Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Teachers as Employers

We hear plenty from the community of teachers about how school funding is screwed up, how school districts are mismanaged, and how teachers are underpaid. It might be worth weighing those statements against the example teachers set as managers of their own affairs.
For example, the Nov 29, 2008 edition of The Columbus Dispatch ran a story titled "Teacher's union pay a surprise to many." When I first saw that headline, my assumption was that this story would be about the way teachers are paid, and was excited to have the Dispatch take some interest in this topic.
The subject was actually much more interesting: the pay given to the headquarters employees of the Ohio Education Association, the state-level organization of Ohio teacher's union (i.e. the Hilliard Education Association – the union representing Hilliard teachers – is an affiliate of the OEA). It seems that while average teacher pay in Ohio decreased last year, nearly half of the OEA staff is paid more than $100,000 per year. This was a surprise to the head of the Lima teachers' union - which signed a no-increase contract this year - who said "classroom teachers have a problem with any management person making six figures."
If that is so, how did it happen that so many OEA staffers are making six figures? Don't the teachers set the salaries for the employees of their own union? Why do they willingly pay nearly $500/yr in OEA dues, then turn around and complain about how much their own union leaders are paid?
Let's also take a look at the oversight of the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS).
STRS is an organization chartered by state law (ORC 3307) to collect, invest, and disburse retirement benefits to retired Ohio public school teachers. It is one of the largest pension funds in the country, having assets of $80 billion as of June 30, 2007.
Ohio law also gives some guidance as to the way the contributions to the retirement fund should be invested:
"The board shall have full power to invest the funds. The board and other fiduciaries shall discharge their duties with respect to the funds solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries; for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries and defraying reasonable expenses of administering the system; with care, skill, prudence, and diligence under the circumstances then prevailing that a prudent person acting in a like capacity and familiar with these matters would use in the conduct of an enterprise of a like character and with like aims; and by diversifying the investments of the system so as to minimize the risk of large losses, unless under the circumstances it is clearly prudent not to do so.." (ORC 3307.15)
Nonetheless, the members of STRS – active and retired Ohio public school teachers – sat back and allowed their Board and investment managers to expose them to a level of risk which has reportedly led to a decline in value of the STRS pension fund by more than 20% in the last year alone (to $54.5 billion). But that's not all. In spite of this massive loss, the STRS investment managers are being paid substantial bonuses. STRS members like Kathy Bracy are shouting in outrage that this was allowed to happen (both the loss and the bonuses).
It's not the first time apparently. In 2003, the same situation occurred, although I suspect the losses were not so substantial.
At least one STRS member understands the root cause of all this: ignorance and apathy - and maybe a little greed - on the part of their membership. RHJones writes that "the indifference should cease" in regard to teachers involvement in oversight of the STRS.
I wonder how much the rank-and-file teachers themselves understand about school funding, investing, or how to carry out the leadership and management of a large enterprise. The evidence is that the answer is 'not much,' and they aren't all that interested in learning about it or being involved with it either. They have sure made a mess of both their own union and their own retirement system. This can't be blamed on school district administrators, the lawmakers or the general public.
Maybe it's time for all the parties involved in public education (teachers, administrators, school boards, politicians, private citizens) to quit blaming each other, and do a little introspection: 
  • What are your true motivations? What is your hidden agenda?
  • Who is supposed to be representing your interests?  How closely do you monitor their actions? 
  • Is it really all about the kids, or all about you?


  1. Not sure the point of this post. The "teaching" part of our society is no more or less apathetic than the "non-teaching" portion of our society. WE, the community, have spent the past three months talking about how we got the wool pulled over us by people we elected. How is this different?

    I would imagine most individuals have no idea how much their investment managers make, and most union members have no idea how much their state/national leaders make.

    Doesn't make it right, but it also doesn't make teacher terrible people. Your questions at the end of this post make me question YOUR motivations.

    I am a teacher, and it is ALL about the kids. Most people I work with feel the same way. I'm tired of being lumped in with the lowest common denominator of my profession. How would YOU like to be compared with the big guys at Enron or Worldcom?? One rotten apple does not a bad bushel make. How much the folks at OEA make is so far down on my priority list it doesn't even register. Perhaps that makes me a...well, I don't know what that makes me, but you seem to think it makes me something bad.

    I wish people realized that there are good and bad in ALL aspects of life. Not all priests are pedophiles. Not all athletes are self-absorbed monsters. Not all web bloggers are losers with too much free time. And not all teachers are bad people with sinister and selfish motivations.

    I wish I knew where the jealousy and hatred of teachers comes from. First they are selfish and only care about themselves, not at all about the kids (RE: negotations). Now they can't even manage their own retirement and union. It is a wonder we allow them in the classroom really.

    How is this segment of the population different than any other?

  2. Musicman:

    Your points are fair and valid, and I apologize for offending you.

    But the truth is that governance of your profession is in the hands of very few who aren't necessarily looking out for the wellbeing of you, your students, or the community. Their actions are going to cost me and everyone else in our community a lot of money, and I doubt that it will result in a better experience for our kids.

    That came crystal clear for me when the HEA leadership showed that it was more interested in preserving their pay and benefits than they were sacrificing a little to keep as many of their junior members as possible employed.

    That's who this post was aimed at, but then I think you'd have to admit that those folks wouldn't be in power if most of the membership wasn't apathetic to such matters.

    And you're right, the teachers' unions aren't any more apathetic than the American population in general.

    But that's not anything to feel good about.


    ps - I was one of the executives at Worldcom - fortunately one layer removed from Bernie Ebbers...

  3. Musicman, I do not think there is any "hatred" expressed for and against the teaching profession.

    What we are experiencing in the Hilliard District is a very tough economic scenario. The community
    consistently has supported it school system. The infrastructure
    and programs provided are proof of that. Just last month we voted to
    increase our taxes significantly again. In less than two years we will be faced with another operating levy that conservativly will cost per $100,000 at least
    400.0 per year. In addition to that we will be due for another bond levy to cover infrastructure
    and other capital purchases. This comes along at regular intervals and I understand this.

    But you seem to totally refuse
    to understand that people in the private sector are losing their jobs, are not getting any raises,plus their health care cost
    will go up another 12 to 15% next year again

    Example. After a decent year despite the economy, making profitability goals, hitting all of our measurements, our company
    will not grant raises, and will increase our weekly cost from
    55.00 per week to 62.50 per week
    No bonuses due to the need to stay in the black. So where does the
    money come from to pay out for the increases in taxes to support a teachers group who seemingly could care less about the people paying the bill. Certainly with a
    nice raise, and minimal medical contribution, the HEA does not have any issues paying any increase!

    Many people have asked this district and the HEA to make some
    SMALL sacrifice, by simply reducing the amount of increases in the contracts. They have also asked to have a plan that will limit growth in spending, NOTE NOT
    CUT, so we can hopefully maintain
    as much current programming as possible. All inquiries by regular citizesn have been rejected by teachers , OAPSE< and athe district with an absolute
    ZERO response. There are people who care out there about education even though I keep hearing from the teachers and OAPSE that we dont care and we dont get it.

    Why you think you are entitled to a 7% raise with minimal medical contribution in these economic times is beyond any comprehension

    Apparently no one in the HCDS the
    employees have a clue that we are now facing a huge shortfall in state budgeting dollars. This is going to have a significant effect on our district.

    I fully expect that the next contract in our district will contain small increases in medical
    contribution IF ANY, and another
    7% increase in salary module

    We will then be faced with a huge millage increase never been seen before, and the district will again tell us that we are selfish and we dont care.

    Somewhere there is going to be a breaking point, and the community will get the blame.

    Why anyone would think that a spending adjustment is necessary
    NOTE NOT CUT, on our compensation increases in pretty incomprehensible.

    I think it is safe to say when an adjustment HAS to come in the contract, and it is inevitable ,
    a strike action will be all about not wanting to pay for medical costs and the continued 7% raise module, and not about the kids.

    If we were planning correctly we would be preparing now for such a scenario, but we cant get a commitment to even look at a reduced spending increased plan from our district. Just more of the same, and if you dont agree to raise your taxes every single time we need to give our employees a raise then you are selfish and dont care about the students and their education.

  4. Paul,

    My point exactly about Worldcom. You were close to those people, but you weren't THOSE PEOPLE. How unfair if people were to peg you as such...


    My previous comments reveal my unfriendly relationship with the union to which I belong, and unions in general. You kept saying what I think I'm entitled to as a teacher. You would be surprised how many teachers do NOT feel the same way as the union. It is unfair to generalize the opinions of union leadership down to the individual.

    If that were the case, ALL of us are to blame for invading Iraq, not just George Bush, or those that voted for him. Many Hilliard teachers are fine upstanding people who don't feel they "deserve" any more than you or anybody else. But they get lumped in with the union folks; and that is not fair.

    The apathy I spoke of, and Paul agreed about, is the problem. I'm not saying that it is a good thing, but it is the truth.

    If you asked for a show of hands for teachers to break the union, you wouldn't get many takers. NOT because they all believe in the union, but because of the fear involved with making such a stance.

    All I ask is that we pinpoint our anger on those that deserve it. Not all Hilliard teachers feel entitled to a 7% raise. The union leadership did.

    Somewhat unrelated. Do you honestly think that most people will be clamoring to give raises to teachers when the economy is better? This whole "people are losing their jobs" argument only holds water if teachers get more pay/benefits when times are good. You make it sound like if teachers make concessions now, then the public would "reward" them for their good deeds later. I personally can't imagine that happening...

  5. Musicman:

    On your last - I do think Hilliard teachers are paid what they are because we have had a run of good times, and folks tend to feel generous in regard to the teaching team they moved here to have educate their kids.

    If you go back to the beginning of my activism regarding schools, teacher pay wasn't even on the radar. It was all about the imbalance between residential and commercial growth, and my being mystified why our community leaders would allow that to happen (still am).

    The foolishness the HEA pulled during the last contract negotiations changed that. Certainly we still have a problem with unbalanced growth (and Hilliard just annexed another 900 acres), but the full solution is going to require teachers to back down in these tough times.

    And I hope the union leadership begins to show that they're willing to protect the future of their union - the young teachers - by sacrificing a little in order to keep the youngsters employed. So far the interest of the leaders seems to be protecting the interests of the leaders.

    What a shame the members won't stand up to them.


    ps - We are all to blame for invading Iraq, because we sat back and let our leaders - not just GW, but also the Congress - authorize it. What a shame we keep sending the same idiots to DC...

  6. Unlike Paul, my involvement in the school issues DID start with teachers pay. It was not that many of them did not deserve the latest raise, it was the fact that the taxpayers cannot sustain those types of increases and coverage of benefits
    in the current economic climate, and until there is a state funding solution, teachers are going to have to suck it up like the rest of us. Why should only they be exempt? Not only that, but the union vote for the last contract was something in the neighborhood of 55-45% in favor. I question what the 45% thought they deserved? And please don't tell me it had more to do with issues other than money, because I flat out do not buy that. What I believe is that the 45% were balking at paying any of their health care premiums, because in the past, they never had to and they got spoiled. If, in two more years when the next levy comes up for a vote, the HEA, as well as the administrators, do not step up and say they will offer some type of concessions in the next contract, I will be at the forefront of an anti-levy campaign. Tough for the kids? Unfortunately yes, but something has to give and with 90% of the budget going to salaries and benefits, it has to start there. With an average salary of $60,000+ in the HCSD, teachers can afford to give a little back in the form of reduced.increases.
    As far as not knowing how much union leaders are paid, shame on anyone who pays their union dues and does not know where that money is going. Especially a group of highly educated professionals. Maybe it's because of the juicy contracts those union leaders have been able to negotiate for their members.

  7. Musicman, I think that no one is asking for concessions from the HEA. I think that somehow the district and its employees view
    any adjustment as a pay cut.

    I specifically went to the board
    spoke personnally at the board mtg and sent requiste emails out.
    All I asked was that when the levy passed we create a spending plan that SLOWS the growth of our spending module. As an example I gave at themeeting I proposed somewher between 3 and 4% short term for 5 years to help us through

    1. A tough economic module
    2. A state budget crisis, now even worse off. We cannot expect certainly any increased dollars and the likelyhoodthat most districts just might see a slight decrease in state contribution.

    Comments met with what you would call a combination of silence and disdain from our district and its employees.

    This history would point out on compensation increases that over the current contract and the last
    two contract, significant increases have occurred compared to
    the national increase module. The other benefits, medical, significant time off, snow days ?
    planning days, are certainly superior to the private sector.
    Medical contribution by the HEA is
    not even a slight fraction of what we pay in the private sector
    At then end of this contract year
    3 a single employee pays $50.00 per month versus $55.00 per week.

    As far as rewarding teachers with
    increases, the fact remain that
    we have consistently passed bond levies, and operating levies.

    I would also disagree that the majority of the HEA membership
    is not in step with the union leadership. The fact remains
    the contract passed very narrowly
    for a very lucrative contract.
    Plus the HEA chose to take job actions in the buildings related to the contract negotiations, and
    disrupted the students with the
    constant comments about graduation,
    programming, not having credits etc
    to graduate. I do not see how
    anyone can say that truly they feel its about the kids.

    Thoroughout the campaign and as stated by union leadership during the public participation, it was clearly said the community doesnt get it.

    So what as a community member would one form their thought processess on.

    I am very concerned about future
    levy campaigns and the fact, that as is areas like Groveport, Canal Winchester, Southwestern, etc locally plus many districts outside of our area, that we might see some organized opposition to future increases.

    The lack of response by the district and the employee groups to
    very reasonable suggestions by citizens who really care about their school system (ie Paul )
    is a direct slap in the face to the electorate. Many of us who have consistently supported the schools via involvement and supportive during levy times are getting tired of hearing we dont get it, and if you dont like it move.

    Perhaps if the district leaders and
    employees are unhappy here with a very nice infrastructure to work in, a suppportive community, perhaps THEY might be happier elsewhere. I keep hearing we are going to lose employees to Upper
    Arlington, Dublin, Olentangy, Worthington, Big Walnut etc.
    Employees leave all the time from business in the private sector and this has happenend for years.

    The attitude is that is coming forward is that everyone in the district thinks they are irreplaceable, and there is not one competent replacement out there

    Somehow the community here despite its consistent investment keeps getting hammered by the the schools and that puzzles me.

  8. You have to wonder where the folks like this were while the STRS fund managers were setting them up for this big fall? It's easy to have 20-20 hindsight. The brave thing is to stand up to your peers when you know they're wrong.


  9. Here's yet another STRS member criticizing his fellow members for their apathy.

    Interesting attack he makes on the STRS Board - that they were elected because of the support of the OEA leadership, and not necessarily the OEA membership. In other words, the OEA leadership controls both the OEA and STRS.

    I really hope more teachers figure out that their union leaders are not necessarily their friends, or even acting in the best interest of the union members.