Not Cease from Exploration

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Striking Scranton Teachers

I had commented on a posting in Mike Sporer's blog Fresh Perspectives (link to that content HERE) related to the Scranton Teacher's strike.  Technical difficulties apparently made that comment null, void and nonexistent, but I did promise Mike a re-post.  In the finest of blogging traditions, I'll do my best to re-create that comment here (in other words, I'll also manage to milk a posting out of this...).


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Disclaimer:  I'll note that my ex-wife is a teacher in the Scranton School District and my oldest daughter is a teacher in a charter school in New York City.

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Regarding the striking Scranton teachers and the grossly incompetent school board that they are at odds with, well, there is plenty of blame to go around.

First, the word you hear shouted most loudly by the teachers is "Respect" (cue Aretha Franklin), but it's not a lack of respect that's at the heart of this labor dispute, it's money.  In the world of public union public relations, "respect" lends a more sympathetic ear than "cash".  Now I'm not faulting the teachers for wanting more money, as no one should be effectively forced to work for less each year*, but I am saying that there's just a bit of message manipulation going on as this labor dispute plays out, and people by the droves are falling for it.  Then again, many of these same people though actually elected the school board members that helped cause this mess in the first place.  I'm also thinking that Scranton's taxpayers won't like how "respect" ends up being reflected in their already too high tax bills.

Second, as a person who knows a word or two of the English language, I am truly tested to come up with words to describe the level of gross incompetence on display by the Scranton School Board.  Did the board president actually think that he could hire this 80th cousin, thrice removed, (or however he managed to down-play that relationship) as the district Superintendent, give her a contract with automatic raises and then tell other district employees "well, sorry, we don't have any money for you to get automatic raises"?  At a bare minimum, the district should be offering other district employees some kind of parity with the new Superintendent when it comes to annual compensation changes.  Had "Cousin Cy" negotiated a truly performance-based compensation system for the Superintendent, you know...one where raises have to be earned...the district would be in a better bargaining position.  But that's wishful thinking.  Also, the fact that the district has a nasty habit of...

a) Hiring relatives like it's some kind of Duggar family business
b) Spending money foolishly (such 300% excessive bus contracts)
c) Poorly prioritizing spending (Old textbooks?  That's okay, as the stadium has new turf!)

...only lends fuel to the argument made that they simply don't know what the heck they are doing.

Third, the entire labor-management system for public education in Pennsylvania is tragically broken.  Teachers, if they truly view themselves as professionals (and they are professionals by the way) should not be able to strike.  When was the last time you heard of striking doctors or lawyers?  Ponder that one for a moment.  Anyway, I do also believe though that teachers need protection from grossly incompetent local school boards, so the structural solution to this mess should be a state-wide collective bargaining agreement that would cover all of Pennsylvania's teachers.  The contract should have salary bands to reflect differences in the cost of living by location, but otherwise provide a level playing field for educational professionals.  It would also take the hacks...I mean local school boards...out of the business of negotiating contracts.

Lastly, the blame for this mess mostly falls to the feet of the about 20-30% of Scranton's voters who actually show up to the polls.  They voted for the current school board, putting connections, political affiliation and the right sounding ethnic last names ahead of actual qualifications.  Yes, only in Scranton would someone who looks like he's 15 but just happens to have the name "Robert Casey" be elected to help manage a 10,000 student educational system.




(*) Not getting a raise = working for less when you factor in inflation.


1 comment:

Mike Sporer said...

Hey Steve!

You are correct, leveraging the "lack of respect" line translates to money. The union does a great job of pushing propaganda such as that, and much of what the union pushes is a distortion of fact.

This school board is politically motivated. Hiring a Superintendent with no experience at the negotiating table at a premium salary was a mistake. Her automatic raises are crazy as she has no prior record as a Superintendent. The busing contract issue is a giant act of politics and wasteful spending. And there is much more.

That being said, when I look at our lackluster educational system as a whole, there are glaring issues. It starts with the mentality of high stakes testing, and the culture of education is one in which teachers have too little input into educating students. In other developed countries, teachers have more autonomy in the classroom. Higher education in those countries does things differently with relation to educating teachers as well. Systems, processes and politics all play a part in these issues.

So this new Superintendent with no negotiating experience comes to Scranton and meets Mrs. Boland. If I were a union member, Mrs. Boland is exactly who I would want fighting for me. The woman covers all the bases and comes in hard. In the process, facts do get a bit distorted for purposes of union leverage. This board, however, gives her plenty of ammunition.

In the final analysis, I feel that unions are the last hope for the middle class.

Read some of Diane Ravitch's work. Very insightful.

Mike