Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Myth of the Underpaid Teacher

This is a letter I sent to my local paper yesterday that I thought I would share:

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Mr. Monchinski’s letter asserting that Bedford Central teachers are not overpaid. A couple of years ago, I did something I wouldn’t wish on anyone: I read through the entire 115-page teachers union contract. I wanted to understand why my property taxes were so extraordinarily high relative to the rest of the country. I found out.

Allow me to lay out the facts, and then you can decide for yourself. For starters, it’s not difficult to make six figures a year – simply hanging around will get you the necessary raises, which come every six months, regardless of performance. Teachers are also only contractually required to work only 181 days a year, versus about 240 for the rest of us. But they also get 15 sick days, four personal days, and five bereavement days. Unused sick days go into a “bank” which pays out on retirement.

There is extra pay for everything imaginable. Coaching sports, monitoring recess, helping with plays, etc. (all the things private school teachers are expected to do as a normal part of their jobs). My personal favorite: $1,339 for monitoring the juggling club.

The big enchilada, though, is retirement.  Teachers get 70% of their peak base for life, which typically works out to about $85,000 a year (not taxed by the state, incidentally). Retirees also get excellent family health benefits, worth at least another 16k a year. To get all this, they are only required to cover 15% of their health.

Live another 25 years, and that’s a cool $2.5 million. They have an excellent chance of living that long, too, because they get to retire at age 57, Discounted at 4%, the package is worth a cool $1.6 million. It’s the same as being handed a $1.6 million fully-funded IRA on the day you retire, courtesy of the taxpayers.

These are the facts. They are purposefully buried in a complicated contract that few ever read. Mr. Monchinski’s primary argument seems to be that there are teachers in other New York District paid even more than here. Notice he says nothing of, say, nearby Connecticut where teachers – and taxes – are significantly lower.

We were trained for decades to think that teachers were underpaid, largely because they were. That time has passed.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The SCOTUS Vacancy Will Become the Defining Issue of this Cycle

To say that politics is inherently unpredictable is an understatement, but it's never more so than this cycle, where we may actually be staring into the face of a Sanders/Trump election. And just when we thought that national security would be the cycle's defining issue, it isn't. The unfortunate death of legal giant Antonin Scalia leaves us with an open Supreme Court seat, and the battle over this will be huge. 

And it won't favor Republicans.

If the vacancy had been, say, Ruth Bader Ginsberg's seat, this would all play out differently. There has been a tendency in recent years to view certain seats as "owned" by one side or the other, and by tendency, I mean that Republicans totally roll over when the vacancy is owned by the other side.

But this is the seat vacated by a giant of Constitutional conservatism. The left can hardly contain its excitement. And make no mistake, Obama will nominate someone of the Sotomayor/Kagan ilk. Those suggesting he might pick a moderate for the sake of an easy nomination process have surely been asleep for the last seven years.

This is going to get really, really ugly, and every presidential candidate will be drawn in. There has never been a presidential election with an open seat on the line, and this seats holds the balance of the court. Cruz has already said he will filibuster any nominee. It will come down to the GOP Senate, a ship captained by Mitch McConnell, someone who has shown no appetite for conflict with the White House. For now, he says he will block a vote. We'll see how he holds up when the left turns up the volume, and Obama uses the bully pulpit to gin up outrage. Unions will do their part also, as there's a huge case pending that affects their power to collect dues for political advocacy (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association).

McConnell will be under massive pressure from all quarters, which doesn't bode well for those who want the next president to choose Scalia's successor.

How does this affect the presidential race? In my view, it's a slight advantage for Democrats. Most people think of the Supreme Court in terms of social issues, and sure enough there are pending cases on things like abortion and affirmative action. Look for the Dems to key off these issues, particularly abortion. The abortion case pending (Whole Women's Health v. Cole) rules on a fairly technical issue, but that won't matter. Look for Dems to turn the vacant seat into a social issues referendum. This is bad for Republicans, who would much rather see this cycle be about national security and the economy.

This is just getting started.