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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Nickel and Dimed

Two years ago, when it was more powerful, the local tea party demanded that Easton School District stop using Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed," as part of it curriculum for some students. Ehrenreich's tome, like the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, was yet another step along the slippery slope of socialism, they argued.

As part of a story about a year the author spent as a waitress and doing other low-skilled jobs, Ehrenreich describes how pre-employment drug tests are evaded.

Former school board candidate and dad Ronnie DelBacco has carried on this crusade, persuading school directors to place this matter on the agenda in May.

Now as most of you know, I don't like writing about school boards. But on Friday night, while having dinner with my grandson at Pizza Joe's, I saw a real example of Nickel and Dimed.

Our waitress is a Spanish teacher who's been laid off by the Catasauqua School District. Twenty-four per cent of the staff is gone, across the board. So instead of teaching children Spanish, our waitress was asking us whether we wanted cheese with our meatballs.

Because there are fewer teachers, seniors at Catty have an "opt out" program that allows them to skip their first and final classes of the day. Not enough teachers. Naturally, most love arriving late and leave early.

I always thought children were our most precious resource, but aren't they being nickel and dimed on their education?


Rich said...

Well written, couldn't agree more. You have to take it the next step though- why, in the richest country in the world, is this happening? It's policy choices, like cutting a billion a year in public education spending at the state level. Now, throwing money at problems certainly doesn't fix them, but when there are less dollars, guess what happens?

Anonymous said...

I also agree with you, However, When the State/Gov. Corbett cut spending, the first thing he cut was spending on Education.

But he was unable to find any other cuts. Think of the Specter Library that he approved, New Vehicles for him and his wife and additional perks for his friends in the legislature.

Chris Miller said...

Let's get some information on the blog. First and foremost Corbett actually raised the amount the state contributed to education in the year he took office. Ed Rendell, on the other hand, lowered the amount contributed by the state and used stimulus money for two years that was suppose to be used for shovel ready jobs. All of the school districts in the Commonwealth knew what was happening because they all got letters telling them what was going to occur. In Nazareth, when they discovered this, they got together with their teachers to write a new contract that was two years before their contract ran out. Normally the contract is written a year ahead. In Nazareth we are looking at a $69M budget this year. Keep in mind that under the current supervisor two schools were built. The new Middle School built for 1200 shudents has an enrollment of a bit over 700. The number of students continues to decline while staff goes up. The folks in the District voiced the fact that they did not want the New Middle school that cost over $55M. Meanwhile your kids are being taught "whole word" reading instead of phonics. They are in front of technology where they build the need for instant gratification and not an attention span. Visit your schools and see what is going on. Read the local papers because they have been hammering education Particularly read Esther Cepeda who writes for the Washington Post but is featured in the Express-Times. And make sure you tell fellow friends, parents and tax payers

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.

These are difficult times for public education, and this is just the beginning.

Bottom line, your GOVERNMENT screwed things up. There's blame to go all around, of course, but your teachers, parents, kids, and other school employees are LESS to blame than government intervention over the years. This did not happen over night.

The enterprise is becoming too difficult to support due to government regulations and today's archaic funding mechanism, property taxation.

1. The amount of kids labeled as Special Education has grown significantly. Your government has made it easier to be classified as such and mandated expensive requirements to deal with these kids. Early on, your suburban district would simply "farm out" such children (maybe 20 kids) to Allentown or Bethlehem. Now, you have 100-200 kids who demand special attention, maybe more. You have a boatload of professional employees you never had before.

2. Employee health insurance costs are soaring. You can thank the fear of Obamacare for that.

3. Taxing property owners NO longer reflects who actually sends kids to you schools. There is a move underway to eliminate school property taxes in favor of an slight increase in the sales tax. Jump on that.

4. The employee pension issue is NOT the troubling issue you are led to believe. First of all, over the past decade, your school tax payment benefited as the STATE and local districts reduced their payments toward the fund. The teachers RAISED theirs.

5. Investment income is currently low. This is ABSOLUTELY due to government policy.

6. Your local school board (government) took pride in NOT raising property taxes, sometimes over a period of several years. This is NOT a practical response! We do have inflation, and always will. If your property tax bill remained steady for the past 5 years, you merely dug yourself the hole you find yourself in now.

7. Your schools are involved in MANY things they were not involved in when YOU went to school. Your GOVERNMENT determined that.

8. The "ills" of the urban school districts have now spread out to you. You can thank the GOVERNMENT'S
promotion of an entitlement mentality. Section 8 housing, government handouts based on number of kids in the home, are NOT your friend.

Cutting teachers is the easy solution, BUT . . .

expect greater class sizes, stressed classrooms, less individual attention, and less young adults preparing for a profession that no longer is the "cushy" position you always thought it was.

Yes, I am biased.

Bernie, my apologies for the length of this message. Can you bandwidth handle it?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Got it, and appreciate it. I believe that when we talk about being nickel and dimed, out first consideration should always be our children's education. By the way, the laid off teacher had nothing but good things to say about the Catty school district. They really tried.

Anonymous said...

A little competition would do government schools well. Catholic schools operate on shoestring budgets and lots of fundraisers. Granted, they needn't take all comers. But they can teach government schools a lot about putting kids first when money is tight.

Anonymous said...


School district budgets have ballooned in the past decade. For instance, Allentown's has risen 85%. The main cost of any school district is personnel. The costs associated with employees have risen to unsustainable levels. The only way to balance school district budgets is to reduce costs or continue to raise taxes. Is it right to ask residents to endure another big tax increase during the worst economic times in living memory?

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.


Even in the BEST of times, personnel will be the biggest expense any school district will ever face. We are in the "people" business.

What's needed is a more realistic source of funding, and LESS government mandates.

You can help locally by reducing administrative costs, outsourcing tasks such as janitorial, cafeteria, grounds maintenance. Eliminating almost all interscholastic sports programming , halting new building construction, and selling-off school district owned real estate and acreage.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Scott, Chris, Let me start by saying that anyone serving on a school board has to be nuts. No matter what you do, you're wrong. No pay, either. But I respect both of you for your efforts.

Being a product of Catholic schools and having little experience with the public system, I won't venture to tell you what to do.

I only say, and I know you and Chris agree, that children are our most precious asset.

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD

Trying to balance the budget by cutting non employee budget items or selling assets is just not going to work. One is then forced to recognize the obvious. The truth is those who work for school districts are very expensive to employee. The funds used to pay these people come from the tax payers. These tax payers are, in general, fed up with what had been until last year the ever escalating cost of public education. I will add that the common wisdom is that they got little or no return on their investment. The truth is the public has never been more skeptical of the public education system.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

PA teachers have one of the most powerful statewide teachers unions in the country. They are a public service union and represent exactly the same ideals possessed by the Gracedale goons. They are very politically adept and elect their bosses, with whom they negotiate unsustainable contracts. Sound familiar? The union comes before the kids. Taxpayers are held in contempt. Teachers represent the same reliable voting bloc the Gracedale goons do for their political friends. FDR warned of this.

And Chris Miller should pipe down while he feigns conservative/libertarian values as he slops at the pensions trough that created the mess we're in.

And it's not just teachers. Eight redundant, bloated school district administrations exist in Northampton County alone. How about one? More money for the kids?

Bill said...

So the question is why are they wasting time on this issue? Do we not want kids to know what it is like to work service jobs if you end up in the low skill service sector.

Anonymous said...

Retired ASD teacher here.


Yes, employing people is expensive. Especially those who you require to have a 4-year degree, PLUS an additional 30 credits, AND continuing credits, beyond that, to maintain their employ.

For you to dismiss alternative staffing OUTSIDE those parameters is troubling. Your primary goal SHOULD be to team-up your kids DIRECTLY with high-quality adult mentors.

When I was employed in ASD, the district hired a slew of painters, electricians, lawnmowers, window glaziers, and even a locksmith. Don't know if that's still the case.

Why on Earth, in today's environment, do you want your taxpayers to provide full-time salaries, plus pension, to individuals who have NO direct contact with kids, and whose services are readily available on an as-needed basis, hourly?

My observation is also that ASD is VERY top-heavy with administrators. Your taxpayers can likely do with less paper pushers. Have you researched that?

I admire your acceptance of civic responsibility. I am hopeful you recognize that linking your kids DIRECTLY with adults is your most important responsibility, above all else.

Anonymous said...

Nickle & Dimed (sic) should be Nickeled and Dimed.

yumberry said...

if she was an english teacher i might get concerned

Anonymous said...

Opt out is a growing program in many High Schools. Amazing how we have austered ourselves into practically allowing kids to come and go from school because there are no classes for them to take! Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Everyone talks how the school district budgets have increased over the years...Take a LOOK at how the GOVERNORS,STATE SENATORS and LEGISLATORS Budgets have increased...EDUCATION IS NECESSARY and is a MANDATED FUNCTION OF GOVERNMENT...HAVING AN EXCESSIVE NUMBER OF STAFF, VEHICLES AND REIMBURSEMENTS ARE NOT!!!

Anonymous said...

Teabaggers aren't into the whole teachee learnee thing. Doncha ya know.

Anonymous said...

Fleabaggers waste their educations and spend their lives begging and taking too many to the chin.

Anonymous said...

Although currently I am having issues with what is happening with the catholic church. I know my two kids got a GREAT education at Notre Dame. They have great careers and right now at 10:00 they are sitting with computer in hand catching up on life because they know they have to work their butt off during the day look at 90% of the kids coming out of high school. So sad whom do I blame. I blame teachers parents and kids. I got their number. U got mine Get it together.

Anonymous said...

Wish I could access your old threads, so I could just cut and paste:

We are paying too much per unit for labor. Wages are not market driven, they are extortion driven. The extortionists have no where to go, no leverage except to take children hostage.

The subject of this thread illustrates the point perfectly. If one has nowhere to go but from being overcompensated to being "Nickled and dimed", what leverage did she have in the first place? I will guarantee you she would take her old job, in a heartbeat, for 20% less and a defined contribution retirement plan. Unfortunately, her tenured "Brothers and sisters" would rather see her "Nickled and dimed" than give up a penny of their own spoils.

The lesson here?

They eat their own.


Bernie O'Hare said...

Clem, you can. in addition to an archive, I have a search function on the blog, so that should help you find what you want.

Anonymous said...

If we replace property tax with an increased sales tax, get ready for 30% sales taxes.

Just compare the amount of money collected by the state for sales tax to the total amount of school property taxes collected in this state.

Slight increase, my butt.

Education of our children benefits EVERYBODY. The doctor you'll see for cancer treatment see some 20 years from now is a small kid in school today,the nurses who take care of you when you're in a nursing home, the workers who manufacture your cars and computers, those who build our roads and houses, those who grow and prepare your food, those who make decisions of all kinds - you want to cheat those kids of the education needed to reach their potential? Is that really the smart thing to do?

You really want to shift the burden of that funding to those least able to pay?

Let's say you make 40K now and are just getting by. What happens to you and your family when a 30% sales tax comes on - do you buy less food? Shop in thrift stores? Cut back on your medical care?

Those who have benefited the most from our educational system must be called to task. Because, seriously, this country is doomed if we decide (as Tommy Corbett apparently has) the best solution to our fiscal difficulties is to provide inferior education.

Anonymous said...

Yo Clem - and when all those folks take your magical 20% wage cut - what happens to tax revenue? Cipher that for me.

We started TWO wars and gave a tax cut at the same time. Sheer insanity and I don't give a flying baboon testicle whether you are conservative or liberal.

We have to pay as we go. If we don't get serious now and begin paying people what they are worth (as opposed to the 30 years of wage stagnation Mr Reagan foisted on us), we are all going to be learning Mandarin in 25 years.

Anonymous said...

What ids a fleabagger?

Anonymous said...

Bullshit. Cut the goddamned salaries 20%, convert the pensions, let them walk. We will hire people who want the job and will work hard to keep it. We will put them in decent and functional buildings, not taj mahal monuments to men who need to compensate because God didn't make them 6 feet tall. And we will see if we provide "inferior education".

If we are wrong, we will pony up.

But, you haven't the guts to take action, because we won't be wrong. So, you will continue to whine and tell us we aren't spending enough, even though we jumped the shark long ago.

Prove you are worth more. Prove it. Don't just bitch and say you will leave. GO! Let us deal with the fallout, Chicken Little. You can't back your bluff because there is no "there" there.


Anonymous said...

So Clem, tell us how your last campaign for a school board position went? Are you truly trying to solve this problem, or do you assume that your words are enough to fix things?

Just curious.

We have too many whiners and not enough people willing to make the effort to make a difference.


And yes, I have been involved politically both as a strategist and a candidate - so if you want to hurl a personal attack, save the arm. You'll need it for the playoffs.

Under Reibman, your county property taxes went up 78% in 8 years. What's Stoffa's record on taxes??

I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:23, you are a political expert? Is that like a professional prostitute. Whats with the Stoffa Reibman deal. What the Hell has that to do with school Taxes. That is why the county is so screwed up, you Stoffa hacks have run it into the ground. You have lived off Reibman's tax increase for even years and now the cupboard is dry.

Anonymous said...

That's right cut everything 20% and let them walk...And when they cut, they should also cut PENSIONs 20%.

This is called shared sacrifice!

Anonymous said...

2. Employee health insurance costs are soaring. You can thank the fear of Obamacare for that.

Don't be ridiculously partisan. Heatlhcare costs were skyrocketing well before Obama even dreamed of running for the Presidency.

The fact is that healthcare is an expense that is not going away and as long as we have public schools, the taxpayers will end up paying the bill. If not, who in their right mind would bother working in public education if they are shat upon even more? And remember, thousands of people work in public schools in PA who are not teachers or administrators.

And it's not just teachers. Eight redundant, bloated school district administrations exist in Northampton County alone. How about one? More money for the kids?

This is an excellent point. Allentown and Bethlehem school districts are the size of 6 or 7 of these little districts combined. Its absolutely ludicrous to be paying six figure salaries to so many people who simply went and got an Educational Leadership certificate which are a dime a dozen.

Anonymous said...

Although currently I am having issues with what is happening with the catholic church. I know my two kids got a GREAT education at Notre Dame. They have great careers and right now at 10:00 they are sitting with computer in hand catching up on life because they know they have to work their butt off during the day look at 90% of the kids coming out of high school. So sad whom do I blame. I blame teachers parents and kids. I got their number. U got mine Get it together.

The best and brightest in the public high schools far surpass the best Catholic school kids. So if we're talking about the top, there is no contest. They spend time learning physics and mathematics and not divinity.

Anonymous said...

As usual, Clem is out of his mind. He is right though that if you massively cut teacher pay and benefits, the majority of them will grin and bear it. But the problem comes 4-8 years from now when no college student in their right mind is going to choose to go into K12 teaching. Clem apparently wants the quality of teacher to go down precipitously perhaps so he can foist some nonsensical Intelligent Design curriculum down our throats.

Clem, please. You embarrass yourself with your lack of thought or analysis on just about every issue on Bernie's blog.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'd agree that for really gifted kids and for those with mental challenges, public schools are the best. For everyone else, it seems to me that Catholic schools should get the nod on the academics, and public schools should get the nod on everything else. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

We don't know because Catholic school students don't need to take the same assessments to measure their performance.

Anonymous said...

"Clem, please. You embarrass yourself with your lack of thought or analysis on just about every issue on Bernie's blog.

9:11 AM"

I've thought about and analyzed my own, and others', dealings with "teacher's and administrator's" who don't know the difference between the possessive and the plural, whose vocabulary is nowhere near as sophisticated as those they are paid to teach, who are never available outside the school day, who shove their politics down students' throats, who get gooned up and beat up 16 year old kids at football games, who have the audacity to strike when offered 3.37% annual raises in the middle of the worst economic downturn in a lifetime and, most importantly, who have yet to prove they are anywhere near the "best and brightest" at anything other than feathering their own beds.

It is you who needs to think and analyze. Test the hypothesis you hold out as fact: We will lose those "best and brightest" and no one will seek out the profession if we scale back expenses to meet market demand.

Like I said, let's try a different approach. If we are wrong, we go back to the shakedown and, with proof you are right, probably end up paying more. Which, by the way, would be worth it IF you are right.

You can't risk it. Your whole smokescreen will be blown away. Even the dupes you've scared into thinking they must pay, or the world will end, will see you for the sham you are.