Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To Clear Some Things Up

Courtesy of NYSUT:

Myth: Public employee pensions are bankrupting state budgets.

Fact: AFSCME, one of AFT and NEA’s national labor allies, represents more than 1 million public employees. An AFSCME December fact sheet clearly makes the case for publicly funded pensions.

“State and local government pensions are, for the most part, well managed and not the source of budget problems for most governments. In 2008, state and local government pension expense amounted to just 3.8 percent of all (non-capital) spending. Contributions are expected to increase in the future to cover for investment losses and many public employers’ failures to adequately contribute in the past. However, the increase in contribution rates will result in pension costs, in aggregate, approximating a still-manageable 5 percent of state and local government spending by 2014 and beyond.”

The National Association of State Retirement Administrators said public pensions have exceeded the expected rate of investment return by 1.5 percent for a 25-year period beginning in 1985.

Myth: Bargaining rights for public employees are the reason state deficits have exploded.

Fact: If you haven’t read the column “The Shameful Attack on Public Employees” by former U.S. Labor Secretary, author and professor of public policy Robert Reich, now is the time. We’ve posted it on www.nysut.org. Reich takes this myth head-on: “In fact there’s no relationship between those states whose employees have bargaining rights and states with big deficits. Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights — Nevada, North Carolina and Arizona, for example — are running giant deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many that give employees bargaining rights — Massachusetts, New Mexico and Montana — have small deficits of less than 10 percent. Public employees should have the right to bargain for better wages and working conditions, just like all employees do.”

It’s curious, he writes, that when it comes to sacrifice, railings by Republicans don’t include the richest people in America. “To the contrary, they insist the rich should sacrifice even less, enjoying even larger tax cuts that expand public-sector deficits. That means fewer services, and more pressure on public employee wages and benefits. It’s only the average workers — both in the public and private sectors — who are being called on to sacrifice.”

Myth: The average public service employee makes far more than a private sector employee. Some governors are using this statement to drive a wedge between private and public workers and put an end to collective bargaining.

Fact: According to a new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, state and local public employees are compensated, on average, 3.75 percent less than workers in the private sector.

The study factored in education, experience, hours of work, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity and disability. It found that, compared to private sector workers, state government employees are under-compensated by 7.55 percent, and local government employees are under-compensated by 1.84 percent. The study also found that the benefits state and local government workers receive do not offset the lower wages they are paid.

The EPI is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people. To learn more, visit www.epi.org.

Myth: Because of tenure, you can't fire a bad teacher.

Fact: A district can bring charges against a tenured teacher or teaching assistant for insubordination, conduct unbecoming a teacher, inefficiency, incompetence, physical or mental disability, neglect of duty, failure to maintain certification or immoral character, at any time.

What about the cost and length of tenure proceedings? In 1994, working with NYSUT and the state School Boards Association, the state Legislature streamlined the tenure law to provide a fairer, faster process that still protected due-process rights.

The reforms have shortened the length of most cases and encouraged pre-hearing settlements in countless others. While some critics point to lengthy cases that go to full hearings, the real story is how many cases are settled quickly, with little cost to districts, often before charges are even filed.

In 2007, more statewide minimum standards for tenure were enacted for teachers hired on or after July 1, 2008. And, under a new teacher/principal evaluation law approved last year, the tenure process will improve because it will be based on more objective information.

The new law, scheduled to be phased in beginning in the next school year, calls for a new, expedited process if a teacher receives two consecutive annual evaluations of "ineffective."

Myth: No one else gets "due process."

Fact: Due process, a right enjoyed by all Americans, includes a presumption of innocence and the right to a fair hearing. Tenure is not unique to teaching. School building administrators have it, too. State and local workers, including police and firefighters, as well as private-sector union members, have due-process protections similar to tenure. And, they earn those protections in less time than teachers.

Myth: Good teachers don't need tenure.

Fact: Tenure's not about protecting "bad" teachers; it's about protecting good teachers. What would happen to teachers without tenure? They could — and would — be fired for virtually any reason.

It's not hard to imagine teachers being dismissed because they failed the daughter of an influential businessman or because the school board president's nephew needed a job.

In these fiscally troubled times, what would stop a school board from replacing a veteran teacher at the top of the pay scale with a first-year teacher — simply to save money?

Tenure is the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom. Teachers can engage their students in a free exchange of ideas only if they are protected from arbitrary dismissal for doing so. Tenure prevents school boards from arbitrarily dismissing teachers for holding political, religious or social views with which they disagree.

It protects academic freedom the way the First Amendment protects freedom of the press.

Myth: Administrators' hands are tied: Tenure's automatic.

Fact: Unions don't grant tenure — administrators do. Too many school boards and superintendents attack tenure rather than hold their own managers accountable for hiring and supervising teachers and, if necessary, removing those who don't make the grade. Tenure is granted by the board of education on recommendation of the superintendent — but many schools do a poor job of evaluating and supporting teachers. That's why NYSUT's Innovation Initiative is piloting a comprehensive teacher evaluation system built by five joint labor-management teams. The model is designed to evaluate teachers comprehensively and fairly — and provide support to those who need it.

Myth: Tenure guarantees a job for life.

Fact: Tenure is about due process, not about guaranteeing jobs for life. In New York, new teachers serve a three-year probationary period, during which school officials have an obligation to evaluate those teachers' job performance. If, after three years, the local school board votes to grant a teacher tenure, it simply means the teacher is entitled to a fair hearing before a neutral third party if there are allegations of incompetence or wrongdoing. During the first three years, teachers and teaching assistants generally can be dismissed at any time for any reason.

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