Tired of business people who never spent a day in a classroom,
yet think they know how to reform education? Here's a famous story about
an "eye-opening" experience one of them had, told by Jamie Vollmer,
maker of the "best ice cream in America" and the man who had
his mind changed.
Public sector workers do NOT earn
more than private sector workers!
"Everybody knows that public sector workers are doing
better economically than their private sector counterparts." How
often have you heard that? Problem is, it's simply not true! If you repeat
a lie enough times it begins to be believed. (Remember "death panels?")
It is true that the average public employee earns more
than the average private sector worker. But when Bill Gates walks into
a restaurant, every patron--on average--becomes a millionaire. We need
to compare apples with oranges. In Wisconsin, for example, 60% of public
sector workers have earned at least a bachelor's degree, as opposed to
20% of the private sector workforce. A more appropriate comparison would
be to look at how workers with the same level of education are compensated
in each sector. Here are the numbers from the Economic Policy Institute.
Note that these numbers include wages and non-wage benefits such as health
care and pension. Click here
for the source of the chart, along with further explanation.
Teachers, and other public employees,
are NOT the cause of state budget problems!
Please take 5 minutes to view this
video. It's one of the clearest explanations we've seen concerning the
attacks on public employees. (The interviewer is Chris Hayes, Washington
editor of "The Nation" magazine.)
This topic is so important that we've put together a
special page on this site called "For the
Defense" which will provide information you can use to fight
back against these attacks.
Teachers, and Public Education
are Under Attack. Here's Some Information to Help You Fight Back!
Unless you've been in the deep woods for the last couple
of weeks, you couldn't have missed the latest attack on our schools
in the form of a documentary titled Waiting for Superman. In
case you haven't seen it, here's a brief synopsis:
1) American schools failing. Our kids falling behind
the rest of the world.
2) Major problem is we can't fire bad teachers because
of tenure and stupid union contracts.
3) Unionized teachers are keeping our schools from doing
what needs to be done to compete.
It seems that everywhere one looks, someone is talking
about this movie. NBC devoted an entire week to a project called "Education
Nation." Most of the clips shown on the news included anti-union
messages. NBC showed one third-year teacher from NY City saying that
she didn't see any need for tenure, she just wanted to do a good job
and that would be enough protection. Poor baby. My guess is that she
never had to stand up to parents who insisted that creationism is science
and should be taught in biology classes.
Every so often, somebody "gets" that the problem
isn't just teachers. A couple of nights ago, Jay Leno remarked that
there's a new movie that says that kids can't learn in our schools.
"Apparently," Leno said, "somebody forgot to tell the
Then, in the last 24 hours, something came together for
me. It began last night when I watched a piece on the NBC Evening News
about the schools in Finland, which rank number 1 in the world. Here's
a link to that short video (there'll be a few seconds of commercial
before the segment begins):
1) Finland has a tough NATIONAL curriculum. (Americans
are focused on "local control." It's like we think that chemistry
or algebra are different in West Virginia and Iowa! )
2) Finnish parents are involved and the national culture
values education. (Our current political culture devalues expertise.
My dream is that one of the folks who don't think that "pointy-headed
experts" are necessary will find themselves on a hospital gurney
looking up into the face of someone who says, "I'm your neurosurgeon.
I didn't go to medical school, but my good old-fashioned American common
sense is all I need to solve your problem.")
3) Did you catch the part about having 2 or 3 teachers
in each classroom? Do you think that might make a difference?
4) How about the part about teachers having the same
level of respect as doctors and lawyers? (I've always said that I would
know when teachers are properly paid when parents tell their kids to
go into teaching instead of becoming a lawyer or an engineer.)
Then, this morning, I made my daily pilgrimage to the
columnists at the NY Times. Gail Collins, one of my favorite
columnists, had written a column about Waiting for Superman. "Great,"
I thought, "another chance to listen to somebody beating up teachers."
But then I read the column. You might want to read it, too. Here's the
1) "But plot-wise, the movie seems to suggest that
what’s needed is more charter schools, which get taxpayer dollars
but are run outside the regular system, unencumbered by central bureaucracy
or, in most cases, unions. However, about halfway through, the narrator
casually mentions that only about a fifth of American charter schools
“produce amazing results.” In fact, a study by the Center
for Research on Education Outcomes found that only 17 percent did a
better job than the comparable local public school, while more than
a third did “significantly worse.” [Emphasis mine.]
2)"Then there’s the matter of teachers’
unions. Guggenheim is the man who got us worried about global warming
in “An Inconvenient Truth.” In his new film, the American
Federation of Teachers, a union, and its president, Randi Weingarten,
seem to be playing the role of carbon emissions. The movie’s heroes
are people like the union-fighting District of Columbia schools chancellor,
Michelle Rhee, and Geoffrey Canada, the chief of the much-praised, union-free
Harlem Children’s Zone.
“I want to be able to get rid of teachers that
we know aren’t able to teach kids,” says Canada.
That’s unarguable, and the Obama administration’s
Race to the Top program has turned out to be a terrific engine for forcing
politicians and unions and education experts to create better ways to
get rid of inept or lazy teachers. But there’s no evidence
that teachers’ unions are holding our schools back. Finland, which
is currently cleaning our clock in education scores, has teachers who
are almost totally unionized. The states with the best student performance
on standardized tests tend to be the ones with the strongest teachers’
unions." [Emphasis mine.]
OK, at this point I'm getting my money's worth from my
blood pressure medication! Then, I ran into the Governor of New Jersey
who seems to be on a "stick it to teachers" national tour.
It seems that New Jersey (and many other states, but
NOT NY) have underfunded their public employee pension systems. NJ is
40-50 billion dollars underwater in their system, and Gov. Christie
is saying that public pensions need to be "scaled back." Let's
put this in easy-to-understand terms. You contract with a painter to
paint your house. You agree on the price, and the painter does the job.
When the painter asks to be paid, you say, "Gee, while you were
painting the house I decided to spend some of the money I was going
to use to pay you on a new flat-screen TV. I know we agreed on a price,
but I don't have the money to pay you so you'll just have to settle
for a lower price." And then you go running around the country
complaining that the problem is the fault of the greedy painter!
Last point. Gov. Christie, and many others, don't like
teacher salary schedules. Why, they argue, should teachers get a raise
each year just because they got another year older? I completely agree!
It's a stupid system. When someone is elected governor, they don't start
on step 1 of the salary schedule. Same with representatives, senators,
judges, presidents, etc. As a society, we have decided what the appropriate
pay should be for the job, and they get it from day one. Sure, they
get a little better at their job after doing it for awhile, but that
doesn't matter. They're paid what we think the job is worth from day
As a negotiator, I would give up yearly raises in a heartbeat
if the board of education were to say, "We think a classroom teacher
is worth $75,000/year. We'll pay teachers that salary from day one,
with no raises other than cost-of-living adjustments." (I just
picked the $75,000 figure out of the air, but you get the idea. ) Do
the math, you'd make much more over the course of a career with this
pay schedule. Which is why schools don't want to pay this way. The current
system with "increments" every year is much LESS expensive.
Merit pay? Sure, as soon as we have merit pay for politicians!
How could you possibly measure the effectiveness of politicians? It
would be very difficult. Welcome to the world of merit pay for teachers!
How do you measure the effectiveness of a teacher? Not easy to do, but
we've come up with a system using some of the only numbers we have,
standardized test scores. Why couldn't we come up with a system for
politicians using things like GDP, unemployment figures, etc.?
OK, end of rant. I thought some of these points might
be valuable the next time your friends and neighbors decide to beat
up on teachers!
Richard Steinfeldt, Director, NYSUT Retiree Council No.
And the Story Continues...
I turned up some additional information concerning the
"Waiting for Superman" film while reading the "Editorial
Observer" column in today's NY Times. Here's the link:
1) "Steve Barr, a tough-minded charter school developer....is
unnerved by the cartoonish debate that has erupted around the movie.
The many complex problems that have long afflicted public schools are
being laid almost solely at the feet of the nation’s teachers’
2) "In recent days, Randi Weingarten, the leader
of the American Federation of Teachers (the nation’s second-largest
teachers’ union after the National Education Association) has
been portrayed on the Internet as the Darth Vader of public schooling.
She talks like a union chief in the film — which makes no mention
of her genuine efforts to work with school systems to promote reform.
The unions deserve criticism for resisting sensible changes
for far too long and for protecting inept teachers who deserve to be
fired. But at least in some places that is changing. And they are by
no means responsible for the country’s profound neglect of public
education until about 20 years ago when the federal government began
pushing the states to provide better oversight.
For years, urban politicians ransacked districts with
patronage and fraud. Teachers chose to unionize in part to protect themselves
from politicians." [Emphasis mine.]
3) " Nationally, most charter schools do no better
in terms of student achievement, and far too many do worse. Green Dot
is one of the stars of this movement.
Despite the fact that many of its 17 schools serve desperately
poor, minority neighborhoods, its students significantly outperform
their traditional school counterparts, on just about every academic
measure, including the percentage of children who go on to four-year
The film’s director, Davis Guggenheim, gives Green
Dot a cameo shout-out in “Waiting for Superman.” But he
did the story a serious disservice by not pointing out that these high-performing
charter schools are fully unionized.
The 16 schools in California are affiliated with the
National Education Association. The one recently started in the Bronx
was put together by Green Dot and the New York affiliate of the American
Federation of Teachers. By rushing by this wrinkle, he sustained the
sexy-but-mistaken impression that the country’s schools can’t
move forward unless the unions are broken. [Emphasis mine.]
As Paul Harvey used to say on his radio show, "Now
you know the REST of the story!"
Richard Steinfeldt, director, NYSUT Retiree Council No.
We need to fight back when misstatements
are made about teacher pensions!
Here's a letter sent to the Dunkirk Observer
by a Fredonia CSD retiree:
September 4, 2010
In his recent “Publisher’s Notebook,” John D’Agostino
doesn’t let verifiable facts get in the way of a good rant.
He states that California is in serious trouble because they have seriously
underfunded their public pension obligations. No argument here. Some
reports have this underfunding at several hundred billion dollars. Mr.
D’Agostino then states: “Without question, Schwarzneggers's
crisis is similar to the one in our state.” That is where he and
the facts diverge.
By law, New York State’s public pension systems, unlike those
in many states such as California, are fully funded. Some say that being
“fully funded” is based on an unrealistic assumption of
an 8% rate of return on investments. According to the National Association
of State Retirement Administrators, since 1985, a period including three
economic recessions and four years when median public pension fund investment
returns were negative (including 2008), the median public pension plan
rate of return was 9.25% – or 1.25% greater than the 8% rate labeled
as "unrealistic" by critics.
Critics complain that retirement costs to localities and school districts
are skyrocketing, and will bankrupt them. Employer contribution rates
for the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, one of the
two largest public retirement systems in our state, are a matter of
public record. In the 1980’s school districts paid an average
21% of salaries as a retirement cost. In the 1990’s that figure
dropped to 5.7%, and in the first decade of this century school districts
contributed an average of 4.4%.
No one will argue that New York State has not managed its fiscal affairs
in a boneheaded manner. New York taxpayers should know, however, that
there are no “underfunding” monsters hiding in the public
pension system to cause them alarm.
Thinking of moving? Click here
to see how friendly other states are to pensions and retiree assets.
NEA Member Benefits for NYSUT Retirees
Did you know that as a NYSUT retiree,
you may enroll in NEA at no cost* and are entitled to NEA member benefits?
These benefits include a complimentary one-year term life insurance
policy! Along with that, there are product, store, and travel discounts,
vision, hearing, and prescription savings plans, reduced-price memberships
in fitness clubs and, most recently, a "Money Talk" blog,
to mention just a few. check it out at www.neamb.com.
* Due to the NY merger, NYSUT is
affiliated with both AFT and NEA. If you wish, you may choose to join
NEA as a Lifetime Retiree for a one-time fee of $200. At this time,
for NYSUT retirees to participate in NEA Member Benefits, retiree membership
with NEA is NOT required.
Private sector retirees enjoy tax benefits, too.
Much is made of the exemption of public employee pensions
from state income taxes. The implication is often that private sector
pensions are fully taxed. As a recent letter to the Buffalo News pointed
out, there are tax benefits for private sector retirees as well.
"Here is a brief summary of the facts. State and
local government pensions, as well as all federal and military pensions,
are exempt from state income tax. In addition, private sector retirees
are entitled to exclude up to $20,000 in pension income, 401(k) withdrawals,
traditional IRA distributions, etc. from state income tax. For married
retirees filing jointly, each spouse is entitled to the above exemption,
so they may be able to exclude up to $40,000. Also, the state does not
tax social security benefits."
The next time a private sector retiree suggests teachers,
or other public sector retirees give up the tax exemption on their pensions,
ask if they are willing to give up theirs as well!
The Internet Does Not Have an Editor!
Seniors grew up in a time largely before the
internet. Most of our information came from newspapers and magazines.
Today, a large number of people get the majority of their information
from theinternet . While newspapers and magazines employ factcheckers--people
whose sole job is to go over stories with a fine tooth comb to be sure
that facts are correct as stated--the internet has no editors or fact
checkers. Anyone can publish any "fact" they wish, and it
is usually up to the reader to determine the validity of those "facts."
Many of us receive emails from relatives or friends
containing some "hair-on-fire" warning, e.g. the president
is really a space alien or Congress has voted to allow illegal aliens
to collect social security. The email usually contains a plea to pass
it on to everyone we know. How do we know if these emails contain the
truth? Two organizations make it easy to separate fact from fiction
on the internet:
1) Snopes.com is a well-known site whose purpose
is to separate truth from "urban legend" on the web. The April
2009 edition of Readers' Digest had this
article about Snopes.com. You can go to their site at www.snopes.com/snopes.asp
to check out the latest "pass it on" email you received. Chance
are if you got it, so did lots of other folks, and it will be listed
under the "Hot
25" tag. They will explain what is true, partially true and
2) Factcheck.org is maintained by the Annenberg
Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. It is a "down-
the-middle" arbiter of fact, calling out both the left and the
right for their fabrications. You can even submit a question for factchecking!
It can be found at www.factcheck.org
Especially with our current angry national debates,
it's important that we get our FACTS straight! (In
case you were wondering, the president is NOT a space alien, and Congress
has NOT voted to allow illegal aliens to collect social security!)
Retiree Council No. 4 loses president.
Longtime RC4 president, Hobie Rhinehart, passed away
at Olean General Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, after a long illness. Hobie
was a teacher and a tireless champion of organized labor and progressive
government. He was also a devoted father and husband. Many, many union
members were fortunate to have known him.
Last May, Hobie was presented with NYSUT's Lifetime Achievement
Award. At that time, NYSUT SW Regional Staff Director David Eggert made
the following remarks:"Tonight we offer a special award to a man
who has devoted his LIFE to teaching, unionism, and community.
If anyone can be described as a “father”
among NYSUT unionists in this region, Hobie Rhinehart is that man. Even
for those of us who have already spent a career involved with NYSUT,
Hobie set the standard of devotion and participation. For more years
than any of the rest of us can count, Hobie has been at every meeting
he could possibly attend. When it comes to the expression, “being
there for you,” Hobie is the model. Hobie has been there for us.
Hobie’s contributions include:
* 28 years teaching social studies at Cattaraugus Central
School; retired in 1993
* 18 years president of Cattaraugus Teachers Association
* 22 years President Cattaraugus-Allegany CLC
* Retiree Council 4 President
* 40+ years of attendance at NYSUT RA
* Workers Memorial Olean
* Labor-Religion Coalition
* Health Care Access Coalition
* Living Wage Campaign
* Democratic Party
* Town of Albion
* County Museum
* Youth Bureau
* CCSE Federal Credit Union
* Cattaraugus-Allegany Workforce Investment Board
* Audrey, 4 kids, grandchildren, great grandchildren
Hobie has been honored many times over the years. He
remains quiet, unassuming, and humble, but dedicated and determined
to BE THERE for his community and his brothers and sisters in labor.
There’s a chant from Wisconsin that goes, “Tell me what
democracy looks like – This is what democracy looks like.”
Tonight, I ask you to tell me what a unionist looks like -THIS IS WHAT
A UNIONIST LOOKS LIKE.!"
Hobie is the subject of a post on the NYSUT blog. Click
to go to that item.
The final chapter in the unification agreement with NEA/NY
includes redistricting both the ED districts as well as retiree councils.
The plan was approved by the Board of Directors and voted and approved
at the 2011 RA. There are three new retiree councils and each will have
This is basically a governance model for elections and
representation. NYSUT has conducted meetings in all of the affected
areas, including RC4, which will be losing the western Stueben region
to the new RC46, which also includes some retirees fromthe former RC11.
The town hall type meetings have centered around issues related to geographic
boundaries, constitution revisions or drafting new constitutions, and
the election of officers and delegates.
Please contact Louise Ortman (NYSUT retiree consultant
for RC4 and RC46) at 716-664-7425, ext. 26, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
RC4 Website Wins NYSUT Journalism
RC4 director and webmaster Richard Steinfeldt receives
"Best Retiree Website" award from NYSUT VP Marie Neira at
the NYSUT 2011 Journalism Conference held June 4 at NYSUT headquarters
in Albany. We were chosen as the best retiree website among all small
(class IV) retiree units.