Tribute, Turf Tax and the Teachers Unions

Before the Reformation, it was common for Europeans to pay Tribute to the Church. People across Europe would have to give something to Rome as a way of submitting to, or showing allegiance to, the church.

Tribute in another form came about in the U.S. the 1920s when organized crime carved up cities and claimed certain areas as their turf. Any legitimate person who wanted to start a business in a gang’s territory would have to pay a street or turf tax to the thugs just to do business.

While these concepts may seem alien to many of us in the West today, people here in our own country that toil away in non-right-to-work states must pay Tribute — in the form of union dues — if they want to be employed in certain professions.

Teachers in 28 states and Washington D.C. fall into this pay-to-play category. While this type of Tribute goes pretty much unchallenged, every now and then something comes up that you’d think would enrage those who are being victimized.

According to Barbara Martinez in The Wall Street Journal, “Randi Weingarten, the former head of the New York City teachers’ union, received $194,188 last year from the United Federation of Teachers for unused sick days and vacation time accrued before she left to become president of the American Federation of Teachers, boosting her total compensation to more than $600,000 for 2010.” (But then again, 80,000 teachers in New York fork over $125.6 million dollars every year with nary a complaint, so maybe an obscene payout to a union boss shouldn’t faze them.)

Also, according to the WSJ story, when Michael Mulgrew took over the UFT presidency last year, one of his first meetings “was held at the Brazilian steakhouse Churrascaria Tribeca and included 150 people. The bill was $6,400.”

That union leaders don’t think twice about living extravagantly at their members’ expense is typical of the nature of unionism in the U.S. today. It is especially hypocritical because these same union leaders love to rail against corporate greed and bemoan the plight of the underpaid teacher.

According to the New York Post, “Not many companies allow employees to cash out unused vacation days; even fewer pay out unused sick time on top of that.

“But, obviously, the world of organized labor is different.

“It’s gratifying to realize that the largesse isn’t coming directly from taxpayers for a change. But we wonder how UFT rank-and-filers feel about the boodle coming from their dues.”

Judging by their silence, the rank-and-filers don’t seem to care. To be sure, some don’t mind their forced status. But for the others, is it apathy? Ignorance? Resignation? Fear?

Whatever.

The Reformation was the beginning of the end of Tribute to Rome. The FBI did much to minimize organized crime and let people run their businesses without having to pay off the mob. But the unions and its leaders like Randi Weingarten seem to thrive — their hubris unrestrained by a compliant workforce and spineless legislators.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Education Reform – Teacher Union Style

Union leaders have nothing to offer in matters of education reform.

In an absurd editorial, two Los Angeles Unified School District teachers last Friday — both United Teachers Los Angeles chapter chairs — wrote what was supposed to be, in part, a nastygram to LA’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The op-ed, entitled Pipe Down, Mr. Mayor (the name in the print version), takes the LA mayor to task for criticizing the union for which he used to organize. Referring to ed reform, he had called the union’s leadership “the most powerful defenders of the status quo” at a conference in Sacramento last month.

The two angry unionistas attempt to convince Times’ readers that the union is behind some really terrific “progressive” education reforms.

They start off with the usual whine about cuts in education funding, but in the next breath they state that Gompers Middle School “has spent thousands of dollars on classroom libraries for students who have limited access to quality books.” Hasn’t this always been the purpose of school libraries? And by the way, where are the cuts?

Then they get into the goofy stuff. The reforms they brag about are things like English teachers choosing a progressive reading and writing workshop for their students. To the best of my knowledge, that’s hardly reform; it’s part of an English teacher’s job.

Next they say that, “At Roosevelt High School’s Academy of Environmental and Social Policy, teachers have designed an exhibition night when students present projects addressing real-world problems to parents and community members. This year, the school is organizing an internship fair so that seniors can get involved in their community.” No, this is not education reform either; it’s community organizing. If their goal is preparing students to work for a seedy organization like ACORN, they are on the right track. But if they are trying to ready their students for college, this is hardly the way to do it.

Another reform measure has the teachers taking students on field trips — to courthouses. Ed reform? Oh please.

In UTLA’s FUBAR L.A. Times Op Ed: Teacher Leaders Russom and Baranwal Call Simple Teacher Duties “Reforms.” Scary Stuff, LA Weekly’s Jill Stewart sums it up beautifully when she says that “basic, routine, long-performed teacher duties in America are, in the warped world of Los Angeles, ‘reform.’”

For more on teachers union’s intransigence to desperately needed change, go here and read what UTLA considers reform. In fact, it’s as free from real reform as what the two chapter chairs wrote in the LA Times.

New (and former) California Governor Jerry Brown, not wanting to be upstaged by a couple of teachers from LA, also entered the dead zone with his new choices for state school board. Running for office as an outsider, he claimed that he was beholden to no one. However, a close look at his choices for school board says that he is an old-school Democrat, sitting comfortably in the deep pockets of the teachers unions.

As such, he managed to get rid of anyone who was at all reform-minded. For example, according to the LA Times, Brown “eliminated several members who were viewed as strong voices for reform, including Ted Mitchell, the president of NewSchools Venture Fund; Johnathan Williams, founder of the Accelerated School, a charter organization in South-Central Los Angeles; Alan Arkatov, president of Changing.edu; and Ben Austin, chief executive of Parent Revolution.”

Who did he replace them with? Patricia Ann Rucker, a former California Teachers Association lobbyist and James Ramos, Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Indians – both obvious political paybacks. And then there is Bill Honig, a former Superintendent of Public Instruction, who resigned in disgrace and eventually was convicted of four felony conflict of interest counts in 1993. The other choices, all Democrats, have no record of meaningful reform under their belts.

Not surprisingly, CTA president David Sanchez said his union was “thrilled by the new appointees because he believed the board had been stacked with too many members connected to charters, which are mostly nonunion.”

That about says it all.

I’m sure UTLA agrees with Mr. Sanchez’s assessment. These kinds of appointments are right in line with the teachers union agenda, which is business as usual, which means no real reform whatsoever.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Lousy schools split some Democrats from union fold

Democrats soon will have to decide whether they are the party of the idle rich – i.e., the party of retired government employees, many of whom spend 30 or more years receiving pensions that are the equivalent of millions of dollars in savings – or the party of the poor, the downtrodden and the working class.

Fortunately, there are some Democrats who are serious about all that “helping the little guy” rhetoric, especially in the area of public education. In a recent article titled “Democratic schism opens on fixing schools,” the Sacramento Bee detailed the “growing chorus [of Democrats] arguing the party must move away from its traditional allegiance with teachers unions in order to improve chronically low-performing schools.”

We all know that many of this state’s larger school districts operate as efficiently as Soviet-era bureaucracies, and their educational product is the equivalent of the former Soviet Union’s consumer goods. There’s a reason for those dropout rates of 20 percent to 50 percent, a human tragedy when you consider the typical futures of the students who are cast aside by the current system.

This isn’t a slam on the many fine public schoolteachers, but it’s clear what happens when unaccountable bureaucracies, protected from competition and reliant on taxes rather than the free choice of consumers, produce things. Unions make it nearly impossible to fire the worst employees and create work rules that stymie innovation and reform.

The late Albert Shanker, longtime leader of national teachers unions, once famously said, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” Shanker was just being truthful about the purpose of unions. The rest of us need to be just as forthright about the need to tame those unions if we’re seriously interested in improving education rather than simply in seeking more taxpayer money to prop up the same-old failed, bureaucratic system.

The story in the Bee profiled former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who last year lost her bid to become state superintendent of public instruction to a union ally, Tom Torlakson, but who now heads the California chapter of a political action committee called Democrats for Education Reform. Romero is a tried-and-true liberal who understands that union dominance undermines traditional liberal values. Several years back, she was one of only a handful of state senators from either party to take on the police unions over their unconscionable protection of abusive officers.

It’s beyond me how Democrats can claim to be for education yet align themselves with those forces that oppose every serious reform that would help poor kids, just as I could never understand how Democrats could claim to stand for civil liberties even as they stifled open-government rules that would shine a light on police officers who abused people’s rights.

Democrats for Education Reform released a report in October, “Busting the Dam,” which succinctly captures the nature of the problem: “It is no secret that most of the efforts to reform K-12 public education systems in the last quarter century have been stymied by political gridlock. Although education pioneers like Teach For America and KIPP have demonstrated the tremendous potential impact of innovation, special interests (primarily but not limited to teachers unions) have built up symbiotic relationships with elected officials to the point that they are able to assert de facto veto power over the kinds of changes which could fundamentally alter the way education is delivered in our communities.”

That’s a politically careful way of spelling out what others have said more directly, with some Democratic leaders describing the struggle for education reform as the new civil-rights battle of our era. Conservatives have long championed market-based education reforms, but they have had little impact and they must now find new allies among the state’s dominant Democrats.

This intra-Democratic battle is crucial given that the Republican Party has been shoved to the margins in California. Judging by the November elections, California voters apparently want this to be a one-party state, given Democrats’ clean sweep of state constitutional offices and the passage of Proposition 25, which gives the majority party the power to pass budgets with a simple majority rather than with a two-thirds supermajority. There’s not much the GOP can do other than watch from the sidelines.

Democratic political consultant Garry South wrote in a column recently that he had been offering Republicans advice for years – that they should nominate a more diverse slate of moderate candidates for statewide office. “This election year, the Grand Old Party took most of my free, unsolicited advice. … But in the end, it didn’t matter, every one got mowed down.”

Although I question a lot of South’s advice, I do agree with his conclusion: There is nothing Republicans can do at this point to become a viable statewide party.

That means solutions on all the big issues are going to have to come from the other side. Those of us on the right need to exploit this schism within the Democratic Party and side with reformers such as Romero.

Of course, the unions are gloating about their enhanced political power in Sacramento, with the election of Jerry Brown as governor. The Orange County Employees Association and Sen. Lou Correa (the Santa Ana Democrat who authored legislation that sparked a decade of pension-hiking), for instance, are hosting an inauguration party “celebrating the election of the People’s Governor.” I always associate talk about People’s leaders and People’s republics with places that have a decidedly authoritarian bent.

But while the union-dominated Left is celebrating, just maybe we’ll see the beginnings of a serious debate about union power, thanks to those Democratic politicians who are interested in reform. That’s a sliver of hope for the new year in a state that is starting to seem hopeless.

About the author: Steven Greenhut is the editor-in-chief of Cal Watchdog, an independent, Sacramento-based journalism venture providing original investigative reports and news stories covering California state government.. Greenhut was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years. He is author of the new book, “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”

Bill Gates Stymies Randi Weingarten’s No-Show Offense in One-sided Debate

With a feeble offense (and virtually no defense), the union leader’s strategies help to keep American public education far from the goal line.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has done it again. She agreed to compete on a level playing field – defending the teachers unions’ version of education reform – and the results were not pretty.

A joint interview printed in Newsweek between American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Microsoft’s founder-turned-ed-reformer Bill Gates ended with Weingarten on the losing end of the debate. This is not new, however, for the wrongheaded union leader. Last March, along with Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education, and Terry Moe, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, I debated Ms. Weingarten and two of her hand-picked team members in New York City.

Voting took place before and after the debate to see which side of the statement Don’t Blame the Teachers Unions for Our Failing Schools would carry the day. The results were embarrassingly one-sided — our team won by a landslide.

In this debate, Gates — as we did in New York – proceeded to demonstrate that the union leader could not refute solid, pro-reform arguments.

Kyle Wingfield summed it all up nicely in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Time and again, Gates exposes the complete emptiness of the positions held by Weingarten and her charges — and does so without coming across as attacking teachers themselves. Not once does Weingarten respond with anything we haven’t heard hundreds of times before….”

For example, Weingarten says that other countries are doing better than we are because, “They’ve spent a lot of time investing in the preparation and support of teachers.” Gates simply retorts, “…we spend more money by every measure than any other system… What are we going to do to get more out of the investments we make?”

Countering another serious charge, Weingarten pooh-poohs the notion that it is almost impossible to get rid of bad teachers. She says, “The reality is that managers (principals) don’t do their jobs.” She coos that teachers should be “counseled…out of the profession.”

Wrong. The reason it is almost impossible to rid the profession of its stinkers is because of serpentine provisions in virtually every union contract. It takes so much of a principal’s time and piles of district money – several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars per teacher in Los Angeles, for instance — to possibly get rid of a bad teacher, that administrators think it’s best to spend their time and limited money elsewhere. As to the laughable “counseled out of the profession” nonsense – is there any other profession where the poorest performers are “counseled out?” No. they may be warned and/or demoted and then fired. Period. It’s called accountability. What a concept!

Perhaps Weingarten is at her most absurd when she talks about building a good teaching staff and compares it to successful football strategies. She says, “Football teams do this all the time. They look at the tape after every game. Sometimes they do it during the game. They’re constantly deconstructing what is working and what isn’t working. And they’re jettisoning what isn’t working and building up on what is working, and doing it in a teamlike approach.”

She is correct in her football analysis. But what does that have to do with today’s unionized teachers? A football team will get rid of its poor performers after a few bad games. (No tenure in the National Football League.) If you are in your thirties and a rookie comes along who does a better job than you, you are gone. (No seniority in the NFL.) If you are the best wide receiver on the team, you will make more money than the others in the same position. (No unified salary scale in the NFL.)

Etc.

In short, as I wrote after the debate in NY, “I saw up close and personal what I have always felt — that the teachers’ unions are running on empty. The emperor is naked as a jaybird. Not only don’t they have anything to offer in the way of true education reform, they are the greatest impediment we have to ed reform. All the lofty words from teacher union presidents over the years about higher quality schools, teacher accountability, investing in education, etc. are nothing but empty rhetoric meant to lead the press and the public to believe that they really give a damn about children.”

Once again, Randi Weingarten has tried to engage the public by making her case that a unionized education is best for all concerned. And once again, she has failed miserably in her effort. Public education should really go the NFL route: have meritocratic work rules, pay good teachers more than mediocre ones, weed out bad teachers and stop automatically favoring teachers who have merely clocked more years on the job than others.

Unless we start doing things differently — and soon — America will continue to miss the playoffs, while other countries who have gone a different route will be vying for the Super Bowl.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Public Education Unions vs. Volunteers

For many years I’ve participated as a volunteer at annual beautification days at a public high school near my house. Gradually our efforts have resulted in a campus that is graced with a lovely canopy of trees. What I didn’t realize is these volunteer efforts are endangered by union work rules.

A few years ago at this same school there was a group of volunteer parents who wanted to support the school’s varsity baseball team. The team dugouts were over 30 years old, they were too small, and they needed a lot more than a paint job. These volunteers, including professional masons, carpenters, and construction contractors, using their own money and efforts, supported by the coach and the school principal, did a complete makeover. They expanded the dugouts, pouring concrete, adding cinderblock walls, and extending the roof. The finished product was, if anything, overbuilt. You couldn’t tell where the old dugouts ended and the new expanded ones began. They were perfect. But they violated union rules.

To everyone’s astonishment, the district officials determined these dugouts had to be constructed using district employees. A district crew came out and demolished the upgraded dugouts. Because budget considerations prevented constructing an actual dugout, the existing below-ground sections were filled up, and a set of prefabricated sheds were put in place to serve as the team dugouts. These inferior replacements are literally eyesores – but they comply with union work rules.

This story is not an isolated incident. A recent article in City Journal, “nation’s premier urban-policy magazine,” entitled “No Volunteers, Please, We’re Unionized,” describes the ordeal facing parents in Petaluma, California, who want to volunteer to help at the local elementary schools. Apparently the school district’s contract with the California School Employees Association severely restricts the ability of the school to match volunteers with non-teaching jobs, even if those jobs have been eliminated because of budget cuts.

Here’s an excerpt from the City Journal’s article: “When volunteers began to help answer phones in the office and support the school librarian at Petaluma Junior High School, CSEA Local 212 president Loretta Kruusmagi immediately objected. Representing 350 clerical and janitorial staff in the Petaluma school district, Kruusmagi betrays not the least concern for the kids her union supposedly serves when she glowers: ‘As far as I’m concerned, they never should have started this thing. Noon-duty people [lunchtime and playground assistants]—those are instructional assistants. We had all those positions. We don’t have them anymore, but those are our positions. Our stand is you can’t have volunteers, they can’t do our work.'”

This isn’t just a problem being encountered in Petaluma – here’s another excerpt, where a volunteer coordinator who works with schools all over Sonoma County is quoted: “It was an interesting job, she said. ‘But,’ she continued—lowering her voice to a near whisper—’you have to be real careful when you bring in a volunteer to help on certain jobs, that they can’t be seen as taking work from unionized employees.’ She explained that her formula for placing volunteers in needed assignments had to incorporate the type of work and the time commitment. ‘I usually have no problem [with the unions] if I bring someone in for a couple of hours each week,’ she allowed, ‘but I’m pushing it if it moves beyond five hours—even if the volunteer is willing to take longer hours.”

So let’s make sure we’ve got this right: Government employees became unionized, which enabled them to “negotiate” with politicians who were elected with union money. Politicians who owed their political survival to these unions granted unaffordable, unsustainable, over-market wages and compensation to these unionized public employees. Now, because the government agencies are going broke, they have to lay off employees instead of violate union contracts by lowering overall pay and benefits. But because these jobs – which are now vacant – have to be performed by unionized government workers, taxpayer volunteers who are willing to work for free are prevented by law from doing so.

National Ebenezer Association

Scrooge-like National Education Association shows no sign of remorse.

Once upon a time, school choice became a reality in our nation’s capital. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allowed some poor kids in D.C. to go to private schools with the help of a government stipend, was ushered in by a Republican controlled Congress in January 2004. Earlier this year, Jason Richwine at the Heritage Foundation wrote,

Congress put school vouchers to the test in 2004 when it authorized the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), a federally funded voucher program serving low-income students in the nation’s capital. It has awarded $7,500 scholarships to more than 3,700 students over the past six years.”

Congress mandated a formal evaluation of the program, and researchers hired by the Department of Education have now released their latest report.

Among the report’s key findings:

•Parental satisfaction. School satisfaction was higher among parents of voucher students.
•School safety. Parents of voucher students were more likely to describe their children’s schools as safe and orderly.
•Graduation rates. Voucher-using students achieved a graduation rate of 91 percent, compared to 70 percent for non-voucher students.
•Test scores. On reading tests, voucher students scored slightly higher (by 0.13 standard deviations) compared to non-voucher students, but the difference is not statistically significant. DCOSP did not produce any gains in mathematics scores.

Not only do students benefit from the program, taxpayers save money. According to Kirk Johnson, also at Heritage,

What is often overlooked, however, is that choice programs are good fiscal policy, as well. Consider the example of Washington, D.C., again. The maximum opportunity scholarship-$7,500-is less than 60 percent of what Washington’s public schools spend on a student.

So, let’s see – a program that benefits students and saves the taxpayers money. Who on earth could possibly be against it? Not surprisingly, it’s School Choice Enemy #1 – the National Educational Association.

Shamelessly, in its current Education Insider, NEA brags that due to its members lobbying, it

stopped multiple efforts to fund voucher programs— in the District of Columbia ….

While some NEA members probably did write and call their legislators, urging them to kill the program, the heavy artillery came from the union bosses themselves. In March of 2009, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress –

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program. We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress.
Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.

Three months later, the Congress, then controlled by Democrats, dutifully voted to kill the program.

Interestingly, in the same Education Insider that bragged about killing DCOSP, NEA was very pleased that more government money had been invested in Pell Grants. A Pell Grant is nothing more than a federal scholarship awarded to college students, who may then use the grant to go to the college of their choice.

The difference between Pell and DCOSP, you ask? NEA is more threatened by vouchers on a K-12 level because that’s where the primary source of its funding is. (Public school teachers are forced to pay union dues in most states and D.C.) Any political action that favors school privatization, bringing with it more non-unionized teachers, sends the union into an activist frenzy. For an organization that claims to be for the children, this is especially cruel and hypocritical.

As Christmas approaches, one can only dream that NEA will have an Ebenezer Scrooge-like makeover. At the end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge found religion, but the NEA never will. Not even the Ghost of Ed Reform Future could budge the cold, self-absorbed and mean-spirited teachers’ union.

Yet there is some hope. In January, a new Republican majority Congress convenes. The Republicans, typically not in the thrall of the powerful teachers’ union, are talking about reviving the popular DCOSP.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful late Christmas gift for thousands of kids, currently stuck in lousy schools, to be given an opportunity to escape them and with it a chance for a brighter future?

January 23rd-29th is National School Choice Week, during which advocates will attempt to build support for school choice. If you would like to help the kids in D.C. and elsewhere, and at the same time let NEA know what you think of their priorities, I urge you to get involved.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Have Trigger Law – Will Organize

Shoot out in Compton is the beginning of a gun fight that promises to rival anything the Wild West has ever seen.

Back in the 50s, like many kids, I was a huge fan of TV Westerns. I could not let a Gunsmoke, Have Gun-Will Travel or The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp go by unwatched. Good guys and bad guys in white hats and black hats filled my TV landscape on a daily basis.

Fast forward about 50 years and eureka! – a real life western drama is unfolding in Compton, a small city in Southeast Los Angeles County. In January of this year, California passed a “Parent Trigger” law which stipulates that under certain conditions, signatures of 50% +1 of a school’s parents could “trigger” a change in the governance of that school.

The law was designed to bypass union bosses, inept school boards and corruptocrats – all the usual black hats – and to provide parents with an opportunity to force desperately needed reform. (The unions find many aspects of the parent trigger law odious because it can — and in this case very well may — lead to a charter school. And charters are seldom friendly to unionization.)

Compton’s McKinley Elementary School, one of the worst performing schools in California, was due for a change. When enough signatures had been gathered, it became national news with the Wall Street Journal, LA Times and other newspapers covering the story. But when the status quo is challenged, you can bet that those invested in the status quo are not going to sit quietly by and take it.

The law got some unexpected publicity, when right after its passage, American Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittleman – a human gaffe machine – said,
“Under the parent trigger (or lynch mob provision) if 50% of the parents at a school or feeder schools of a low performing school sign a petition, the school board must hold a hearing to accept that petition or provide an alternative governance change, which could include closing the school, turning it into a charter school, or reconstituting the school.”

While he got the essence of the new law right, the “lynch mob provision” comment was an affront to parents everywhere. And it was particularly offensive because many of the unhappy parents across the state happen to be African-American.

Hittleman, never one to be burdened by sensitivity, caught flak from many, including a usual ally, the Reverend Al Sharpton. One of the more interesting angles to the new law is that it was authored by Ben Austin, a progressive lawyer in Los Angeles and now state school board member, and supported by conservative-libertarian think tanks across the country. Hence a truly bi-partisan issue has been born.

Even LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former black hat (United Teacher of Los Angeles organizer) has jumped into the fray on the side of the parents. Earlier last week, the mayor fired a shot at the union, “At every step of the way, when Los Angeles was coming together to effect real change in our public schools, UTLA was there to fight against the change and slow the pace of reform.” In a moment of uncharacteristic calm, UTLA President A.J. Duffy responded with a tepid “Pointing fingers and laying blame does not help improve our schools….” And this interchange was before the Compton situation came to light.

All appeared to be going well for the trigger pullers until Saturday when the LA Times in a second story reported that 60 or so parents wanted to withdraw their signatures because they were misinformed by signature gatherers as to what they were signing. “Some parents have complained that they were not shown the petition or that they signed it without a clear explanation of its purpose.”

However in yesterday’s LA Weekly blog, Patrick Range McDonald who has been all over this case since it began, said that says there is little if any substance to the later LA Times story.

In any event, there is a Compton Unified School District board meeting tonight. With angry parents, union heavies and other stakeholders sure to be in attendance, this could make Gunfight at the OK Corral look like I Love Lucy. Stay tuned.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Los Angeles Mayor Confronts Unions

As part of a continuing trend towards recognition by liberals alongside conservatives that public sector unions do not act in the public interest, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a democrat, has delivered a blistering attack on the union representing public school teachers in Los Angeles.

Joe Matthews in Fox & Hounds Daily has published the verbatim transcript of Mayor Villaraigosa’s remarks in his post of December 8th entitled “Villaraigosa’s game-changing speech.” Because Villaraigosa, who has confronted the teachers union in the past, chose to deliver this speech in Sacramento at the Public Policy Institute of California conference for state legislators, his remarks signify a major escalation in his confrontation with the union. Here are some of Villaraigosa’s remarks:

“Over the past five years, while partnering with students, parents and non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members and teachers, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership.”

“And partnering with civil rights organizations and the ACLU, we filed a lawsuit to take a stand against the practice of seniority-based layoffs, which were disproportionately affecting our poorest schools and students of color. At every step of the way, when Los Angeles was coming together to effect real change in our public schools, UTLA was there to fight against the change and slow the pace of reform.

When one considers the reforms Villaraigosa is fighting for – teacher accountability, management flexibility, financial transparency – it is easy to see a nonpartisan consensus forming. Like many Democrats, Villaraigosa’s background includes union organizing. But like many conscientious liberal politicians, he is realizing public sector unions have become a special interest that is not putting the needs of the public – especially, in this case, students – in front of their own agenda.

Parents Need to be Aware of Union Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Last week was a bad one for children due to some of our more lupine unions. The first blow to the kiddos came from the Service Employees International Union. A powerful local, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, cut insurance for its members’ children. It seems that the powerful local and even more powerful parent — prime supporters of Obamacare — came to realize that it couldn’t afford to handle the costly financial consequences of the recent healthcare legislation. So the most expedient thing way for them to cut costs was to drop healthcare coverage for children.

Then, across the country in Petaluma, CA, the local school district, like so many others in cash-strapped states, has been cutting millions from its budget over the last few years. According to Pete Peterson, writing in City Journal,

The cuts have meant layoffs for district employees at all levels, from teachers to playground supervisors. In response, parents and concerned Petalumans have stepped forward to try to fill the non-teaching gaps, volunteering their time to maintain school services. The volunteers have worked in new roles identified by the school administration, but they’ve also stepped in to perform jobs eliminated by budget cuts. But those positions are unionized by the California School Employees’ Association (CSEA)—and that’s where the problems started.

When volunteers began to help answer phones in the office and support the school librarian at Petaluma Junior High School, CSEA Local 212 president Loretta Kruusmagi immediately objected. Representing 350 clerical and janitorial staff in the Petaluma school district, Kruusmagi betrays not the least concern for the kids her union supposedly serves when she glowers: “As far as I’m concerned, they never should have started this thing. Noon-duty people [lunchtime and playground assistants]—those are instructional assistants. We had all those positions. We don’t have them anymore, but those are our positions. Our stand is you can’t have volunteers, they can’t do our work.” Notice the possessiveness with which Kruusmagi regards these “public servants.”

So here is a union that represents school employees telling the district and its parents that they rather see children suffer than accept some timely and probably temporary volunteer help. The next time you hear one of these arrogant, self-important and heavy-handed unionistas talk about how they “care about the children,” please remember that it is a fairy tale, with the union playing the role of the big bad wolf.

Just two days ago, the Los Angeles Times published its second blockbuster education story in four months. In August, the Times set the education world atwitter when they published teacher “value added” rankings, much to the consternation of the local teachers’ union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles. The current story delves into the unfairness of a system where performance doesn’t matter when staffing decisions are made. If teachers need to be let go – a common occurrence in fiscally tight times – the layoffs are done strictly by seniority and some of the great younger teachers are given pink slips.

Only a union leader hiding in sheep’s clothing would have us believe that quality should take a back seat to sheer numbers of years on the job when a child’s education – and future — is at stake. Cue UTLA President A.J. Duffy. At a talk to some young teachers at John H. Liechty Middle School in an impoverished part of LA, he was heard to say,

“Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs…. Seniority is the only fair way to do it… and any exception would be ‘an act of disloyalty.’”

An act of disloyalty? To whom? The children who lost some terrific young teachers, who got bumped out of a job by someone who had seniority? No, Duffy’s priority is not children; it is the teacher who has been on the job the longest that is Duffy’s focus. Never mind that studies have shown that after the first few years, teacher time on the job does not translate into better student learning.

There are many good young teachers who have lost jobs to older, less effective ones, and the teachers’ unions will fight tooth and nail to ensure that this policy stays in place. If Duffy was honest, he’d say, “Kids, too bad, but we really don’t care about what’s best for you.”

Children of union employees losing their health insurance, parent volunteers trying to help their local school wind up with a union decrying their efforts and a union insisting on keeping an archaic seniority system in place – parents, it’s advisable to keep your children away from these people as best you can. Leaving your children exposed and vulnerable to big bad wolves is hardly a road to happily ever after.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

CSEA Proves “It’s NOT About the Kids”

Anyone thinking clearly knows full well public unions are blatant liars when they request more money for schools under the pretense “It’s for the kids”.

Well it’s NOT for the kids and CSEA moves to the top of the list in proving it. If it was “all about the kids” we would not see articles like this one by Pete Peterson in The City Journal: No Volunteers, Please, We’re Unionized

Petaluma is one of those idyllic small cities (population 58,000) that dot Route 101 on the way north from the Golden Gate Bridge through the wine country. But Petaluma, struggling like most municipalities in California under the current fiscal crisis, has found delivering public services—from education to public safety—anything but pleasant.

The Petaluma City Schools district has trimmed millions from its budget over the last two years, as the deficit-ridden California state government has decreased its local support by 25 percent. The cuts have meant layoffs for district employees at all levels, from teachers to playground supervisors. In response, parents and concerned Petalumans have stepped forward to try to fill the non-teaching gaps, volunteering their time to maintain school services. The volunteers have worked in new roles identified by the school administration, but they’ve also stepped in to perform jobs eliminated by budget cuts. But those positions are unionized by the California School Employees’ Association (CSEA)—and that’s where the problems started.

When volunteers began to help answer phones in the office and support the school librarian at Petaluma Junior High School, CSEA Local 212 president Loretta Kruusmagi immediately objected.

Representing 350 clerical and janitorial staff in the Petaluma school district, Kruusmagi betrays not the least concern for the kids her union supposedly serves when she glowers: “As far as I’m concerned, they never should have started this thing. Noon-duty people [lunchtime and playground assistants]—those are instructional assistants. We had all those positions. We don’t have them anymore, but those are our positions. Our stand is you can’t have volunteers, they can’t do our work.”

Public Servants or Public Liars?

Peterson precisely sums up the situation with a couple of short, to the point, and appropriately sarcastic comments about the liars at SCEA.

Notice the possessiveness with which Kruusmagi regards these “public servants.” Nice to see that it’s “all about the kids” at the CSEA.

If you live in Petaluma, or any other city being raped by CSEA (or any other public union on “behalf of the kids”), it is your duty to stand up to the unions and tell the unions where to go.

After all, it’s you (via taxes) and your kids (via arrogant attitudes of unions acting on their behalf) who are suffering so public unions can pad their pockets with wages and benefits those in the private sector will never see, all while chanting “it’s for the kids”.

No matter where you live, please write your city representatives today and demand that at the next contract renewal, the city immediately outsource any and every position possible with a message that volunteers are welcome “for the sake of the kids”.

Unlike CSEA, Loretta Kruusmagi, and her ilk, you will be on solid ground. Do it now. Demand change. Nothing will happen until you do, and until you do your kids will suffer.

About the author: Mike “Mish” Shedlock is a registered investment advisor representative for Sitka Pacific Capital Management. His top-rated global economics blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis offers insightful commentary every day of the week. He is also a contributing “professor” on Minyanville, a community site focused on economic and financial education. Every Thursday he does a podcast on HoweStreet and on an ad hoc basis he contributes to many other websites, including UnionWatch.

A Charter School Needs a Union Like a Salad Needs Hemlock

Last month, teachers at Englewood on the Palisades Charter School in New Jersey decided to unionize. Then last Friday, Steve Gunn, director of Michigan’s Education Action Group, had an op-ed in the Newark, NJ-based Star-Ledger in which he rightfully laments the decision.

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to bypass many of the school district and teachers’ union rules and regulations that strangle our public schools in a never ending stream of red tape.

The two national teachers’ unions have taken a divergent stance toward this type of school. The National Education Association website is full of stories about the alleged inferior quality of charter schools and their lack of oversight and wants no part of them. The other union, the American Federation of Teachers, is a bit more realistic and realizes that charters are here to stay and have taken a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. Toward that end, AFT claims to have unionized 150 charters.

While we have no verification of that number, it is probably close to accurate. However, according to the Center of Education Reform, the country’s premiere advocate for charter schools, there are 5,453 charter schools nationwide. So even if AFT’s number is correct and we include 20 more charter schools that are unionized but not affiliated with AFT, that means just 3% of all charters are unionized. (The number, of course, is always changing… in both directions. In 2009-2010, three KIPP Charter Schools in New York unionized and then very quickly decertified the union because the teachers felt that as union members they would have to compromise their very high standards.) It is doubtful that the 3% number will grow appreciably since the reason that many teachers decide to work in a charter is to escape the unions’ odious rules that poison the educational well.

What is it about teachers’ unions that is so toxic?

• Unions are not interested in children getting a good education – they insist on tenure (aka a job for life) and seniority for all teachers – good and bad — and are vehemently against any kind of pay for performance. These are anti-child staples in almost every union contract.

• Unions promote adversarial relationships between administrators and teachers.

• Unions tell teachers directly and indirectly that they are disrespected – a “teachers vs. the world” mentality and that the union is there to save them, to fight for them, etc. They began telling teachers this over 40 years ago and they are still telling teachers the same thing – so just what is it that they have done for teachers?

• Unions tell teachers that they would be making minimum wage if it weren’t for them. But according to Andrew Coulson, director of Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and others, the effect of collective bargaining is very minor compared to general economic conditions.

• So there emerges a “U-bot” class that thinks of the union in deified terms. These are the zealots who give teachers a bad name. These days, now that the public has become more aware of what the unions are really about, non-union teachers are getting more respect.

• Unions can poison relationships between teachers. If a teacher is not in the union in a unionized school, they probably will be ostracized and possibly worse. They may be forced to eat lunch in their rooms alone. They may not drive home with a windshield. Just ask any dissident in a school that is that is full of union true believers.

• Unions call teachers professionals – but they are paid more like assembly line workers in Detroit – with a lockstep pay scale. Professionals get what they deserve to be paid – good doctors make more money than bad doctors, good lawyers command greater fees than middle of the roaders.

• Jaime Escalante, probably the greatest teacher of our time, was revolted by the union mentality. That he was a phenomenal teacher paled in comparison to the fact that he could not abide by all the UTLA rules he had to live with and the union proceeded to hound him out of Los Angeles.

With all this in mind, I agree with the optimistic note on which Mr. Gunn’s ends his op-ed. He has some good advice for charter school officials, parents and consumers.

Charter school officials can help combat this threat by treating their teachers with respect and listening to their suggestions. Happy employees generally remain non-union employees.

Parents also can help by refusing to send their children to charter schools with union teachers. They should know they won’t get the service they expect when the AFT and NEA are in the house.

Union charter schools won’t last long if consumers soundly reject them. And charter school teachers will be less likely to join unions if they know such a move could lead to the extinction of their employers.

In other words, the bottom line is that a charter school needs a union about as much as a salad needs hemlock.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Unionized University Faculty

The SEIU has spread their tentacles into the realm of higher education, with campaigns underway to organize faculty at colleges and universities. According to a report entitled “The War on Conservative Teachers,” posted today by Al Katman on Frontpage.com, the SEIU holds multiple elections, identifying the departments where union support is strongest, then holding a subsequent election just in those departments in order to gain a foothold on each campus.

While membership in the union remains voluntary in most cases, if a professor works for a department that has been organized by the SEIU, even if they don’t join their new union, they still have to pay an “agency fee” equivalent to roughly 80% of what the dues are for full members.

Katman makes a sad observation regarding what this bodes for conservative teachers, stating “As a practical matter, a Conservative faculty member has to either stop teaching or pay money to support a radical left wing organization. Some may pay the agency fees; most will not, but either way either way the SEIU wins. Even sadder is the reality that distinguished Conservatives even if they were available to teach a course at George Washington would be unwilling to do so because of the requirement to pay the SEIU an agency fee.”

In California, the University of California is already organized, although they are technically not members of a union. The “Council of Faculty Associations” represents teachers in the UC System, and although – with the exception of UC Santa Cruz, they don’t have exclusive bargaining rights – they can still stage walkouts, as is imminent, ref. The Daily Californian’s report today “Faculty Prepares for Systemwide Walkout.”

Apparently the UC professors are upset because they cannot take “furlough days” on days when they are supposed to teach a class. Is this reason enough to strike? It would be a valuable lesson for UC students to reflect on the total compensation received by university instructors compared to the number of days and hours per year these instructors actually work, ref. “The Real Reason for College Tuition Increases.”

A Tale of Two Unions

It is not the best of times for unionized workers in America. However, while some workers have become resigned to new post-recession economic realities, others seem to be living in a dream world of rigid and righteous entitlement. And not surprisingly, it seems to break down by sector — private and public.

A case in point – Harley-Davidson workers in Wisconsin and school teachers in California. The Wisconsin motorcycle company and its blue-collar workers, most of whom belong to the United Steelworkers, worked out a contract which reflects the realities of the economic world we live in. According to Louis Uchitelle, writing in the New York Times,

Harley-Davidson actually has two very similar new contracts, one with the Machinists, who represent workers at an assembly plant in York, Pa.; the other with the Steelworkers at an engine-and-transmission factory in Greater Milwaukee. The York agreement, ratified last year and now in effect, has shrunk the core work force there by more than half, to nearly 800 full-timers, while adding 300 “casual” employees, who are union members without benefits.

The Milwaukee agreement, recently ratified, will shrink the full-time payroll to 900 from 1,250 today and more than 1,600 before the recession. Up to 250 “casuals,” as in York, will be used to handle surges in demand for Harley bikes. While hourly pay under the current contract averages $31 an hour, that drops to $25 for the second tier, which becomes the only tier once all the veterans have left or retired. Casuals, in contrast, get $18.50 an hour.

The new Milwaukee contract kicks in when the current agreement expires on March 31, 2012. The union balked at negotiating so far in advance, Mr. Masik (union leader)said, but conceded after the company insisted it would otherwise use the intervening months to prepare to move operations elsewhere, perhaps Kansas City. To guarantee support, Harley also incorporated into the contract $12,000 bonuses for its steelworkers, including those laid off.

Harley’s president said the recession left no choice but to reorganize. Motorcycle sales are down 40 percent from their peak in 2006, Mr. Levatich (Harley CEO) said. Cutting the core staff allows Harley to slow the line during the winter months of lean demand and add “casuals” when demand picks up in the spring and summer.

“What we are doing is not mean-spirited,” Mr. Levatich insisted. “We have to retool if we want to survive. We should have started doing this, in small steps, 20 years ago.”

The bottom line is that the union realized if they didn’t accept the company’s terms they would have priced their wokers out of a job. This is always a reality for private sector unions – if they ask too much, the company they work for might move elsewhere, or like GM, go bankrupt.

Contrast that with public sector unions which don’t quite operate with the same set of realities. La Habra, a small city in nearly insolvent California, is facing a teacher’s strike. Though the date hasn’t been decided on, the La Habra Education Association voted last week to walk out. The union has refused to accept the cash-strapped district’s last best offer, which according to the Orange County Register stipulates that,

Reductions to teachers include a 2 percent salary cut retroactive from Nov. 1, two non-paid furlough days in the 2010-11 school year and two additional days in 2011-12. Teachers will also be required to pay more for some health benefits beginning July 1. The cuts were through 2011-12 school year.

The district made concessions by offering scheduled pay increases — called step and column raises — retroactive from 2009-10 and through 2011-12, and contributing more for some health benefits.

In teasing apart these numbers, we get this – a 2 % pay cut and two furlough days in 2010-2011 which is tantamount to a 1% pay cut, though teachers will not have to work on the furlough days. Same deal in 2011-2012. Hence we are talking about a 3% pay cut this year and a 4% pay cut next year. Also, the health benefit contribution would add more to the union’s concession. But much of this is mitigated by the retroactive pay raises and the district’s willingness to contribute to some health benefits. Hence, several of the takeaways are counteracted by the givebacks.

That the teachers’ union considers these cuts to be “extreme” and willing to strike over them defies rational thought. Unlike Harley-Davidson, the school district cannot counter by threatening to move to another state – the district is a government entity and thus not subject to market forces

Thus we have the La Habra teachers’ union living in a public employee dream world that operates outside the realm of market forces; as a monopoly, they are not ruled by the constraints of supply and demand. Taxes can always be raised to give the unions what they want. That is, till the taxpayers finally get sick of being hosed and revolt.

In fact, it would seem that as of Election Day the revolt has begun – with voters, nationwide, letting it be known that they were fed up with profligate spending and pointing fingers at the public employee unions. Even in California, where voters opted for the status quo on a state level, quite a few municipalities took it upon themselves to fight for pension reform.

At the annual Republican Governors Association meeting last week in San Diego, the mood was sour when the subject of public employee unions came up.

“Frankly,” said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, “the public employee unions would stick a shiv in all of us if they could.”

The biggest laugh of the Thursday morning session came when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a joke out of a union’s opposition to his proposal to require teachers to pay a portion of their health insurance costs.

“You laugh,” Christie said. “That’s the crap I have to listen to in New Jersey.”

And among the lines most quoted and paraphrased among the governors was the comment in September from Scott Walker, now governor-elect of Wisconsin, regarding the need to trim the salaries and benefits of public employees: “We cannot and should not maintain a system where public employees are the haves and the taxpayers footing the bill are the have-nots.”

Conceivably, even in California, taxpayer resentment over unrealistic public employee union demands will eventually lead to a badly needed dose of reality for the flatulent and self-important public employee unions. In time, these unions and their employees will hopefully learn what the Harley-Davidson workers already know – that there is a finite amount of money to go around and that the people who pay your salary will put up with only so much.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

California Teacher’s Union Political Spending

An interesting post from the website “Intercepts: A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions,” entitled “NEA/CTA Outspends Everyone on California Ballot Measures” has added up the political spending by California’s teacher’s union in last week’s election.

For the nine initiative measures, the spending by California’s teacher’s unions was as follows:

California Teachers Association: $11.5 million
National Education Association: $2.2 million
California Federation of Teachers: $3.3 million
American Federation of Teachers: $2.1 million
Alliance for a Better California (a coalition of public employee unions, including teachers): $1.1 million.

As the article states, “all told, public employee unions spent $25.5 million on ballot initiatives alone.”

This hardly scratches the surface of how much money the public employee unions are spending on political activity. The teacher’s unions, for example, make it an absolute priority to control local school board elections. It is virtually impossible for an interested party who isn’t backed by the teacher’s union to get elected. Education reformers are targeted. It isn’t unusual for the teacher’s union to spend $100K or more on a local school board election campaign.

This article also neglects to consider the power of politicized teachers spreading their campaign message via the classroom, or the Parent/Teacher Associations. The cost to our electorate of a generation of children receiving union indoctrination in our public school classrooms is incalculable. During election season, students are given biased campaign-related material to take home with them – what’s that worth? Students are relentlessly trained to absorb the left-wing agenda of activist unionized public school teachers – what’s that worth?

A top-down estimate of public sector union political spending in California puts the figure at $250 million per year (ref. Public Sector Unions and Political Spending) – and this doesn’t include the in-kind value of controlling the message in our classrooms, or the brand equity and credibility of appearing on political campaign ads wearing nurses uniforms, or firefighter’s badges.

Give up the bucks!

The Real Reason For College Tuition Increases

The past year has seen a wave of protests by California’s public university students against tuition increases. These students have often been encouraged by their professors. But maybe the people encouraging them are the people they should be protesting against. Tuition increases are necessary because of increasing expenses, and the single most significant source of expenses in California’s university system are the personnel costs. So how much does a professor make? Could the solution to California’s higher-education budget crisis be not to raise tuition, but instead to lower rates of compensation?

It isn’t hard to get an idea what taxpayers and students end up paying our college personnel. One can refer to the Sacramento Bee’s “Search for State Worker Salaries” link, where you can enter the first and last name of a full time state university system employee and it will display their salary for the most recent year. For this analysis, I went to a department website and got the name of an associate professor with one of the social sciences at U.C. Davis, and learned that this individual earned a salary of $89,467 last year. According to the department website, this associate professor earns $89K per year in return for teaching (this spring quarter) one class, that meets for two hours on one afternoon per week. The professor is also obligated to be available to his students for office hours for one hour per week, immediately after class.

Clearly there is more to this professor’s job than showing up to school for three hours per week. In order to earn $89K per year this person has to prepare lesson plans, grade papers and exams, and presumably engage in research. And spring quarter may be a light quarter, and usually this professor may have two classes, or even three classes, requiring a presence on campus for 15 or even 20 hours per week. But before considering whether or not a typical social sciences professor in California’s university system actually works full time, let’s calculate how much their benefits are worth. Because total compensation has to include all costs, including current benefits and current funding obligations for future retirement benefits.

There is a Total Compensation Calculator provided by the UC Davis Dept. of Human Resources that can get us started. Assuming this individual is single and has no dependents, and elects to receive PPO Health and Dental Insurance coverage, and also taking into account the annual funding being set aside by the university for their retirement pension, their actual compensation per year is not $89,467, but actually $111,260. And it doesn’t end there.

As discussed in earlier posts, specifically in Sustainable Pension Fund Returns, but also explored in California’s Personnel Costs, Maintaining Pension Solvency, and elsewhere, it is not likely that the pension funding obligation disclosed in the “Total Compensation Calculator,” in the case of our social sciences professor, $15,755 per year, is going to be adequate. This is because the pension funds currently assume they can earn a real rate of return of 4.75% per year – that’s the return on the total fund investments after inflation – when in reality a sustainable return over the next few decades is unlikely to exceed 3.0% per year. Our social sciences professor, like most all non-safety personnel in the UC System, will get a retirement pension according to the following formula: # years worked x 2.5% x final year salary (ref. University of California Retirement Plan). It is reasonable to assume they will work 30 years, live for 30 years in retirement, and collect 30 x 2.5% = 75% of their final salary as a retirement pension for 30 years, or $67,100 per year (with cost of living adjustments) for the rest of their life. This is, by the way, about triple what someone can expect after working 40 years and then collecting social security, but more to the point, will a contribution of $15K per year for 30 years yield a sufficient amount of money to fund a pension of $67K per year for 30 years? One must fight the temptation to let the mind wander, because the next few facts are key to understanding one of the biggest financial tsunamis the world has ever seen, and it is just offshore.

At a CalPERS official projected rate of pension fund returns (after inflation) of 4.75%, a 75% pension for 30 years, funded by 30 years of contributions, would require an annual contribution of 25% of salary, or $22,367 per year.

At a more realistic projected rate of pension fund returns (after inflation) of 3.00%, a 75% pension for 30 years, funded by 30 years of contributions, would require an annual contribution of 41% of salary, or $36,681 per year. Care to wager as to which figure is safer to use? Remember you’re wagering on the future of your children and your nation.

By this reasoning, our social studies professor doesn’t make “total compensation” of $111,260 per year, but $132,186 per year. But we’re not through. Returning to our handy “Total Compensation Calculator,” provided by UC Davis, the following footnote is instructive: “The value of UC’s generous sick leave and vacation time is not included in this calculation.” So how generous is this benefit, and how does that compare to the sick leave and vacation times typically afforded in the private sector?

If you refer to the UC Davis “Accrual of Vacation” page, you will see an employee, on average during their career, will enjoy four weeks vacation per year – 20 working days. Similarly, on the page referencing holidays, you will see they enjoy 13 holidays per year. These are conservative numbers, of course. In reality our social studies professor gets the Christmas break, a few weeks, the Spring break, a few more weeks, and the whole summer off, a few more months – and we haven’t calculated the value of their sick time policy, as the UC Davis HR Dept. helpfully suggests we consider. But even if you simply compare the 33 paid days off, as though school was in session 52 weeks a year, you are still seeing our professor enjoy at least 50% more days off than the average private sector worker. Pick a number – let’s tack on the value of 16 days off by taking a daily rate of $89K / 2,000 x 8 = $356 and add another $5,696 to our total compensation, to get ourselves to a grand total of $137,882.

This sort of pay is not on the high side, it’s actually fairly typical for employees of California’s higher education system. Take a look at all of the pay scales, again courtesy of UC Davis’s HR Dept.:  Professional & Support Staff Salary Grades, and Managers & Senior Professionals Salary Grades. You will see the lowest paid full-time position in the system is $25,668 per year. But at the lower end of the salary scale benefits actually represent a greater percentage of total compensation. If we apply our calculations used above to this lowest salary, we will see this position actually pays, including all benefits, at least $39,765 per year. This is the lowest rate of total compensation you will find. The maximum rate of pay for a UC Position, before benefits, is $282,372.

Comparisons to the private sector boggle the mind. The lowest rate of pay in the entire massive California system of higher education is more than the average income for a private sector worker in this state. Most of these workers enjoy a rate of total compensation that is only found in the highest echelons of private business. Most of them, when you include the value of their benefits, are collecting six-figure rates of compensation.

When students, abetted by their professors who apparently have ample free time, protest against rising tuition, they are failing to identify the true culprits. Because the reason our university system is going broke is because our teachers in higher education have become the most extravagantly compensated, pampered class of workers in the history of the world – and taxpayers, along with students, are forced to pay for this. And this disparity between our taxpayer-funded academic class and the rest of us is not unique. The same disparity exists in all government positions today in California. Nearly all of them are grossly overpaid.

The solution to government deficits is not to raise taxes or tuition. It is to bring rates of compensation for faculty and staff at our state funded colleges and universities down to reasonable and sustainable levels, and apply that solution across the board in all of our state and local governments. The next time a student suggests their tuition is too high because taxes are too low, ask them if they think it is fair to pay someone $138,882 per year to work one afternoon per week, and take summers off.