have a villain to blame for all their problems. With the fraud known as 401K's foisted on the American public, defined benefit pensions were tossed aside for most private sector employees. The defined contribution, which was actually created in the 80's as a device for wealthy corporate executives to shield some of their big dollars from taxes, was never really a meaningful tool for low and average wage folks to save for retirement.

So today we have the string holders getting average folks to battle each other over the crumbs. That is the way it has always been and probably always will be until people wise up, read some history and learn to understand power and why Horatio Alger was a nice story but not much else.

As to your claim about Dertinger, I agree that you do tend to generalize. I remember during the Executive race you would blame candidates and their followers for negative posts. The problem is you are so predictable with that behavior that if I was a supporter of a guy you like it would be easy to do a troll attack anonymously on my guy just so you would start to hammer the other guy. I think you really need to consider if you are being played some times.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:26,

Excellent comment. I sense that undercurrent, and even feel it with some county union members who have been too greedy. But for every one of them, there are at leat 15 who are not like that at all.

As far as being played is concerned, it's possible. You have a good point. But I have been specifically warned by some friends that Dertinger and Long long ago coralled a group of people to post hateful comments here. Even John Stoffa, who would not hurt a fly, has been victimized with information that is actually false. Dertinger is known for dirty campaigning, and has said some vicious things about me during public meetings. So I do have a rational basis for believing that the source of a lot of this stuff is the LongDems.

I have no idea whther the Grucela hater is part of Team Dertinger or the LongDems. I have pointed out he posts from the Pen Argyl area, using a Germantown, NY, school district host. That's all I know.

Anonymous said...

Retired -

Next time, I shall simply sit back and wait for your rationalization.

-We just need everyone to put more money in.

-There ought to be changes for new people, don't touch mine.

-Hey, we're underfunded (thanks to the evil taxpayers who have been bad little boys and girls, failing to contribute their "fair share" of state taxes, and then again in district real estate taxes), but we suck less.

No way I could make a better case for never electing someone who has fed from the trough.

Unknown said...

Teaching is an honorable profession,this is why the Far Eastern countries value and reward teachers, and whose kids are kicking our collective butts academically speaking?

Coincidence? I think not?

Nobody likes lawyers until they need one, but everyone need teachers, at least enpowered and encouraged professionals.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I agree whole heartedly with your global assessment of teachers. There is a rub though. While I posted my defense of public employees at 9:26, I must also add many american teachers shoot themselves in the foot with the public.

One thing almost all of us have in common is we went to school and had teachers. My experience was that many were conscientious and hard working. Of those some really worked to be proficient in their field but sadly many just did an average job. Some teachers were absolute nightmares and should have been sent packing. This is why the tenure laws and the strong teachers unions are a big reason people are down on teachers. The unions resist attempts at reform and outcome based pay bonuses. Their position is one for all and all for one. They also complain that Administrators will punish people they don't like. That is how it is in America. Even hospital Administrators can dump doctors for Christ sake. If the grounds are unfounded sue.

The point is the teacher is either a professional or they are not. The teachers unions are seen as reinforcing the view that the teaching profession has become the refuge of the sub par student. It is also well known that nepotism is rampant in the hiring of teachers. Check out all the relatives working in schools in the Lehigh Valley. Many on the same school district.

I know many parents who would be willing to pay excellent teachers $60 to $80,000 a year and more but first the teachers must clean up their act. Stop crying about being judged and accept that their are shitty teachers and they have to go.

Frankly the fate of teachers is and has been in the hands of teachers for some time.

Unknown said...

You make many valid points, and I often wonder why the caliber of teaching hasn't improved since the days of "avoiding the draft" are long over.

Anonymous said...

Bernie O'Hare said:

"I sense that undercurrent, and even feel it with some county union members who have been too greedy. But for every one of them, there are at leat(sic) 15 who are not like that at all."


Bernie -

I tend to agree that most teachers (or policemen, or firemen) I've come across are not like the union thugs that represent them.

However, at what point do you finally hold a "good" teacher (fireman, policeman) accountable for the actions of the organization they belong to?

If I were to pay monthly dues to the KKK in exchange for them bargaining a good deal for me, would you still look at me as a "good" person? Or would you wonder how I could ever belong to such a group?

Someone is electing the union leaders and authorizing their actions - and it ain't the taxpayers. Teachers should be held accountable for the actions of their leadership.

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.

It might interest you to know, public school teachers in Pennsylvania are ALMOST forced to join the NEA and PSEA.

Several years ago, the PSEA bargained the right to charge all non dues paying teachers 95% of the established union dues, even if they choose NOT to participate!

That device was called something like "fair share." The Allentown School Board actually agreed to an arrangement that effectively unionized all of its teachers. Go figure.

For the extra $75 to become a "real" dues-paying member, the teacher would receive professional liability insurance and legal representation. Because PSEA found a way to effectively FORCE all to participate, many (like me) decided to take the added protection since we would pay 95% anyway.

For those who remember "bad" teachers from their student days, I can only say you must have been quite knowledgeable about the profession at a very young age.

There were several teachers I didn't like as a student. If they were truly professionally deficient, there was, and still is a means to remove them. The principal evaluates everyone throughout the year and has the ability to repeatedly find the individual unsatisfactory, leading to removal.

The concept of tenure makes the process difficult, however. The unsatisfactory finding will be challenged and the supervisor must demonstrate continued efforts to work with the employee to develop better skills.

Tenure does NOT make it impossible to remove a teacher, it just makes it difficult in certain circumstances.

I believe tenure protection is needed to protect employees from frivolous dismissal. An example would be removing an otherwise good math teacher to make room for a new football coach, or maybe the niece of a school board member.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Tenure is a ludicrous concept in public K-12 education.

The hiring or firing of any teacher must be first recommended by the administration AND voted on in the majority by the school board. To use an example of a math teacher getting fired to be replaced by a football coach is silly. And if it was done, that's what elections are for.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether PSEA has too much political power, the fact is that the pension crisis has been caused not by teachers and other public employees but by the deliberate refusal of school boards and governmental employers to live up to the agreements they made through a process of collective bargaining to contribute to the various pension funds of employees who, in many cases, have been making their own contributions.

Stop electing people who tell you that you can get all the services you want that are delivered by public sector workers, cops, teachers, firemen, EMT, state workers etc.,and not have to pay taxes for it.

Better yet stop electing people who tell you that you can get all that AND they will cut your taxes.

In short, get real people!

Anonymous said...

...but by the deliberate refusal of school boards and governmental employers to live up to the agreements they made through a process of collective bargaining

I think you mean:

"School boards and governmental bodies, bought and paid for by the PSEA and AFSCME, who made agreements they couldn't possibly live up to, knowing full well that parents will just take the schtuping rather than allow the extortionists to use their children as hostages in collective bargaining."

Anonymous said...

As a teacher I'd like to commend those who sought a responsible and respectable discussion. There are some in here who seem so plain ignorant of the issues, that addressing their comments would be sanctioning their ignorance. First, I agree the teachers union has shot itself in the foot. Tenure is unnecessary and there are some people who should not be teaching. Perform or be replaced. Second, comparing the performance of public schools with private is comparing apples and oranges. Many differences but the key one is they can pick and choose their students, public schools cannot. Believe me, that is a big difference. Third, people mention that more money has been spent on education in past decades and yet we have not seen the results. Are we overpaying teachers? That can be debated endlessly, but what they fail to correlate is that while spending has increased, so has the level of government regulation and interference. No right winger seems to mention that one even though they are usually espousing less government control. Wait, didn't George Bush give us no child left behind....hmmm how ironic. Wait didn't George Bush push for the Patriot act, an act violating our Constitutional liberties?

Before you jump to conclusions, no I am not a liberal, and I even voted for Bush in 2000....regrettably. Actually I am a libertarian of the Austrian School and teach economics in a public school....now that is ironic. But regarding the pension crisis, this is not the fault of the teachers...at least directly. The legislature, the politicians YOU elected reduced the requirement school districts pay into the fund in order to give US tax breaks. This goes back to Tom Ridge when they even increased the multiplier. Republicans look in the mirror please. Rendell simply kicked the can down the road, so Democrats look in the mirror as well. Now some of those cuts have to be paid for, in addition to the failure of the fund's investments to perform as expected. The fundamental problem with the pension plans is investment contribution is based on an 8% return, when all private plans use the AAA corporate bond rate of return which is 4.9%. This was easy to achieve in the 90s, but they were abnormal bubble times. To make that return they had to seek riskier investments and that is not something you want in a pension plan. Wait, who said this was possible? I don't hear you....what was that? ACCOUNTANTS YOU SAY? Wasn't that the suggestion of one responder? Sorry, i fell off my chair. The people who have brought us CDOs, derivatives and all those other fancy financial instruments that have created much of this current mess should be our elected leaders? Wow buddy, don't want to live in that country. Getting back to the pension, the fix is to reduce this expected rate of return on investments to be on par with the private sector. Yes, that means a haircut for all involved, myself included. I doubt if the state union would accept that. Not all teachers buy into their politics. I refuse to donate to their PAC. In my opinion it shouldn't be their function. I believe there is no need for a state union to be engaged in politics; instead, all teachers unions should be local, ultimately accountable to their tax payers. I believe as a group you have a right to bargain collectively if you so desire, but as public employees, you have no right to strike. And believe me, I would prefer an open market for my salary. It's taken me 20 years to finally make what I consider a decent salary, something a drug peddler [pharm rep] was making in the 90s. And yes I have a BA and MA and neither are in education, they are both in my field. If you want less government vote Libertarian, not Democrat or Republican.