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Teachers’ wallets: Open and shut case

Michael Tomlin

Michael Tomlin

I don’t like pay cuts. Mine, nor anybody else’s. A contract is a contract. An agreed to salary is just that. But reality is also reality and this is the year reality bites – there really is not enough money to meet all of the obligations of the state.

But having said that, teachers continually make the worst possible arguments for exempting them, and them alone. First they tend to start with shame. At a recent forum in Pocatello discussing education budget cuts a teacher immediately played the “what we value” card.

“We need to start being a state that values education…” teacher Mary Anne Hanson opined, according to local television reporting (www.localnews8.com). Start being a state that values education? That’s a ridiculous position. Of course Idaho and Idahoans value education. We have a strong system, excellent teachers, technology, high graduation rates, etc. We’re not perfect, but our teachers teach and our kids learn. And we value that.

Then they play the “two victims” game. Oh, the kids will suffer, and teachers will just have to personally pay for more of their teaching supplies. Let’s look at both of these arguments. First, continued cuts to K-12 education certainly can reduce programs in our schools, and they can increase class sizes. Points taken, those are concerns.

However, the majority of Idaho’s schools have access to classes online, already provide much more than what is required, and internationally our obsession with class size is deemed silly.

As for teachers spending their own money in classrooms – that was the straw man in the 1970’s when I was a classroom teacher, and is the straw man today. Teachers are government employees, and as such are neither expected to personally fund their government agency nor should they.

Whether Postal employees or State Police, the employee should never pay to fill the gas tank, or put paper in the copier. Ditto for teachers. Their job is to teach their district’s approved curriculum to the students they are assigned using the materials provided. End of story.

Any teacher or government employee personally purchasing equipment for their work is cowboying outside their agency’s desires. And perhaps more importantly, “if” they buy essentials they undercut their profession by relieving the legislature of knowing the true cost of teaching the children.

It is unfortunate that this year the state may have to get into teacher’s wallets via pay cuts, but that is where it should end. Teachers should teach, and in fact demonstrate how much they value education in Idaho by promising their best teaching. No complaining, no martyrdom of personal spending, no stories of great sacrifice from taking classes in the summer. Just teach like never before. And the value will be obvious.


About Michael Tomlin

8 comments

  1. Yeah, I kinda got tired of hearing myself, to tell you the truth.

    I get your point. I once worked for the feds & asked my section chief for keys to work the weekend. He asked me why & I said that I wanted to get some work done. His reply was something like: “well that means one of 2 things, either you’re not getting your assigned work done on time or you have too much work assigned.” So I said to him. Can I have keys so I can clean up my office. To that he said, “sure.” That was 30 years ago & I still remember what an idiot he was & caused the epiphany that I knew then I didn’t want to make a career working for the feds.

    My point is, sure, in a perfect world, teachers should just say “okay, if you don’t fund education, so be it.” In objection to that attitude (thank God), they do their jobs with little positive reinforcement from our political leadership.

    I listen to supporters of the tea party movement complain about the media only picking out the wing nuts who either are packing heat or carrying distasteful signs. I think they have a point. As a society we love to generalize.

    Well, the same is true in education. We all remember that one teacher who was negative and didn’t hand out much if any positive reinforcement or who was just flat burned out after fighting the “system” for their entire career. And with that thought, we somehow conclude we need to do away with the teacher unions. I’m no union fan, not one bit. I think they represent a failure between management and the workforce. What they really represent is the shame management should take on as not being in touch with their workforce – and I know that’s probably not an opinion shared by all.

    But your thesis seemed to be that we spend too much on education and by golly it shouldn’t be spared during this very deep recession (I’d say depression, but I’m not entirely sure I’d be correct & I know such words are not PC). You kinda also got my goat when you said you were tired of the teachers whining. In the vernacular: Dude, what the heck are you thinking?

    Imagine this scenario:

    You get in a profession where you want to help kids learn.
    One day, without asking your opinion, someone forces plan A on you.
    Next election, someone forces no kid left behind on you.
    Occasionally, some parent blames you because their kids feelings were hurt.
    Someone comes up with a theory that there should be no losers & every kid in every thing (sports, academics, whatever) gets a winner certificate
    Next some parent comes in and wants to deny science in text books

    But all that is okay, because our political leadership stands besides you and gives you positive reinforcement…… ooops, strike that last sentence, I’m not sure where that came from…… what really happens is that you find out your state DOES NOT VALUE EDUCATION where it counts….. funding.

    Anyway, good exchanging ideas with you. Sure, I know we value education, to be sure. We just don’t fund it.

    I worked for a company here in Idaho. One day the CFO says, we’re having tough times so we need to cut all employee recognition programs. huh? says I. How much does a pat on the back cost?

  2. Hey Scott, it is good to see you back.

    I have missed in making my points. First, I know the state is cutting meat, and in numerous departments. But the parks and rec employee should not have to bring his own mower.

    Yes, I well know teachers are supplimenting school supplies, and while my “teaching” was in the 70’s and 80’s I am everyday involved in K-12 schooling at present.

    My point is that teachers should not suppliment the budget with personal funds as it relieves the legislature of its responsibilities. And quite frankly, if the government employee is not given the tool, then they are supposed to do the work without that tool.

  3. Your concept, on casual observation, seems logical even if biased. I’m not well read on the subject but I am always interested in this issue & for sake of transparency, my wife is a teacher in the Boise School District.

    I have a few 30,000 foot-level observations on this point.

    1. Expenditures per student when viewed from a national level is an indicator of “what we value.” ”

    “Idaho, with the second lowest per pupil expenditure in the country at $6,648 (less than half of what New Jersey spends), still displays reasonable achievement levels, particularly in 8th grade.” [Source: http://edmoney.newamerica.net/blogposts/2010/comparing_naep_achievement_data_and_state_spending-29789%5D.

    Is that true? Are we 49 of 50 in student expenditures? I’m hesitant to take 1 point of reference and I’m not suggesting there is a 100% correlation between per pupil expenditures and performance, but at the very least, it is an objective indicator of “how we value” education. Are you using objective data in your proposition or are you using emotionally derived information?

    2. Idaho Secretary of Education himself made what seem to be very aggressive pleas for more funding.

    “It depends if I am more interested in being re-elected or I’m more interested in making sure that we have a system of education that continues to improve student achievement,” Luna said. Source: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2010/01/24/1053788/luna-caught-in-ed-budget-battle.html

    Sorry to borrow an article from the Idaho Statesman, but it was readily available and speaks to having a conservative (Tom Luna) essentially tell the Idaho Legislature that we’re no longer cutting fat, but cutting meat & bone. It’s always imperative to try to cut fat, no doubt. But it takes a leader to stop the cutting of essential programs. I have to tell you and I think I’ve told Sup Luna / his staff, that I was initially concerned about his approach to education, but I’m convinced he’s actually taken a pragmatic position.

    I hear people all the time saying you can cut fat from any program and I believe that to be true, surely. But at some point, you also have to look at programs on not only a micro-scale, but on a macro-scale. I’m suggesting the macro-view says we have underfunded education for some time (e.g.; we appear to be consistently in the bottom 5 states for per student expenditures). Is that the only way we can achieve academic excellence? Absolutely not, but as a way to frame what we value as indicated by how we compare in funding education, I’d say being consistently at or near the bottom is a pretty clear indicator, it isn’t a priority (or as you say “what we value”).

    It is my belief, having been around teachers for many years, that teachers predominately get in the field out of passion & not out of an expectation of material riches. Okay, that’s a fair exchange – like artists, they enter a profession with altruistic goals, but don’t assume just because they enter the field out of passion, that they can suffer the indignation like you’ve dished out here.

    Indeed, if I follow your thesis correctly, they should logically become better politicians or hire a PR firm. Yea, great. So they don’t live up to the very respectable level of politicians who can find 1,000 different ways to say what they don’t expect to actually do.

    Oh, and if you don’t think teachers spend their own money to make sure they have adequate resources for their kids, you didn’t pay much attention when you were a classroom teacher. I’ll also suggest, that using your frame of reference from the ’70s may not give you that clear a view in 2010.

    Wake up, Michael, and look at the facts and the leadership of Supt Luna. We’re cutting meat now.

    One last comment, I promise. What many leaders actually forget, in many instances because they never took the time to establish a meaningful relationship with the employees working on the front lines, is that they can often accomplish savings by actually engaging their workforce. I didn’t read a lot of articles about how “we” engaged actual teachers in how to save money or restructure the budget to accomplish better student achievement. What I am suggesting here is that the “suits” need to put on their working clothes and a) establish real relationship with teachers and b) actually engage them in a meaningful dialog.

    If you want respect, you have to give it.

  4. Mister Knowledge

    The cuts could be avoided with ease by minimal increases in taxes or scuttling the many tax breaks and benefits our legislature has so beneficently bestowed on some well connected businesses in this state. (To the detriment of those who don’t get the tax breaks, who effectively subsidize those who do.)

    Not going to happen, however, especially considering that our governor has in the past described increased taxes on anyone as “getting mugged.”

    Ridiculous.

  5. We all have to do more with less; I don’t see why teachers should be any different. By the way doing more with less should not be an excuse for not doing a job properly, everyone has to find ways to be more effective, and efficient. A budget is a budget, it’s not personal and it’s not mean, its reality.

  6. I know a teacher personally and my advice to her was take early retirement if possible. I don’t see any change in education until we spend more than two hours debating the budget for education in Idaho. Talk about \back room\ deals, our legislature is full of it!!