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Commentary: It’s not acceptable to harm kids’ education for personal gain

By Todd Maddison

Before the pandemic we all knew having kids attend school regularly was a good thing. To parents it just made sense. Sense that was ultimately confirmed through one of the largest natural experiments in history, the pandemic school closures.

Cutting back or eliminating school time for kids damages their education. Every testing method in this country tells us that. The science is settled. Everyone now knows that, except perhaps our teacher unions.

We routinely see those unions directing members to do things that harm the education of kids – from protests making it difficult to go to school to work slowdowns to outright strikes that bring education to a halt.

In the past two years we’ve seen high-profile strikes in Los Angeles Unified , Oakland Unified and Sacramento City Unified.  Recently Fresno Unified came within a day of striking, despite compensation almost $45,000/year higher than comparable county residents. Other districts are now in the throes of negotiations that may lead in the same direction.

There are good causes that might justify risking damage to education. Are union members laboring in unsafe conditions, discriminated against in hiring or being forced to work long hours without pay? Nope.

None of the above. If you look at the relative cost of all the demands made by unions in these actions, the vast majority are simply driven by a desire for more money. In a state where teacher compensation overall is significantly higher than the pay of comparably educated private workers.

When did harming the education of kids for personal financial gain become acceptable in our society?

In North County we see this starting in Oceanside Unified, where the Oceanside Teachers Association is demanding higher pay. No threats have yet been made to our kids (unlike the work slowdown we saw in 2018), but hundreds of teachers showed up for the November board meeting in a show of support for their union goal — a 12% raise for all.

Most of them left after their president’s presentation and before the actual meeting started. If they had stayed they would have heard parents expressing their concerns, albeit in the very limited way allowed by OUSD these days.

They would have heard parents call out the district’s miserable academic performance and ask them to negotiate to spend money helping teachers teach and kids learn — by significantly reducing class sizes, increasing starting teacher pay and providing funding for classroom supplies. An across-the-board raise for all does very little of this.

There are no mentions of potential action in Oceanside (yet), but in 2018 the union instructed members to “work the contract.” That meant working only the hours outlined in their agreement, which required “not greater than 7½ hours per day,” including a lunch break in that time.

Minus lunch, seven hours of work per day is five hours a week less than most parents in the district likely consider full-time work. Taking at least five hours away from the education of kids, cutting out additional tutoring and other time, most certainly did some damage. A strike would have done far more.

Last year public records obtained from the district show full-time OUSD certificated employees had a median total pay (excluding benefits) of $95,429. However that excludes roughly $19,000 in contributions made to retirement plans beyond what private employees receive.

Those private workers would have to take money from their pay to fund similar benefits for themselves, which means they would need to make about $114,000 to do that and take home the same spending money.

Add 12% to that and that gets us to a comparable pay of almost $128,000. Parents think a “fair contract” should involve spending a significant part of that money instead on improvements to education rather than improvements to adult bank accounts.

We see people making comfortable six-figure incomes threatening to damage the education of our kids for their own personal financial gain. Are parents okay with this?

Todd Maddison is the Director of Research for Transparent California, a founding member of the Parent Association advocacy group and a longtime activist in improving K-12 education.

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