Friday, August 15, 2008

Teachers united against reality

From the 18 August 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Property taxes are out of control in New York State. I live in an old farmhouse on 5 acres of land in rural Niagara County. Last year, I paid $2,712 in county and local taxes and another $2,910 in school taxes. That’s 17% more than I had paid for the same only 3 years earlier.

That’s why I - like most others employed in the private sector - am delighted with the State’s proposal to cap these taxes. Were Governor Paterson and the State Senate to have their way the year-to-year growth of these taxes would never exceed the lesser of 4% overall or 120% of the rate of inflation (which from 1997 to 2007 averaged only 2.57%). It’s nowhere near a perfect solution (downsizing is), but, it’s a start. Capping tax expansion would cause elected officials and school boards to do something quite foreign to many of them; that is, operate reasonably within their (our) means. It might even force their hand in abandoning wasteful programs, assets and personnel. In the end, that just might bring businesses and people back to New York. And, those who do live here now might live better lives.

Despite the chance for a better tomorrow, there are some very powerful people who hate the concept and want nothing to do with it, obviously reliant on escalating public revenues: Our teachers.

Most teachers are good people, mind you, and singularly, they, too, want reasonable government expenditures. After all, they live in the same land of high taxes. But, beyond that, a majority of teachers really do care greatly for the well-being of the children they teach, that well-being including the financial health of the children’s families.

Even so, taken collectively, teachers can be associated with a mob mentality that is strongly –and wrongfully - skewed against the families of this state. 600,000 of them, working or retired, are part of the 1,200 local unions that comprise the New York State United Teachers, the most powerful and influential lobbying union in the State.

The teachers union is supposed to represent the best interests of each and every one of its teachers and professors and, if it really does, you can’t help but wonder whose side the teachers are really on (solely theirs or all of ours?), especially since the union has come out guns-a-blazing against the tax cap. Inordinate amounts of ads, press releases, and lobbying have become the norm for the NYSUT, with president Dick Iannuzzi constantly saying that the children of New York will suffer because of the cuts to education associated with the cap. It’s obvious he wants your money.

What the teachers union fails to see is that money does not a good education make. If anything, New York’s kids are the poster children for that statement. We pay far and away the most in the USA at almost $15,000 per pupil per year and we get very pitiful results: We rank forty-third in graduation rates and those who do graduate have SAT scores well below the national average. Considering that, globally, the US ranks twentieth in science and twenty-fifth in math, one can’t help but shudder when realizing how far behind the rest of the world New Yorkers are. As indicated earlier, a tax cap might be the remedy for this, causing the education system to look within and reinvent itself while leaving more money at home, bettering the social and fiscal health of its students.

But, this difficult yet meaningful path is not what the NYSUT wants. It even went as far as to pull its coveted endorsements from the 38 senators who voted for the tax cap. That sent a shocking message throughout Albany, the Union basically telling the elected officials who’s the boss. Without the campaign cash and campaigners from a pool of 600,000 influential people, a lot of the incumbents – many of whom are “status quo” officials who long supported the NYSUT - will face unexpectedly-difficult races, perhaps being replaced with someone even more sympathetic to the Union’s needs. If that happens, look out! You think you’re paying a lot now to put every kid in the neighborhood through school? Just wait.

So, now, as the State and its residents weather the current financial crises at the same time the teachers enjoy the last few days of their lengthy NYSUT-maintained Summer vacations, I’m left wondering: How can any teacher who’s true to his or her higher calling maintain allegiance to an organization as vile as NYSUT, one that would just as soon steal food from the mouths of the very children that teacher is supposed to protect?

I know most of them are better than that. And, it’s time they showed it.

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