Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Your Kid's Teacher, Millionaire

It is becoming increasingly clear that the biggest threat facing our country is not Al Qaeda, the recession, or the Kardashian sisters. It is public sector unions. FDR and others warned us that they shouldn't exist, but we didn't listen. And now your kid's teachers are millionaires. No kidding, but more on that in a moment.

I would argue private sector unions no longer serve a purpose, either (other than slowly bankrupting industries), but at least there is an honest negotiation. Labor and capital. They both need each other to survive, and they can compromise from opposite sides of the table.

With public unions, there is no opposite side. This is something that was lost on 95% of the American public until the last year or so. I can still picture the odious Jon Corzine addressing a crowd of public employees. In full campaign mode, he hollered, "I'll fight to get you a good contract!"

Fight whom? Himself? He's the one who's supposed to represent you and me, after all. The taxpayer.

So you have politicians negotiating with unions, the same unions that will recycle their loot back to the politicians in the form of campaign contributions. And TV ads. And phone banks. And canvassing. And screechy rallies attended by the pliant media. This is completely legal, institutionalized corruption, and it's the kind of thing that, in the private sector, lands you in front of a public prosecutor. But then, we've never held our politicians to the standards to which we hold the rest of society...

Politicians have no incentive to do anything but give away the store. The diffuse interest of the taxpayer is not present at the table. I imagine that in the back of their heads, in a place they rarely allow their minds to wander, they all knew this would lead to disaster. But the odds of this happening on their watch always seemed small. Others could be left to clean up the mess on some other, distant, day.

Welcome to that day.

Many of our states, including my own, New York, are functionally bankrupt, and given the future promises they have made, it is not clear how to solve the problem. In New York, for instance, pension guarantees are protected by the New York Constitution. Good luck changing that.

How big are these promises? Let's get back to my millionaire claim about teachers, which on the face of it, should seem preposterous. Teachers are by far the biggest public employee category, and their contract terms are illustrative of what goes on elsewhere. In my town, a teacher retiring today gets 70%, give or take, of his or her salary for the rest of his or her life. That's about $84,000 a year (not taxed by the state, incidentally). Plus, they get health benefits for their entire family for life. That's worth another $16,000 a year, for a total of $100,000 a year. Live for 25 years and that's a total 0f $2.5 million. Discounted at 4%, it's $1.6 million.

To quote our president, "let's be clear": there is zero difference between this and having an IRA with a value of $1.6 million, except the rest of us didn't demand that taxpayers fund our IRAs.

But it's much worse than that. You see, I have done what few have ever done, something so unsettling I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy: I have actually read all 115 pages of my town's teachers contract (which is a typical one, by the way).

Here are some of the highlights:
  • If you stick around a bit, you make six figures. That's for the 181 days you are contractually liable to work. Most of us work about 250.
  • But it's not really 181 days. You get 15 sick days a year. Who gets sick 15 days a year? No one, but that wouldn't be the point. If you don't use the sick days, they go into your "sick day bank," and you are paid for these days when you retire.
  • Automatic raises every six months irrespective of performance.
  • Five bereavement days a year.
  • Four personal days, no questions asked.
  • Three religious holidays, which don't include the Christian and Jewish holidays you already get.
  • Extra pay for the slightest effort beyond basic teaching duties. Coaching sports, helping with plays, overseeing recess; all the things private school teachers (who make way less) are expected to do for nothing. My personal local favorite: $1339 for overseeing the juggling club.

That's only a taste. 

There is a reason all this is structured this way: to make it very hard for you and me to figure it out. I call it backdoor compensation. We are shocked enough to discover our friendly 2nd grade teacher scoring six figures; imagine how we'd feel if we knew the real number. Teachers unions are vile, but they are not dumb.

Many of us grew up with the Berlin Wall. Its existence seemed a simple fact of life, and few of us had any notion it would disappear in our lifetimes. Then, almost overnight, it was gone. This is the nature of unsustainable paradigms: their outward appearance can remain unchanged for years, but the pressure mounts underneath. When that pressure can no longer be contained, its release is sudden and shocking.

The Berlin Wall moment for public unions is fast approaching.


  1. Scott ... Well researched and reported. I graduated from 1960 and college in 1965. At that time teachers were consider to be significantly underpaid but produced a generation of extremely well educated students "just for the love of teaching." As your post reveals a lot has changed in 45 years. I certainly do not intend to deny very good teachers, very good compensation and good teachers, good compensation but it is obvious that public education has become about the money and not the students education. How else can one explain the sorry product of our public education system today compared to other countries. And it has been enabled by the duplicate and unchecked public unions. The fall of the public union Berlin Wall cannot occur fast enough! .... Cous Bobby

  2. Brilliantly put Scott.
    I have several teachers in my family, and I know their dedication and hard work make them the exception, not the rule, these days. (I am shocked they make so much)
    I heard recently that many young adults in their 20's become teachers for the salary, and for the summer break. They go in on shares in summer houses (NJ) and go wild....nice job, and these kids are teaching our children?
    Maybe I'm in the wrong profession!

  3. Such an outrage!! The teachers wrap themselves in the phony, earnest flag of "we need to value teaching, we need to pay our teachers", but the reality is teachers come from the bottom of their college class, hardly work, and our paid a fortune.

  4. Bad teachers are not an accident. Before the unions gained power, bad teachers were weeded out based on their performance--as they are in other professions. Unions have fought merit pay for good teachers from the beginning, because once you declare one teacher to be superior, you have to acknowledge that there are others who fall short. Unions see any hint of accountability as anathema. They seek the lowest common denominator. Public school teachers receive "tenure" after a few years and, after that, are almost untouchable. It's a deliberate and insidious strategy embraced by the unions, just like the compensation schemes that Scott pointed out.

  5. Scott,

    You should check to see whether unused sick days can be cashed in during the final year before retirement to increase the salary basis for calculating pension benefits. There was a case of a California Highway Patrolman paid $260 K during his final year, and his pension is 90 pct of his last year's comp. That sick day bank could be the real ticking bomb in the pension accounts.

  6. Basically agree with all the comments. There is a perverse incentive at play that needs to be eradicated. One question...often unions collect dues and have significant amounts of money under their 'governance'. Abuse of such capital has been severe in many unions in the past. Is this also the case with teacher's unions? What part of that capital (if any) is taxpayer funded?

  7. The social compact is broken! When I was growing up in the 1960's my parents told me to respect my teachers and the police because they were taking care of me and they didn't make that much money. The tables turned they make more than average work less or retire much younger and don't take care of me or my kids anymore.

  8. "unreported" for years is one way of putting it. The sad sick truth is that good intelligent Americans have been attempting to point this out for years and finding out the hard way where the police union scum stand on the issue.

  9. This is mostly a lot of B.S. Is it a surprise that teachers in a wealthy school district in NY can retire as millionaires? Not really.

    Pretty much anyone with a good salary and a retirement plan can retire as a millionaire.

    Wealthy cities tend to pay their teachers very well to attract the best teachers. They do this voluntarily. Not only that, but they move to these communities with highly paid teachers so that they can get their kids the best educations. So who is driving the salaries??? The teachers or the citizens?

    The average teacher in NY makes in the 60s which is pretty good but not all that unreasonable considering the cost of living and the wealth of the area.

  10. @RA

    "Pretty much anyone with a good salary and a retirement plan can retire as a millionaire."

    Yes, the difference is, as I pointed out, that in the private sector, one save's one's own money for retirement. With teachers (and other public sector employees), it's a gift from the taxpayers. It's called a defined benefit program, and it bankrupted Detroit, and it's why you don't see it in the private sector any more.

    As for salaries being "not all that unreasonable," did you actually read the whole piece? Salaries are only the beginning of the comp package, and the work year is only 181 days.

  11. Yes, I read it. Why don't you do a comparison of your own school district's benefits and that of Buffalo, New York. Then we will see what excessive benefits the unions are extracting and what your fellow citizens are willfully paying in order to make certain their kids are getting a top-notch education.

  12. What is the salary of a teacher in New York state? According to the author its $120,000.

  13. @RA

    Not sure what your point is. Avg teacher in Buffalo makes a base of 52k. Given all the other comp, I'd say they're doing pretty well in Buffalo. Much better than the average private sector worker, and certainly better than private school teachers.

    As to citizens "willingly paying" for top notch educations, where do I start?

    1. most NY districts are mediocre at best (there are exceptions, of course)
    2. most citizens have no idea what teachers really make, for all the reasons I listed (backdoor comp, etc.)
    3. the public does not get to vote on these packages.
    4. they DO get to vote on school budgets, but this is a highly rigged process, and perhaps good fodder for another piece

  14. @anonymous

    I do NOT say that the average NY teacher makes a base of 120k, because they don't. What is true, however, is that this is roughly what someone is making who retires today, i.e. someone who has been around for a while. Remember, your pay automatically increases with length of tenure.

  15. Buffalo teachers are doing OK. 52K for a person with 20 years experience doesn't seem outrageous to me. I think they could do better in the private sector.

    And I doubt seriously that their pension is all that outrageous either. That's one way to keep people in the teaching field which has a very high dropout rate.

    Starting teacher salary in Buffalo is $32,000. I wouldn't work there coming out of college.

    You aren't going to get college educated people to work for next to nothing whether they are paid by the taxpayer or not.

    The primary reason your school district pays as well as it does is because that's what your fellow citizens want to pay teachers -- benefits and all. They could pay what Buffalo pays but then they wouldn't attract the same quality of teacher.

  16. @RA

    There is a market rate for teachers, and public schools are way over it. How do I know this? Because private school teachers accept far less. It's not even close. And when our district has an opening, they literally get thousands of applications.

    And, no, I'll say again: our district residents have made no conscious decision to pay teachers this much. I doubt 1% of the residents has any idea, and the boom times of a few years ago eased the pain of higher taxes (in our county, now the highest in the nation).

    Further, they have almost no say in the matter anyway. In NY, most of what's driven comp higher has emanated from backdoor deals in Albany. Things like LIFO and the Triborough amendment. Think one citizen in 100 knows about those things?

    Fortunately, people are starting to figure out how the game's been rigged against them all this time, and they are pissed.

  17. You don't know what you are talking about. I live in Texas and we have no unions here and teachers have pensions and Buffalo's teacher salaries aren't any different than here in Texas. So the unions are exactly stealing the NY taxpayer blind.

    A beginning teacher in Texas makes more than in Buffalo. And Texas' school system is a lot worse than New York's.

    Private school teachers make less because they have a much easier job. They don't teach as many kids and only teach rich kids. It's a lot less stress.

  18. Average SAT score NY State: 1478
    Average SAT score Texas: 1481

    Average teacher pay NY: 66.3K
    Average teacher pay TX: 49.9

    Average expenditure per student NY: 16K
    Average expenditure per student TX: 8K

    So, Texas is spending way less and getting slightly better results. And before you say, "it's cheaper in Texas," if you look across all states, there's actually a slight negative correlation between money spent and results. This is because more money is spent in union states, and union rules (LIFO being offender #1) are antithetical to the education of students.

  19. I'll agree that unions get teachers a better deal. But let's not pretend that your city is paying what it is paying because of the unions. You live in a wealthy city that wants to pay large salaries and pay good benefits.

    Many of the citizens of your city would probably send their kids to private school. But paying the taxes they pay and paying teachers well is considered a better deal than private school.

    New York would pay its teachers considerably more than Texas with or without unions because of the cost of living and wealth difference.

  20. I don't live in NYC, I live in a very pleasant suburb with none of the issues you cite.

    And again, there is a negative correlation between money spent per student and performance. This is across all states, and it is almost entirely a union effect.

  21. Yes, there are crappy teachers, but many are talented and dedicated. And many of you may not think this is true, but education has actually improved in the last 30 years. What has really changed is how many parents have raised their children. So before people trash teachers maybe they should wonder what has changed about parents and how they parent children, and has that had an effect on learning, education and kids?

  22. I know you don't. It seems you live in either Westchester or Nassau County based on your claim about property taxes. Both have top-rated public schools as most wealthy cities do. And as in most wealthy places, they pay their teachers well to attract the best. That's why you have 1,000s of applicants.

    It doesn't have that much to do with the unions. Those teachers probably are overpaid. But that's subjective. My guess is that the residents wouldn't cut teacher pay much union or otherwise. It's nice to be able to send your kids to a top quality public school instead of having to forks out tons of money for a private one.

  23. @anonymous

    Who here has "crapped" on teachers? Not I, nor anyone else that I that can tell. There are good teachers and there are bad teachers, just like any other profession, although in places like NY the % of bad teachers is much higher for the simple reason that the law won't let schools fire teachers based on there ability (or lack thereof). All teachers after three years get tenure for life, so let's not fool ourselves: if you can't get fired, a certain % of people are always just going to dial it in. It doesn't matter what the profession is.

    The big issue here is not with teachers, it is with the injurious unions they are forced to join. If there were right to work rules, most teachers would leave the union in a heartbeat.

  24. @RA

    I wish I could report to you that my school district is superlative, but it just isn't. Ordinary would put it best, despite spending a whopping 28K per student. And many of the residents are, in fact, waking up to the fact that almost 80% of the budget goes to salaries and benefits and there is growing anger. Outside of a small handful of people, absolutely no one knew this stuff before a couple of years ago.

    Utah spends $5500 per student and has better performance than our district.

  25. True enough. That cost has more to do with the residents wanting to give their kids the best. So rich schools build rock climbing walls and artificial turf football fields and swimming pools and all the amenities. It doesn't help education in the least but it's what rich kids ought to have.

    They can't afford that stuff in Utah so they don't spend as much money.

  26. No rock climbing walls, no pools. Like I said, 80% goes into the union maw.

  27. They are still going to pay their teacher's top dollar. That's got nothing to do with unions. Why does your district pay more than Buffalo? Because they can afford it. That's the only reason.

    The same reason that wealthy school districts here in Texas with fairly small populations pay superintendents $300,000 per year and football coaches $100K. It's a prestige thing.

    Studies show that incentive bonuses don't help teacher quality. Charter schools that pay more money to teachers don't perform any better.

    You'll never convince people of that though.

  28. Again, no one has had any idea until recently just how much teachers were really making. The obtuse nature of the contracts is designed specifically to prevent transparency. Your comments seem to assume a fully informed citizenry, and I can assure you, that's about a million miles from the truth.

    But it's changing. It used to be that people were brain washed into voting for higher budgets to "preserve home values." Now they realize those budgets, having compounded for about 20 years at 7%, are crushing their home values. Nearby in Connecticut, similar homes sell for twice as much. Taxes there are lower because they spend half what we do per student. AND the schools are better.

    You are defending a paradigm that is unsustainable just by the basic mathematics. It must get exhausting. Facts are not ideological.

  29. Yet another "analysis" by somebody with no real understanding of education and national contracts (vs a local district in a high-paid area). Most of the "facts" the author cites aren't accurate nationally. First, most teachers across the nation do not get free health care for life for their families, not even themselves. In MN, my wife belongs to a teacher's union, pays part of her high-deductible plan, and the family rate costs another $700/mo (so we buy private insurance). The top income she can achieve is about $55k a year (yes, she has a master's degree). From that pay she contributes 5.5% back to her pension.
    The comparisons between public and private teachers demonstrates perfectly the author's lack of knowledge on the topic. Private teachers do get paid less. They have no state requirements to meet. They don't have to have college degrees. They don't have to work around discipline issues like those in public schools. I know a few public teachers that left for private schools, normally accepting about 10k less total compensation, and did so gladly because private schools generally have children from good families, good incomes, and are motivated and well-behaved. If they aren't, private schools can easily expell students. People who write articles like this refuse to acknowledge the challenges teachers face in the public sector. You can't necessarily make blanket comparisons between states with different poverty levels.

  30. There is no such thing as fully informed citizenry. Again, why does your school district pay more than Buffalo when both are unionized?

    It's really not that much about the unions. It's about what people are willing and able to pay. In your town, they are willing to pay a lot and will continue to do so -- unions or no unions. You can take that to the bank.

  31. @ Brod You're only helping to make my point...Minnesota spends less and has excellent results. And, yes, I know full well that comparisons across towns and states is filled with the apple/orange issue. And, yes, I know my town is not exactly the same as everywhere else. But I DO know the following:

    1. The numbers I have presented for my town are 100% accurate and represent what can happen in a state where there is no check on the process. No, not every state has our problem, but a whole bunch do.

    2. The private school/public school issue can be isolated in my town, where the demographics of those attending the two are roughly similar and discipline issues are roughly equivalent. The result? Private school teachers make 30% less and don't get all the other benefits listed in the piece, and yet somehow the private schools attract excellent teachers.

    3. The "somehow" mostly gets back to the union. The union rules resemble the GM shop floor circa 1975. These rules allow for no flexibility, no constructive interaction with the administration without the union standing in between, and no creativity. It is a stifling environment, and so private school teachers accept far less.

    It all gets back to the unions.

  32. Frankly, if you just give it a little thought, forcing and coercing folks to join a union - public or private - is blatantly unconstitutional.
    If people can be coerced into joining a union, then really, there is no reason at all they cannot be forced into joining a political party or voting a certain way. Forcing union membership is the way things were done in Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia or Kim Jong's N.Korea.
    Unions are alway telling others how to run their organizations. Here is an idea: why don't the unions own and operate their own businesses !!!
    Walmart, McDonalds, Ford Motor, Boeing, Starbucks, etc., were started by individuals whose financial and people resources were microscopic compared to the bucks unions have.
    There is no reason on earth that unions cannot start - or buy - a business.
    But because unions are merely legalized version of organized crime, it is far more lucrative to use blackmail (via the courts or strikes), bribery (of politicians) and thuggish strong-arm tactics to force, to compel others to do what they themselves refuse to do !!!
    Frankly, a constitutional amendment needs to be passed REAFFIRMING the RIGHT of individuals NOT TO BE COERCED, FORCED, INTO JOINING OR PARTICIPATING IN ANY ORGANIZATION THEY WISH NOT TO JOIN.
    The founding fathers are rolling in their graves.

  33. Scott, you are writing an anti-union argument based on what are perhaps some obscene cases in your district that DO NOT transcend much of the rest of the country. I can't claim to know what contracts offer in your district, but I'm very suspicious that you have elementary teachers making over 6 figures. But then again, in NY much of the income levels are far higher than the rest of the country in nearly every career.
    1> They may be for your area, but I'd suggest not using your area's results as a blanket cure-all for the rest of the nation. MN may spend less. We have excellent public schools. We also have strong unions.
    2>I do not believe, nor can you convince me, that the demographics, student cognitive capacity and general parental involvement in NY private schools at all resembles the public school system. This is a completely delirious statement you've made. Are we to believe that teacher in NY are so in love with not being in the union they will work at private schools for 30% less, and have the same student body? Look, private military contractors are highered by the US govt in Iraq at the cost of over 100k/soldier. The govt pays its army recruits in the 20k range. But suggesting we must use the private pay scale to base all govt workers' salaries, are you all for giving all US military personell a 200%+ pay hike?
    3> Creativity. I don't know about NY, but in MN, my wife is on cirriculum-writing boards and the notion they aren't constantly looking at new innovative teaching solutions is nonesense.

  34. @RA

    To answer your question, we were willing to pay so much for the following reasons:

    1. We were always told it was "for the kids," particularly in the big ads the union would take out every year with comely looking kids. People were made to feel guilty and/or greedy if they suggested voting against a budget. It was never about the kids, but people were slow to catch on.

    2. Children of parents who were public in their disapproval of spending levels were treated poorly and harassed by some teachers. Parents became afraid to speak out lest their kids be harmed in some way. No, I'm not kidding. This harassment by no means came from all teachers, just some who were very involved with union affairs. But it was (and is) there.

    3. We told it would help home values. Again, demonstratively wrong, but it took a while to catch on, particularly during the bull market.

    4. Budget and school board elections are held in May and by state law are held at the schools themselves. This is not accidental. Parents (voters most likely to approve of bigger budgets) doing drop off are automatically reminded to vote. Non-parents often have no idea there's even a vote taking place, or even that it's something they can vote on in the first place.

    4. A rejected budget can be resubmitted 30 days later. The usual game is to submit a budget that's up 8.1% instead of 8.3%. The parents mobilize while the private school families have often left for the summer. This almost never loses but if it does...

    5. The school still gets a "contingency" budget, which adjusts last year's budget for inflation and enrollment. No pain, in other words.

    You see, there are a whole lot of reasons why these budgets ballooned. The process is rigged at every level, by the union and their cohorts in Albany, and designed very efficiently to take advantage of residents every step of the way who do not take a fairly immense amount of time to understand all the issues.

  35. @Brod Yes, we have elementary school teachers making six figures. And my town is not very diverse, so the public/private comparison is apt.

    The only amendment I will make to my piece is that it is incorrect to suggest everywhere is like my district. Mind you, I didn't say they were.

    But the case for unions doing anything to promote the education of our children is a specious one, most especially in states where they have the run of the store. I don't know all the particulars in Minnesota, but at least you have a two-party system. I imagine this keeps in check the worst abuses.

  36. Anonymous shows the ridiculous cognitive dissonance on display with this issue:"reality is teachers come from the bottom of their college class, hardly work, and our paid a fortune."

    Leaving aside the laughable misspelling of "are" - apparently somehow we created a profession that is both easy to do and pays incredibly well for little work. One would THINK that such a gig would obviously attract lots of talented people who would compete over the limited spots and yet, somehow, this isn't true. Not only that, but NONE of the people bitching about what a great racket teaching is seem to have ANY interest in becoming teachers themselves. Somehow they have found an easy, well paying gig that requires little training and yet they chose to stay in their (relatively) underpaid, over-worked, jobs rather than run on over to jump on the gravy train they see. I'm sure it's just because they are have too much integrity to take advantage of the system. Yeah, that must be it. It couldn't be because they known damn well it is not a gravy train at all.

  37. When you say "we," I think you should probably say "they." I don't believe for a second that the majority of the population in your exceedingly wealthy school district are nearly as fired up about this as you are.

    You say that your school district is average. Nonetheless, the school districts in your county are pretty high performing and some of the best in the state. It's too bad that your district isn't among those.

    But am I to believe that the parents in your district want to improve their average schools by decreasing salaries when compared to the nearby districts that are beating their pants off? I doubt this very highly.

    It seems to me that you are completely missing the competitive aspect here. I know darn well that rich parents do not like their kids coming in second to anyone and money is not an object in your neck of the woods.

    I do agree with you that your school is wasting tons of money and spending more money does not necessarily lead to better results in education.

    But give me a break. Voters are intimated because they vote at the public school? Teachers are intimidating voters?

    If an issue is presented as being good for the school district, it will almost always pass. That's true anywhere.

    You've got to admit that your rich neighbors believe in paying their teachers well because they want junior to grow up to be well educated and rich just like dear old dad. And they aren't all that hung up on paying higher taxes when compared to sending him to private school.

    I'm sure people are getting tired of paying high taxes and you've got a growing number of frustrated people. But it's not the unions driving those salaries. People have been paying up for what they want. Maybe they haven't gotten the results, but that's another matter.

  38. Scott, I'd wager even in homogenious communities like yours, there is a stark difference in the quality of students or households (parents that care enough to pay for a private school) in private/public schools. Finland apparently has the best schools on the planet currently, and they are very strongly unionized. MN, strongly unionized. Mass has test scores that competes well with every nation on the planet except Singapore, and is highly unionized.
    But the unions aren't promoting education for wealthy districts like yours. They are trying to keep wages and benefits high enough in low-income areas with severe behavoral issues and litigious parents, so qualified professionals still take the job. If you had originally stated this analysis was incomplete and district specific, I wouldn't have replied. You're right, MN does have a fairly even mix of DFL and GOP. Thankfully, under the current power mix I doubt our governor will accept any teacher union busting, hopefully preserving the glorious 50k salary my wife accepts, and she'll continue to work in a district widely below the poverty level with very little thanks from the Tea Party movement.

  39. In Ontario, Canada, the teachers's unions own the Premier of the Province (like an American Governor). He panders to them and gives them greater than market raises and goes for all day kindergarten. In return, they advertise for him under the name of Working Families Coalition.

  40. Jonston is an idot. Why not attack investment banksters and Wall Street criminals and give public employees credit for the hard work they are doing.

  41. Last year, someone in my town asked me how I could blame teachers for taking the high salaries that were available to them? My answer was I didn't; any normal person seeks to maximize their compensation.

    So, for the tenth time: this is not an attack on teachers, it is an indictment of the unholy alliance between politicians and public sector unions, and the unsustainable paradigm that results. Most teachers have nothing to do with their union, and most would gladly not be members.

    Perhaps someone on the other side of this debate can justify for me why a teacher should be forced to join a union against his or her will. For that matter, why are teachers unions necessary at all? Are there dangerous work conditions? And who are they organizing against, anyway? The general public?

    For the person who suggested I try teaching, I did. I taught for three years

    And for the person who called me an "idot," well, clearly I have been bested.

  42. Maybe you should explain why a teacher shouldn't join a union when it undoubtably gets them better pay and benefits. You don't like teachers having negotiating power. But why should they give it up when it's working so well for them?

    If teachers aren't in a union, they will have lower pay and worse benefits. Why would they want that? Do you understand basic economics? How is it in a teacher's economic interest not to join a union?

    We've already established that New York teachers don't make all that much compared to teachers across the country when you adjust for cost of living.

    You've tried to present your own area as being representative of New York when in fact you live in one of the wealthiest counties in America and have a public that drives up the costs of teacher pay by only accepting top-flight teachers to teach their future Ivy Leaguers.

    Let me give you a basic economic lession. What happens when your county tries to attract the average teacher in Buffalo making $52,000 per year or even one of those Republican Utah teachers?

    The cost of living is 25% higher in your county than in Buffalo or Utah. Is an average teacher going to accept a 25% paycut to work in your county? I don't think so. So you pay them 25% more so that they will move there and teacher your kids. That makes their pay $69,000 per year.

    Now we are not going to accept just the average teacher from Buffalo or Utah to teach our Ivy League youngsters. So we have to pay them 10% more to attract the best of the best to teach the young minds of the best and the brightest. Now pay is up to the mid-70s. For people making above average pay, that puts them as high as the mid-90s or even that dreaded 100,000.

    As you pointed out, there are no ideological facts. Just ideological arguments.

  43. @RA

    As I was an Adjunct Professor in Economics at Yale, I don't think I need an economics lesson from you. Sorry, don't mean to go resume on you, but your tone grows condescending, and your arguments repetitive. I think I understand economics.

    The frustration I'm having with you is you ignore any arguments that are inconvenient to yours. Much of the piece was about how the system is set up to obfuscate what teachers are really making, thus rendering base salaries somewhat irrelevant to the discussion. And yet you continue to harp on base salaries. No mention of all the vacations, during which teachers are free to earn even more income. No mention of all the sick days and other forms of backdoor compensation. And no mention of why public unions should exist in the first place, other than to extract more money from taxpayers.

    You may post more if you wish, but I don't see anything new here, so I'm going back to work (where I can be found an average of 250 days a year).

  44. Like you said, there are no ideological facts. Just ideological arguments. Just goes to show that even an economic professor is not immune.

    Of course, you will get some of your worst economic arguments from economics professors.

    Teachers have decent benefits. But teachers in Utah and Texas have pensions, too. They get sick days. They roll over. They get coaching stipends. There is no real difference in pay and benefits between New York and Utah teachers.

    You're just a right-wing nut making right-wing nut arguments that are easily defeated if you uncover a fact or two.

  45. Scott, what does a bulldozer operator make in your community? In MN, they can make about 60-80k in 5-6months of work. Then they get laid off all winter and collect unemployment. And most of the jobs they work are highway taxpayer funded. May I submit you tackle overpaid construction jobs for your next "thesis"?
    Why do conservatives that are highly uneducated in education try so desperately to convince us teachers are grossly overpaid? Yes they work 10 months out of the year (no uemployment). They get paid for those 10 months only. Yes they get sick days. Did it ever occur to you that classrooms are cauldrens of snotty kids and disease? Teachers need sick days. Yes they get holidays off. In MN, kids get a few days off around Christmas, Easter, etc to spend with their families. Would you rather have your kids in school on holidays so lazy teachers have to work?
    As the debate lingers, you make more and more petty accusations about the job of a teacher and then keep asking us to accept that you really are only after unions.
    Even if that is true, certainly with your pedigree you must agree that while a few teachers may chooose to not join a union if given the choice, they'd still benefit from the collective bargaining. Overall the real driving force is you, and those like you, think teachers are overpaid and underworked. They get too many sick days. They get Christmas off while capitalists like you are probably spending Christmas eve hovering over your technical charts trying to pinch out another 100k by year-end. You want their benefits cut, pay cut, maybe hours extended. I'll have to beg your pardon for misconstruing your thoughts as being anti-teacher.

  46. Jackpot! If you argue with a liberal long enough, the name calling starts, usually about the time they run out of facts or logical reasoning, which is typically right away. Congratulations, RA, for managing to bite your tongue for so long, it must have been difficult. You may call me a Nazi now, because I know you want to.

    And Brod, I actually asked the headmaster of a private school how many sick days the average teacher takes per year. The answer is one day every two years. So, unless you think private school kids are somehow cleaner and less diseased, that would seem to be a good number.

    Please don't be naive. The whole concept of a "sick day bank" is perverse, and only designed for one purpose: to hide compensation. If it were otherwise, the unused days would simply expire. How's this for a novel concept: maybe when you get sick, you just don't come to work that day. That's how it works where I work, and probably where you work too

  47. @RA and BROD: I was amused to read your spirited rants. It's really a simple issue. If the unions are as essential to the protection of teachers as you seem to believe they are, why isn't union membership voluntary? You shouldn't have to REQUIRE someone to join an organization that is ostensibly there to protect and defend their interests. Why don't the teachers have the freedom to choose? Mandatory membership in anything seems pretty un-American, if you ask me.

    And BROD, are you a product of MN's excellent public schools? If so, I want to point out that military contractors are hired (not highered). I am also hoping that your wife know how to spell curriculum, since you don't.

  48. @AKL,

    I was glad to entertain you. I really don't care whether public sector unions exist or not to tell you the truth. Everyone has to fight for their rights, and I don't begrudge them the right to unionize. It is a free country and I see unions as part of the free market. Sometimes they are excessively successful and have to be cutback.

    In any case, I definitely have not seen any indication that unions actually are accomplishing too much good or bad. As I have pointed out, New York teachers really don't make any more than teachers in Texas or Utah, two exceedingly non-union states.

    In fact, in the research I have done, New York teachers are doing basically exactly the same or worse. This also seems to be the case in Wisconsin.

    Scott and yourself prefer to believe that base salaries don't matter and that New York teachers gets lots better benefits than non-unions. I think it is very doubtful that lower paying jobs have higher benefits.

    If either of you can actually point to excessively higher total compensation for similar populations, I'd be interested to see it just out of curiousity.

    Unions are far as I can tell are amounting to a hill of beans.

  49. Scott, first you made an attempt to claim the contract you read was common throughput the country. It isn't. Then you whine aobut sick days being banked. In most districts there is a maximum of 3-5 per year that can accrue. Congrats on uncovering the billions in dollars that must be covered up in those 3-5 days. And clearly if the head master of ONE school who's student body contains well nourished, healthy, wealthy children, that MUST be the rule throughout the nation. Ack. That isn't the norm in MN. Then you persist with your rant that teachers get personal days that build up. Yes they do. They are also what are spent for maternity leave. I see you ignored the issue regarding getting lazy teachers to work on holidays when kids aren't present.

    This is one of the most persistently ignorant editorials written from an educated man I've seen in a long time. By the way, I'm not liberal, at least not on most topics. I just made an honest attempt a few years ago to stop treating every educator's objection to criticisms like yours as excuse making. I get called a liberal a lot when I make an attempt to push back when people write blogs that start by claiming Teacher Unions > Al Queda when it comes to destroying our country.

    To answer your question directly, why can't teachers just not show up when they are sick? What, do you think they get paid twice on sick days...wait, you probably do. Teachers are salaried. The school pays their wage when they are sick. Except when a teacher can't come to work, there are 30 kids still requiring an education and the district must hire a sub. If the teacher doesn't use all the sick days, they can sometimes turn them back in for a fraction of their cost...probably designed to get teacher to come to work when the just have the sniffles, saving the district the cost of a sub. Most salaried professionals in the private sector can take sick days too without having pay docked. I believe you are equating the salaried position of an educated, specialized public school teacher with an hourly worker at Taco Bell.

    I guess I'd suggest unions are there to push back on taxpayers who have little understanding of education, yet seem to have all the answers.

  50. @ AKL, normally in the spirit of civilized discourse it is considered petty to point out typos or simple mistakes such as too vs to. For some reason there is a nasty delay when I try to type on this comment window, and I'm not being as cautious as I should. But thanks. And since this is devolving into a grammer lesson...

    " I am also hoping that your wife know how to spell curriculum, since you don't. "

    Did you mean to write "knows" instead of "know"? Because I can't believe you'd be such a d-bag to correct me then make an error yourself.

  51. LOL! What's the surest sign that someone is an internet mouth-breather? They are correcting the spelling of other commenters!

    Oh, god damn, that is hilarious.

    Thanks for falling on your sword so readily, AKL. I can now skip over all your comments on my way to the substantive ones.

    Oh well, I guess it is true that there's a turd in every punchbowl.

  52. Anyone who thinks public and private schools have the same student population isn't worth the internet bandwidth it takes to argue with him.

    I don't care what part of the country you live in - the numbers are what they are.

  53. Gravity works. What can't be paid won't be paid. If a cost can't be passed to a third party, people pay more attention to the expense.

  54. What great reading. I do have one suggestion. Get the hell out of New York.

  55. At first I was taken aback by the numbers, but something didn't sit right about the conclusions. Upon reflection I realized that the "millionaire" analogy is just plain wrong. First of all, of course most of the country's teachers aren't making the kinds of salaries or getting the benefits as those in Bedford. But regardless, take those benefits at net present value, the $ amt is much less. Even more importantly, that money is never a lump sum, it is parceled out annually. so 70% of even a $100,000 salary, yielding a taxable 70K, which is not going to buy a millionaire's lifestyle! Think housing, food, transportation, perhaps a little savings, perhaps pitching in to help elderly parents (just visiting elderly parents who don't live closeby costs $$), etc. etc.
    If America wants to maintain our place in the world, we need to invest in our teachers. In 2006 over half the undergraduates at Princeton University went to Wall St, simply because the salaries were "too good to turn down". Let's use the Wall St model to attract some of the best & brightest!
    And if cutting down government spending is so important, how about starting with the military budget....not enough press on that ever increasing hungry mouth.

  56. @anonymous

    You can use either number you want, present value or future value, and you get to a figure north of a million. The key point here is that this money is entirely furnished by the taxpayer, whereas in the private sector one must save for retirement themselves.

    Thinking we should actually pay teachers (or any civil servants) this much is certainly your prerogative, but it doesn't change the fact that this practice has left us at the door of insolvency.

  57. This can make a teacher's stomach sick!!!!! I have been teaching 21 years- a profession I chose and if you think you can do it, then you can choose to do it. I have never received 15 sick days-10 is more like it. We only use them if our own kids are sick, for it is so much work to leave substitute plans. I get 2 personal days, not 4. My starting salary was $22,439 and in 21 years I have never received overtime or a Christmas bonus. Wow- OVERTIME PAY- What a thought, when I leave the classroom, the classroom comes home with me. What do I make today- What I have been making for 21 years-A DIFFERENCE!!

  58. Scott you taught at Yale and thats your teaching experience???? Life is all about choices and you made some good ones and some bad ones so why are you so against people who did?? Maybe thats why you feel the way you do. I think you are very jealous about the choices you made.Get over it or move.

  59. I just had a thought why do you only go after teachers never cops,fireman, mailmen, toll collectors maybe you are afraid of what they might say or is it some hidden reason? Teachers are fighting back so watch out it might come back to bite you.Bedford teachers look who lives among you.

  60. @ (last) anonymous:

    This comment is the kind of thugishness I have come to expect. And when you say "teachers" will fight back, you really mean "unions," of course. And the irony here is that the unions are really the ones who are anti-teacher. When offered the chance to save a multitude of (younger, nontenured) teacher jobs in exchange for incredibly modest concessions, they throw their younger colleagues under the bus every time. I thought unions were supposed to be about solidarity.

    But to answer your question, you are correct about one thing: it is not merely teachers unions that are a threat to New York's well being, it is all public unions. I focus on teachers because the scale of the problem is so much greater than, say, toll booth collectors.

    @(previous) anonymous:

    A more incoherent string of sentences I have never read. Apparently, I am jealous of myself?

  61. No it shows how shallow you are and you to quote unions is a joke. The teachers you want to save have no experience and most dont even have the correct degrees to teach. No teachers have to lose their jobs but you want an issue so you made one up.See you are a joke because the only district that wants to save first year teachers is the city where they depend on young teachers because they are cheap and leave before they earn all that money that you are so jealous about.. You never hear about this in disticts where teachers are kept because they do what they are supposed to do. Seniority is something that has worked for years and was never an issue until the city needed to fill jobs with young idealistic kids who had to teach because there were no jobs available.They stay a few years and move on because teaching was never something they wanted to do in the first place.So you come along and think its a great idea to keep them and get rid of teachers who have seniority.
    Listen you need attention and you arent jealous of yourself you are jealous of people who made the correct choices in their lives so you need to pick on then because they made more money then you did.So cops fireman and all the other civil service people aren't the problem but teachers are. I may be incoherent but i know one thing and thats probably because after 40 years of teaching special education I know someone who has spent his life wishing he was someone else.You are a bitter man who spends his life dealing with his amazing ability to write something and confuse the facts.
    Thugishness wow what a word.
    No what im saying is that you are in your own way going to face a backlash of opinions from people not unions. "Unions are anti teacher" another Scottism that makes no sense at all.

  62. Scott I have some questions to ask you
    1. Is that your tax exempt corporation filed in katonah in 2004. If it is i quess your trying not to file your fair share of taxes.
    2. Did you not contact the Westchester Republican party to tell them of you op-ed piece in the daily news?
    3.As someone who is retired why do you make it seem that the school district is funding my retirement because thats not true. It come out of the state retirement which was paid into from the first day I went to work.
    4.I pay health insurance each month. Every school district in the state has different numbers that have been negociated between the Union and the school boards. I know many people who have to pay it all.
    5.You taught for three years and what happened after that? So working at Yale gives you enough experience to come down on the profession. Work in a school in the inner city and see how that works for you
    6. Do you get a pension?? Hows it working for you
    I think I should contact every civil service worker in your area and inform them not to invest with you or your company because there are many young people who have been working for a few years and they will appreciate the business more then you will. You have been working for many years and they know the field better and experience doesnt matter. Go with the younger person because he costs less.
    Scott you are a bully and you spin the world your way.Life doesnt seem to be working well for you but this will be the last you will hear from me. My wife and i have two pensions and you are taking time away from us as we have so much money we need the time to spend it all.
    You will go the way of Trump, Bloomberg, Klein , Black , Christie all the know it alls who know nothing. Its been fun but the money is more fun.

  63. @(last) anonymous:

    1. No, but the mere asking of the question suggests you don't understand the federal tax system (that's ok, few people do)

    2. No, should I?

    3. The timing of pension funding is irrelevant. We are having to fund huge future pensions today. On the health side, it's pay as you go since the district self-insures. In the last few weeks it was discovered that the district has a present value $160 health liability. This is a staggering number and double any other district in our area.

    4. You pay a tiny fraction of your health costs each month, well below the average for public employees, and hugely below the average for private workers.

    5. Why do you people keep thinking I'm coming down on the teaching profession? Do you actually read what I write? Personally, I loved teaching. I am "coming down" on the unsustainable compensation structure, which is just simply a fact. You folks - not surprisingly - want to keep this in perpetuity, but this will result in state insolvency, and which point there will be wholesale teacher firings and all your contracts will be subject to revision. Why not fix things before it gets to that?

    6. No, I don't get a pension. Like most people in the private sector, I save my own money in an IRA or a 401k. This is the system that public employees must be moved to. As for the rest of point 6, I have no idea what you're saying.

    @ (previous) anonymous:

    So you're a teacher. Good God.

  64. had so much fun spending your money

  65. and its obvious you weren't and you went on to that wonderful place call "Wall Street" but now your in Bedford. Hows that working for you??? You twist and you turn but your still a bully.

  66. Rule number one when you run out of facts or logical reasoning: call someone names.

    Rule number two: make assumptions about people you don't know the slightest thing about.

    I leave these nasty comments on here so everyone can see what the left and, in particular, the teachers unions are all about. The more you speak, the more you harm your own cause.

  67. truth hurts. Sorry you can't bully me. Rule number one "tell the truth".You know nothing of teacher unions.

  68. left = teachers union another Scottism

  69. I've just read through this thread, and one thing really sticks out: the consistently poor ability of teachers posting to express themselves. Grammar, spelling, and diction are mangled beyond repair. The ability to articulate thoughts or construct an argument, non-existent.

    Is this who is teaching are kids? We can only hope these are gym teachers. I don't doubt they are union activists.

  70. How do you know they are teachers??? Are you a teacher??? Are you a Scott follower??? Since you know him so well why does he not tell the truth? If he stands on his soap box and tells untruths why does he get so worked up when someone answers??

    Tell me Scott

  71. You got the A in grammar but I got the A in life.

  72. @anonymous

    For starters, at least one identified themselves as such. Pretty sure the others are teachers or other public sector union types. No, don't know the author, I live in California, where we suffer from the same union stranglehold. These are issues with which I'm familiar.

    Lastly, you keep saying he's lying. This is quite different and more serious than simply disagreeing. If he's lying, there must be specific facts in his piece that are wrong. All the facts I see are taken from his town's teachers' contract. Is Johnston wrong about any of these facts? Frankly, they look similar to what I see here in California.

    You can't call people a liar unless you say what they're lying about. Otherwise, it's as hominem, which is hardly worth listening to.

  73. "You got the A in grammar but I got the A in life."

    Nice to see teachers apply grade inflation to themselves and not just their students!

  74. again you assume what you think you know but you really know nothing.

  75. Mr California.
    How do you know this information is true?What do you know about education in New York State?
    Have you read the teachers contract in Bedford New York? I have never read a teachers contract in California and truthfully never cared as no two contracts are the same even in neighboring districts. Someone says something and its true in your mind because he said it. I guess you never read the New York Post or the Daily News.Scott is not telling the truth he is spinning the truth his way.Why doesnt Scott bring up the Bedford police department or the fire department?? He knows better so teachers are easier to pick on. He admitts that all of these union groups are the same but he doesnt mention them.Your not a fan of unions either and thats your choice but he writes articles and tries to influence peoples opinions without giving true facts. What do you call that???

  76. Again, what facts does Johnston have wrong? You keep calling him a liar - a nasty accusation - without saying what he is lying about.

    No, I have not read the contract, but I am not the one accusing Johnston of being a liar. The onus is on you. Have YOU read the contract? I merely said that everything in his piece is consistent with my own knowledge and experience, therefore I have no reason to doubt any of this.

    Re-reading the original piece, it seems not to present assumptions but rather a series of facts. Stop calling people liars unless you know these facts to be false. Put up or shut up.

    As for other public sector employees, I saw in one comment where Johnston says they are a big problem too, but the scale of the teacher union problem is far greater (presumably due to the sheer number of employees). This seems like a reasonable explanation. Just curious, are you saying that you agree with this?

    Also, I don't see that Johnston is "picking on" teachers. Rather, he is "picking on" the unions that teachers are forced to join. there's a difference.

  77. This comment has been removed by the author.

  78. Scott Talk for yourself
    No one forces you to join a union. Why would someone not join when according to you the benefits are so good.You make no sence with this arguement. If you polled Union members over 95% would sign up immediately. Especially when there are characters like you who are attacking teachers and their benefits all over the place.
    Again when you tell your side and leave out one side of the issue what do you call that??
    When you quote a private school and what they do and dont quote all private schools its like reading from one teachers contract and not all the others.
    Scott tells you what he wants to tell you and leaves out the other side.
    Mr. California what should we call that??

  79. Jay from Long IslandMay 27, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    Sunshine is a wonderful disinfectant. With that metaphor in mind, who should be opposed to shining the light of day on the Bedford budget?

    High salaries and generous benefits are wonderful when you can afford them, but need to be trimmed when you can’t. What makes bloated public sector salaries and benefits so insidious is that they were never sustainable. Politicians in Albany have feathered their nests for decades with union contributions, giving back unsustainable salaries, pensions, and healthcare benefits, to be paid for by future taxpayers. Politicians and unions reap the benefit today, and the burden falls on the rest of us tomorrow. Well, that bird is coming home to roost.

    By the way, I just voted FOR the school budget in my school district, one that is fairly similar to Bedford but located on Long Island. Our district enjoys one of the highest rankings on Long Island for most metrics, but has one of the smallest budgets per student. Our local school board and administration is able to accomplish good things despite the fact that approximately 80% of our budget is devoted to salaries, benefits, and unfunded mandates that cannot be controlled at the local level (think again of those Albany hacks, and Google “Triborough Amendment” in your spare time).

    So, while I’d like to send a message to Albany and the unions, I couldn’t see how defeating the budget in my highly efficient little school district was going to strike fear in the hearts of the Albany hacks and union bigwigs. In this instance, it made more sense to me to reward a job well done at the local level. But maybe if more Scott Johnstons write more op-ed pieces providing more facts to the taxpayers and voters of New York, a movement will grow and my protest vote will be worth it in the future.

    So I voted yes, but at least my vote was an informed vote. Why are the pro-union posters so afraid of a little information?

  80. "No one forces you to join a union."

    Are you kidding? It's the law in most states, including New York and California. That gets to the heart of the problem.

    Seriously, unless I hear someone refute any of the facts in the original piece, or unless I hear some basic intelligence, I may have to spend my time elsewhere, because facts and logic seem to be wasted on the teacher crowd posting here. Too bad about their students.

  81. see ya no loss Scott

  82. Wait a second just thought of something.The union is what is causing all the problems. So dont join and be at the mercy of you guys but join and become a millionare.This logic is the reason why there will be a backlash against your way of thinking. You are making the point for everyone to be a union member.
    Your jealousy is showing again.
    Get a life Scott

  83. All teachers
    Let make Scott happy
    1.Give up tenure.
    2. Give up your seniority rights
    3.Give up your retirement
    4.Give up benefits
    5. work longer hours for no pay
    6.Coach and do after school activities for free
    7 give up retirement benefits
    8. give up health benefits
    9.give back all that was earned in collective bargaining
    10.give it all back

    Make Scott happy give back and see what you will get in return.

  84. You then could go to work in The Alternative Investment Industry. You will have to work for free to make him happy.No perks, No sick days and at least 240 work days per year.You have to work all holidays and weekends and no time off for the rest of your life.Those years about dreaming about retirement are over.

  85. Jay from Long IslandMay 31, 2011 at 6:45 AM

    For some reason my previous post chopped off the first half, so I am re-posting it below. Words seem to be limited which is why I'm saying this here. Hopefully this works.

  86. Jay from Long IslandMay 31, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    I’ll leave aside the ad hominem attacks and name calling, because they only illustrate the ignorance and frustration of those posters. It appears to me, however, that most of the posts range far afield, and many are attributing statements or insinuations to Mr. Johnston that are not evident in his original blog or in his subsequent posts.

    Mr. Johnston has clearly upset a number of teachers union supporters by exposing the terms of his local school district’s contract to the light of day. This includes his headline number, which asserts that the present value of the pension of a retiring teacher in Bedford is equivalent to savings of $1.6 million in a private sector worker’s IRA or 401(k) account. To get to his number, he uses the terms of the contract and makes some reasonable assumptions. But…go ahead: discount that by 35% and you still come out with a figure over $1 million. The pension is paid for by taxpayers, and the teacher does not have to save anything. How many of you private sector workers would like to have that deal?

    I don’t think there is any doubt that the overwhelming majority of the voters in Bedford were unaware of most of the items that Mr. Johnston disclosed. Now that they are more fully informed, perhaps they will not reflexively pass the budget next year, as most of us have been doing for the last few decades. A knowledgeable voter is what scares the unions.

    Most Americans vote for school budgets because it seems like the right thing to do. We believe that educating our children should be our top priority (it should). We have all been raised to believe that teaching is a noble profession (it is). And we always thought that teachers have to make financial sacrifices (vs. those of us in the private sector) in order to dedicate themselves to our kids (once true, but no longer).

    Sunshine is a wonderful disinfectant. With that metaphor in mind, who should be opposed to shining the light of day on the Bedford budget?

    High salaries and generous benefits are wonderful when you can afford them, but need to be trimmed when you can’t. What makes bloated public sector salaries and benefits so insidious is that they were never sustainable. Politicians in Albany have feathered their nests for decades with union contributions, giving back unsustainable salaries, pensions, and healthcare benefits, to be paid for by future taxpayers. Politicians and unions reap the benefit today, and the burden falls on the rest of us tomorrow. Well, that bird is coming home to roost.

    By the way, I just voted FOR the school budget in my school district, one that is fairly similar to Bedford but located on Long Island. Our district enjoys one of the highest rankings on Long Island for most metrics, but has one of the smallest budgets per student. Our local school board and administration is able to accomplish good things despite the fact that approximately 80% of our budget is devoted to salaries, benefits, and unfunded mandates that cannot be controlled at the local level (think again of those Albany hacks, and Google “Triborough Amendment” in your spare time).

    So, while I’d like to send a message to Albany and the unions, I couldn’t see how defeating the budget in my highly efficient little school district was going to strike fear in the hearts of the Albany hacks and union bigwigs. In this instance, it made more sense to me to reward a job well done at the local level. But maybe if more Scott Johnstons write more op-ed pieces providing more facts to the taxpayers and voters of New York, a movement will grow and my protest vote will be worth it in the future.

    So I voted yes, but at least my vote was an informed vote. Why are the pro-union posters so afraid of a little information?

  87. The issues I have with Scott's posts mainly revolve around inferences he makes that his local district's contract is indicative of the rest of the country's. Scott, since you seem to enjoy the attention you've received with this topic, I'll indulge you a smidge longer.

    If you added 5.5% (the rate teachers pay into TRA in MN from their salary) over 40 years on an avg salary of 40k, that comes to about $570k assuming 8% growth. Now, double that number as most districts fund TRA equally to the teacher contribution. So, you get about a million $$ in accrued pension benefits in 40 years work. This isn't magic, and the math works the same for any privately funded 401k or 403b. So, would you be less offended if the pension program was eliminated and teachers still continued their 5.5% contribution into a 403b instead (along with the 5.5% the district pays for a total of 11%) and still ended up with about a million after 40 years of growth? You do understand that teachers fund their retirement from their salary, right? Your "math" seems to lean toward double counting the taxpayer liability. Also, to rectify the underfunded status in TRA, teachers will see their mandatory contribution increase to 7.5% in two years. In other words, they are making an attempt to shore up funding from their own salaries vs more taxes.

    The second point is I've read your blog entry where you make a mockery of tax logic by comparing international taxes through a look at marginal rates. Your conclusion is/was the US has high marginal rates, globally speaking. Any person with your degree and insistance on ridiculing others clinging to tax misinformation ought to know the only comparison that really matters is effective tax rates, not marginal rates.

  88. UFT Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff via Philadelphia Alliance of Charter School Employees
    Teachers and staff at the Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School in North Philadelphia have voted to joint the AFT. Congratulations to our sisters and brothers down in Philly.
    Teachers, Staff at Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School Vote for Union Representation
    Teachers and staff at Multi-Cultural Academy Charter, a high-achieving North Philadelphia charter school, voted on Friday to be represented by the..
    3 hours ago ·LikeUnlike · · Share.

    Why did they do that??????

  89. Jay from LI, you wrote,

    "The pension is paid for by taxpayers, and the teacher does not have to save anything. How many of you private sector workers would like to have that deal?"

    This is inaccurate. Teachers have a mandatory pension contribution from their salary of at least 5.5%. So they most certainly do have to save something. If Scott read the contract he'd know that. If most private sector workers saved 5.5% into a 401k over 40+ years they too would have an impressive retirement plan balance. My guess is if the private sector were forced to save 5.5% of their pay into a retirement plan, never mind it would dramatically increase the retirement problem in this country, many conservatives would be howling about freedom.

  90. @anonymous

    Why would they join the union? That's easy. Because unions (both private and public sector) are in the business of securing above-market compensation for their members. (In the case of public unions, this is done by gaming the political process.) Otherwise, what would be the point? But it is a near sighted decision, because making above market for an extended period of time causes an inevitable denouement that results in enormous pain for the very workers who think they've got it good. Just look at Detroit.

    The result here will be a multitude of teacher layoffs as well as significantly renegotiated contracts.

    @ Brod

    My hats off to you, because at least your trying to bring some facts into the debate (although I don't know how you determine I "like the attention" when I simply show the people nice enough to read my blog the courtesy of responses).

    What you can't get around are these basic facts:

    1. public employee comp packages (esp. teachers, since they are the biggest group) are causing taxes to be unbearably high for many
    2. as a result, states like NY are experiencing significant population losses
    3. this is particularly true at the high income levels, meaning big tax payers are leaving
    4. this further accelerates the problem and results in massive budget deficits and deteriorating home values
    5. this does not resolve itself until states default, fire tens of thousands of workers, or fix the problem by paying employees market wages

    You can argue until you're blue in the face and call me whatever names you care to, but the above dynamic is playing out right now. That it's happening is an immutable fact. States that are less union-dominated are in significantly better shape, and by and large that's where people are moving.

    Frankly, it's just sad to see a great state like NY go down the drain. You should want to fix this as much as I. While there are some signs of hope in the form of governors like Cuomo and Christie, the unions have dug in their heels. It will hurt them severely in the long run.

  91. See what you dont say is there are districts in New York in which people move into in order for their children to get the best education money can buy.These districts year after year prepare their students for the best colleges.
    No one complains about teachers and what they earn in these places.Again its just the teachers that you complain about.
    People are moving all the time to places like Florida which has one of the worst educational systems in the country and pay very little taxes. Listen your a money guy you get what you pay for.
    If there are problems then they will be fixed in future negociations and that should be the way its done.Its been done that way for years and it all evens out without the bending of the truth.
    Who called you names???
    States without unions have the worst educational statistics.
    If you want your taxes to go down move.
    Watch what happens to Christie.
    What is market wage??? Please define it.It seems to me that its what the market will pay.
    Better districts will pay more because they value better teachers.Unions get above the market value huh??????
    Detroit = New York where did that come from???
    The Post or the News

  92. Scott, I wrote you enjoyed the attention because 1) You reposted a link to an old debate, and 2) Any blog writer adores attention.

    Let's review your points...I'll use your format.

    1. This isn't a fact. It's an opinion.
    2. This maybe a fact, but how do you know people aren't fleeing NY because of the urban mess, or air pollution, or growing tired of the rat race, or perhaps the Rent is Too Damn High?
    3. This sounds an awful lot like supposition, but let's go with it. Where are they moving to? Do you have some evidence...charts?
    4-5. I cannot fault your logic if it comes to that.

    If the issue is as dire as you claim, you don't need to create a false environment to make that point. I can point out the reality of where US effective taxes are compared to the rest of the world. I can point out that that a quarter of the top 400 wealthiest taxpayers pay less than 15% effectively (Buffett makes the same point). If you think these tax rates are obtrusive, you can flee to Turkey or Mexico (the only two nations that collect less than the US). Likewise, you can take refuge in the paradise of N. Dakota if NY is getting too pricey. I'm not trying to change your opinion. I'm taking issue with all the misinformation on teacher pay and inaccurate private/public comparisons. If the problem is bad enough to push for cutbacks, fine. Clearly even the hated WI unions agreed it was, as they gave into all the demanded cuts (less the demand to de-unionize). But you and several posters keep making bogus claims such as teachers don't have to save a penny for their pensions. You're busily trying to suggest the poor taxpayer has to pay these crazy salaries then toss in a 1.6 million dollar pension as one final act of ludicrous excess. And the notion is false.

    What names did I call you? Ignorant? Pointing out information flaws is being critical, not name calling.

  93. Let me address #1, which is that comp packages are causing taxes to be unbearably high. I stated this as a fact, and you an opinion.

    Right now, if you live in a NYC suburb, your annual property tax is now, typically, slightly north of 2% of your home value. This is somewhat like having an 8% mortgage instead of a 6% mortgage, but it's actually much worse because it's based on the current value of your home, not where you bought it. So let's say you bought a house in 1980 for $75,000. You had a 6% mortgage which was $4500 in interest a year, and it's long paid off. Property taxes back then were trivial, something you didn't even think much about.

    So you did everything saved, you paid off your mortgage, and you figured you had reached financial security. BUT, your property taxes, to which you paid so little attention, grew by 7-8% a year. Today, your house is worth about $1 million (irrelevant to you if you don't want to move) and your property taxes are $20,000, over four times what your mortgage used to be! And almost 2/3s of the bill goes to school-related compensation.

    This is insidious on a number of levels. First, how is someone on a fixed income supposed to be able to afford 20k a year in taxes? This is highly problematic for seniors, so they leave. This undercuts the fabric of the community. It becomes a "school mill," where people move for a few years and leave when they're kids graduate. Only, the schools aren't even that good - ordinary at best.

    Just across the border in Connecticut they spend about half what we do per student and have much better schools. Way higher scores, for one, and better placement. And because they're tax levees are about 60% less than ours for an equivalent house, their home values are significantly higher (double).

    There's a market for anything, even teachers. When our schools have an opening for a spot they are inundated with resumes - thousands. That's a pretty good indication you're over market.

    And yes, you are correct: it is not accurate to say teachers pay zero into their plans. It is accurate to say they pay a trivial amount, far less than other other public sector employees, less than the administrators, and wildly less than private sector workers. We must move away from defined benefit programs (one of the main factors in the destruction of our auto industry) and towards defined contribution plans, which is what the entire private sector uses.

  94. Scott bends the truth. Unions destroyed the auto industry.
    Less then administrators Where are your facts??? Your doing it again. Scott the truth bender.
    Your point about all those resumes so salaries should be going down according to your theory about the market.Where are your facts???
    Where are the better school districts In Connecticut?? Which ones and where are your facts???

  95. Scott, please, do your best to ascertain what is fact and what is opinion.

    "Taxes are unbearably high." This is 100% opinion. I can't believe I'm having to argue this with you.

    "Taxes are 2% of your home value." This is a fact.

    You see, the latter is verifiable with evidence, the former is like you saying the color blue is unbearably blue.

    Look, if your home appreciated to 1 million dollars, you live in a very very expensive area. So when the seniors cash out, do these million dollar homes sit vacant? Or is there some new buyer who swoops in and re-establishes that fabric you're worried about?

    Are the Conneticut schools unionized? How do you know they are better?

    "It is accurate to say they pay a trivial amount, "

    Again, this is opinion. I'd avoid using feeling words like "trivial" when attempting to state facts. Like I said, it's at least 5.5% and going to 7.5%. Trivial? Maybe to a guy who lives among million dollar homes.

    "far less than other other public sector employees, less than the administrators, and wildly less than private sector workers. "

    I work with administrators, PERA, MSRS, and TRA. Regarding avg contributions, you really really have your facts messed up.

    You also make a good case about the number of applicants as indicative of setting pay above market. But you must realize this is circumstantial. Not all teaching jobs get 1000s of applicants, notably those in the poor districts, the south, Las Vegas to name a few. I wonder, do private schools get inundated with applicants as well?

    As far as moving away from defined benefit programs, most private companies have long exited this retirement plan, but not because a defined contribution plan somehow is better for employees, but rather they don't want to be on the hook for benefits when bad markets negatively impact funding ratios. And unlike profit sharing or matching funds, they have to fund def benefit plans even in lean years. I tell you what, my Honeywell clients were very happy with the def benefit programs of old.

    And like I noted, if every private worker added 11% on a 40k income for 40 years of work at 8% growth, they'd have over a million upon retiring, much like the pensions you loathe.

  96. Go Brod
    Scott loves the attention in fact he gloated over his article to the Westchester Republican web site. Look at me Im in the newspaper bending the truth.Its only teachers all the others dont count.

  97. Jay from Long IslandJune 1, 2011 at 7:25 AM

    Nit-picking talking-points aside, none of the pro-union folks here seem to want to address what (yes in my OPINION!?!?) seems to be the the most important issue here.

    Mr. Johnston exposed some little known terms from the Bedford teachers' contract to the public. I believe those can be considered FACTS?

    Now, the voter/taxpayers of Bedford can make a more informed decision next time they vote. Mr. Johnston clearly felt that exposing the details of the budget to the light of day would make voters less likely to rubber stamp the budget. Apparently, based on this long-running thread, the pro-union posters feel the same way. But...since they cannot change the unfortunate facts found within the contract, the pro-union posters are doing their best to spin, obscure, and change the focus of the debate.

    In my OPINION, (after all, this started with an op-ed piece by a blogger) the voters are better off armed with more FACTS when making their decisions.

    As I asserted in my original post, sunshine is a good disinfectant. The teachers were in a better bargaining position when the voters were in the dark as to the details of the contract. Does anyone believe that the voters were better off when they were less informed?

  98. The main assertion with this post, the way I interpret it, is teachers retire with a 1.6 million dollar (lump-sum value) pension, and that pension is a "gift" from the taxpayer on top of all the other perks and salary, all of which is too high, and the real estate taxes in Scott's area are forcing a mass exodus of millionaire homeowners that is reminiscent of the Sudanese refugees fleeing their homeland.

    It was said several times teachers don't have to save a penny unlike us private folks with 401ks, MPPs, SEPs, or whatever. False. So that is a critical hole in Scott's main thesis.
    As Brod pointed out, it may be a fact that the lump sum value is 1.6 million, the notion it's an extra gift isn't completely accurate. Not even mostly accurate. That assertion means you are counting both salary and pension benefits as taxpayer funded costs, when the reality is the pension benefit has mostly been funded from the teacher's salary deductions. Scott says that's trivial. Then the 1.6 million is trival because it acrued from a lifetime of trivial contributions. You could be arguing the underfunded liability of the pension may be a "gift" if the pension board is unable to balance its books through increasing payroll contributions. But that isn't what Scott and others have said.

  99. @anonymous

    "..pension benefits are mostly funded from the teacher's salary deductions."

    This statement is completely, utterly, false. Teachers pay in only a small fraction of the cost - less than any other public sector employees. The rest is paid for by taxpayers. My town alone has to pony up $10 million over the next the years in "additional" bullet payments to the pension system.

    @(other) anonymous:

    With regards to the Republican site, I don't even know what site you're referring to, and if there's a link there I had nothing to do with it. Your comments are puerile. Don't post any more if you have nothing to add to the discussion. At least some of your fellow unionistas are trying to muster some logical reasoning, however flawed.

  100. Allow me to be more specific on pensions. In my district, which is not atypical, new teachers as of last year are expected to contribute 3.5% of their base to their pension, per year. When they retire, they get 70% of their base back, per year. Not a bad deal, especially if you consider that retirement at age 57 can conceivably last as long as the actual career. Further, the 70% is off their final base, which is as big as it ever gets.

    Existing teachers are not required to put ANYTHING into their pensions, nor their health benefits. I have double checked this with a member of the school finance committee.

    This, in a nutshell, is why we're going bankrupt.

  101. Speaking of nutshells Scott run for the school board and change everything its your right. Lets see how far your ideas get you.

  102. Jay from Long IslandJune 3, 2011 at 6:17 AM

    Bingo, there it is Anonymous, laid out on a silver platter: you know that Scott's ideas will run into a stone wall if he runs for the school board. Because in NY State, the game is rigged in favor of the unions. The Triborough Amendment makes it almost impossible to hold salaries and benefits STABLE for public sector workers. (Forget about cutting costs.) During contract discussions, if no agreement is reached, public sector workers in NY get automatic "step" raises, so their unions have no incentives to negotiate in good faith. Very few taxpayers are aware of this.

    So your smug final answer says it all. "I may not be able to refute you on the issues, but I know I'll win anyway because we've already bought off the politicians so that the rules work in our favor."

  103. Hey Jay did your kids get a good education??
    Did they get into the schools that they wanted to????
    Did you vote yes on the school vote??
    There are many ways to look at life you see it your way and I see it my way.
    Im not smug but I do know a good thing when I see it.
    Listen Scott will use any excuse not to run for the school board.If he wants to change things then do it the democratic way but he will not. Its much easier to sit back write a blog then go out and work for it.Be jealous of everyones life and carry this all around.
    It fuuny when someone doesn't agree with you someone is bought off.
    You just want to complain so you and Scott should get together and form your own school district. Then you can buy off each other.
    Listen you and Scott complain and when someone gives you an idea your answer is the game is fixed so why play.I think we are both in the same place.One wins and one complains.
    We all make choices in our lives some make good ones and others make bad ones.
    Many teachers have worked years without raises but step raises were given for growth in education. Please do me a favor understand what you are talking about.The raises are given when a teacher earns college credit for courses that they take. These benefits have been in contracts for many years and can be changed at any time thru negociations.Every school district is different.All of these things have been addressed before but you have chosen to ignore these issues and ideas.

  104. @anonymous

    What an offensive post. You don't know me, nor do you have any idea of what my community involvement is. If you DO know me, stop posting as "anonymous." I also assume you don't know Jay from Long Island, as I don't, and therefore have no idea as to his community involvement either.

    If you DID know me, you would know I am highly active and don't just "complain," as you put it.

    The fact is, the game IS rigged. Many good people I know (well) have served on their school boards. I helped put some there. They go in with the best of intentions and leave highly frustrated because the entire process is fixed from Albany where legislators have been taken care of. You want change in the "democratic way" when it's your own union that rigs the system, from the top, for its own benefit, and in a most undemocratic way.

    We are the only state out of 50 that has anything like the Triborough Amendment. Why do you suppose that is? Because it's such a great idea?

    I wonder if you'll wake up when they start laying of teachers by the tens of thousands. You can't force people to stay in the state and pay ever higher taxes.

  105. I will add to what I just said with regard to the accusation that I am merely a complainer. I, and others, have discovered that there are many frustrated, reform-minded people in almost every town. Recently, we have found each other and have formalized the coalition with the intent of changing various laws in Albany and countering the power of the teachers unions. You will be hearing from us soon.

    So, "anonymous," you will find out very soon just how far from inactive I am.

  106. go for it. Scott kinda got under your skin huh. Whose being agressive and threatening now???
    My God Im worried. You make statements that are not factual in fact just down right fictional.
    Ten of thousands of teachers where is this happening?????
    Looking forward to seeing what you will do.

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  108. duh
    Dont know Jay

    But at the top of the pyramid, I think things have changed quite a bit since you and I passed through Salomon's training class a long time ago.

    What do you call this????

  109. the game is rigged huh

  110. @ anonymous

    This site gets hundreds, sometimes thousands of hits a day. It doesn't occur to you it's possible that two of them are named Jay, one of whom goes by "Jay" and the other by "Jay from Long Island?"

    Unlike some of your fellow unionists, you have added nothing to this discussion other than ad hominem attacks and wild assumptions about people you don't know. Your defense of your positions is non-existent and repetitive. And now, on top of this, you are calling me a liar, apparently, and all from your cowardly and comfortable perch of anonymity. I will leave up everything you've written, if others can make sense of it, but you are no longer permitted to post here.

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  114. Scott, you are corageous to wade into this fetid marriage of righteous indignation and raw union power.

    The pendulum has swung way too far and the taxpaying public is finally taking notice. I salute you for your part in pursuing this overdue dialog. We are attempting to halt the same runaway train here in upstate NY.

  115. The whole issue boils down to one thing...

    For the first time in history, public unions actually have a favorable lot when compare to the masses, and the masses can't stand it. "You mean, I make less than a TEACHER?" "You mean, these public employees STILL HAVE JOBS IN THIS RECESSION?" Unfortunately, you are right...I didn't choose teaching 100% for the kids. I love to teach and inspire, but I also chose teaching for the job security. Society always needs teachers. I never wanted a fancy life, a life full of worry when the economy dipped, and I am completely satisfied making an honest, frugal living. That doesn't make me a bad teacher - but one who is very satisfied with life, the positive changes I make in my students, and how I set them up for success down the road.

    If paying taxes to fund teacher/police/firefighter salaries were an option, people wouldn't do it. I am still amazed at how many people openly bash people who give their lives for such noble causes.

    I have an idea - want to pay teachers less? Don't require they have Masters or Bachelors Degrees (private school). Don't require ongoing education courses (private school, most private sector jobs). Want to complain about teacher's salaries? Look at other jobs with similar degree requirements - teaching is still the lowest! And don't bring this "the average teacher salary is 65k" garbage. We all know the boomers is what jacks that average up - lets talk about the beginning salary.

    Oh - and sorry for reviving this thread after over 15 months ago, lol.