Monday, June 25, 2007

Put teacher union leaders back in class

Once again the Detroit News pens an insightful editorial on yet another little-known flaw in education spending:

The Detroit News: Put teacher union leaders back in class (06/25/07)

This editorial details the practice of funding all or part of the salary and benefits of union presidents, who frequently have no responsibilities in the district.

The article pegs the cost of this practice at $105,000 for Rochester Community Schools. This is a colossal waste of education dollars.

When I voted “NO” on the last teacher’s contract, it was in part because of this practice. I pointed out that any highly qualified teacher paid by the district should be in the classroom.

The union collects more than enough in dues from it’s members, and if they see a value in having a full-time president, then they should be willing to fund that position.

The editorial points out that there is no data available to document how widespread this practice may be, but most board members I’ve talked with in districts around the county and the state suggest this is quote commonplace.

If every district in Oakland County subsidizes the union president at $105K per year, then the cost to taxpayers is nearly $3 million. Even if they’re only funding half that amount, that’s money that belongs in the classroom.

I've included the text of the op-ed in below in case the link doesn't work.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Put teacher union leaders back in class
Students get hurt when schools pay instructors not to teach

While public school educators and elected officials complain that schools have been "cut to the bone" with layoffs and other moves, some actually pay teachers not to teach. Taxpayers should demand that this stop.

The practice is not widespread, but some districts actually force taxpayers to subsidize presidents of teacher union locals so they can focus exclusively on their union duties. Rochester Community Schools pays more than $105,000 in salary and benefits for its teacher union president to stay out of the classroom. Livonia's local president spends half of her time overseeing a teacher mentoring program and the other half doing union business. The district pays her full salary.

A Mackinac Center for Public Policy survey a decade ago found that about 16 percent of school districts provide some form of subsidized leave time from the classroom for teacher union presidents. No one has done a survey since.

Sometimes local presidents turn from teachers into quasi-administrators. Birmingham's local president works halftime as a special education consultant; the district only pays for that part-time help. Jackson's local president, who works half-time on union duties, once worked exclusively on professional development and a new teacher evaluation process.

Union officials argue that releasing union leaders from teaching helps districts operate more smoothly. The leaders are available to handle grievances and other disputes, says Doug Pratt, a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teacher union. And their teaching time isn't constantly interrupted, which would hurt students, he argues.

By the same token, however, students are robbed of experienced teachers when districts are laying off instructors. We suspect parents might be willing to let students suffer an occasional interruption to have an extra teacher in the building. Or school and union officials could save their matters for after-school hours.

Teacher union presidents also tend to be more experienced and better instructors. Keeping them out of the classroom may hurt student achievement.

Full-time or even longtime release from teaching is an artifact of an era when Michigan was flush with money. Jackson seems to realize this and is requiring its union president, a former co-educator of the year, to teach four high school classes by 2009, with one class hour and one conference period set aside for union business.

"That is a progressive thing to do in tight economic times," says Justin King, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards.

If it is essential to free a local president for union duties, the union should pay for it. While Detroit's school system pays the $144,000 annual salary of Detroit Federation of Teachers President Virginia Cantrell and those of other union officials, the union reimburses the district for the full amount. Grand Rapids and Flint do the same.

The next time a teacher contract is being bargained, taxpayers and parents should know whether a teacher is being paid not to work. Only public pressure may force districts and unions to think about students first and getting inactive or halftime teachers back in the classroom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If we are paying public tax dollars to a "teacher", that said teacher should be performing an instructional service for the public.

If the union wants to pay from dues, fine.