Aired at 6:35 and 8:35am on KPR, February 15, 2013
Pull your covers over your head. There’s a bogeyman under the bed. It’s the teacher unions.
Unions! They go on strike and abandon our children. They protect tenured teachers who lounge around all day and get paid for doing nothing. They keep administrators from firing incompetent teachers.
But wait. Lift up the bed skirt and...there’s no bogeyman hiding there!
Kansas is not Chicago.
Kansas teachers are like firemen and police. They are "vital services" and cannot strike.
And Kansas is not New York. We don’t have tenured teachers who get paid for doing nothing.
And it takes a competent administrator to dismiss an incompetent teacher.
Tenure does NOT protect incompetence, moral turpitude or insubordination. If there are bad teachers in the classroom, then either the administrators are incompetent, or there is a shortage of good teachers to replace...so administrators have no good option.
When it comes to the power of teacher’s unions nationally, Kansas ranks near the bottom.
The Thomas Fordham Foundation recently released a report called: "How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-by-State Comparison."
Each state’s teachers union was rated on five factors:
—Number of members and financial resources,
—Involvement in politics including contributions to candidates and parties,
—Scope of collecting bargaining and the right to strike,
—Alignment of union positions to state policies, and
—Influence based on a survey of key stakeholders.
States were grouped into five categories from strongest to weakest.
Kansas teachers unions were ranked “weak”–right above the lowest ranking of all teacher union states.
With no right to strike, and with most Kansas schools being small and closer to extended families, our low ranking is not unexpected.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker notoriously shut down statewide collective bargaining for public employees. But Kansas is not Wisconsin.
Kansas teachers negotiate locally...at the school district level. A rural school may pay less, but this may be offset by a lower cost of living.
My teacher colleagues who are involved in their local negotiations tell me that when it comes down to the wire, the only leverage they have is public opinion. When teacher pay or benefits are so low as to be pitiful, they only have public shame on their side.
And in Kansas, if a dispute over salary cannot be settled, the school automatically wins. Old contracts continue for the next year and a teacher must decide to either resign or swallow the loss from a higher cost of living.
Indeed, Kansas teachers are among the most vulnerable in the nation.
In business, there is a saying: "You are not paid what you deserve. You are paid what you negotiate." Take away any ability to negotiate and teachers are left in a world of "wage slavery." That’s an old term for lowering salaries and benefits and telling teachers: "Take it or leave it."
And now, lawmakers are trying to prohibit courts from making decisions about education funding. Apparently these legislators are seeking insufficient funding to provide an inadequate education.
Maybe there’s a bogeyman after all. But it’s not the teacher’s union. It’s the Kansas Legislature. And it’s a bogeyman that should scare...you...to...death.