Dr. Robert McClure, JMI President & CEO
Jake Tuttle, JMI Intern & Florida State University Junior in Political Science & Economics
In a time of horrific budget deficits, the last thing a financially troubled school district needs is a disruptive strike by employees demanding more money and less accountability. Yet that’s exactly what the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) just endured.Showing little concern for the district’s projected $665 million budget deficit, teachers walked off the job, causing the pupils in Chicago’s mostly underperforming schools to miss seven days in the classroom.On Tuesday night the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) finally ended its strike after being assured that a new set of agreements would raise teachers’ salaries by a hefty 17.6 percent over the next four years.Teachers in Chicago already earn a median base salary of around $68,000, whereas the median salary for all employees working in Chicago, including those in both the public and private sectors, is $56,000.Yet the CTU bosses have had the audacity to claim that teaching is an “undervalued” profession. Undervalued compared to whom? Outside of public education, many professionals undergo frequent performance evaluations to determine their salaries and even their employment status.These types of accountability measures are reasonable and expected, especially in the private sector, which is the standard-bearer of quality and efficiency in America. The public education system of the United States would benefit from similar performance indicators.Unfortunately, union leaders such as CTU President Karen Lewis continue to stridently oppose accountability measures while claiming that they are merely trying to prevent their union members from being mistreated.Yet who pays for these “mistreated” public employees? The taxpayers. So, like the boss in charge of meeting the payroll at a typical private business, taxpayers deserve to know whether or not their employees are meeting the reasonable expectations of their job. Taxpayers are also entitled to know whether or not the teachers whose generous salaries and benefits they fund actually merit their share of taxes.Likewise, parents of public school students deserve to know whether their support is generating a return in the form of quantitatively-assessed learning gains for their children. If student achievement is not being measured, how can policy-makers and taxpayers make objective decisions concerning the efficient use of public money?Meanwhile, the big salary hikes included in Chicago’s strike settlement raise a vexing question: How will these budget-busting spending increases be paid for, especially in a district already facing more than a half-billion dollar deficit?Ask the CTU: by implementing a “Financial Transactions Tax” and a measure to “equalize” the effective tax rates between the top 5 percent of income earners and the bottom 80 percent. How? By increasing taxes on capital gains, according to a CTU publication from February.In other words, the usual formula advocated by the leaders of the unions representing the people who teach our children: “Soak the rich.”As for the settlement itself, according to the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday morning, CTU President Karen Lewis insultingly said she was disappointed that teachers did not receive the 30 percent base raise that they initially had sought.Even so, she said teachers were rejoicing over several “victories,” arguing that the union had “successfully rejected Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempts to institute merit pay, [and] fought off more stringent requirements in a new teacher evaluation system.”To demand a 30 percent pay raise and then to demand that the recipients of the raise not be held accountable for such an exorbitant exaction out of an employer’s funds– and then even further, to threaten to walk off the job and leave hundreds of thousands of students and families abandoned if the petition were not granted – is wildly irresponsible.But what else is to be expected from an organization such as the CTU? They may claim that teachers are undervalued, but this perception has been perpetuated by the unions themselves in their lobbying for more spending on schools.Of course, increasing the wages of the unions’ dues-paying members generally results in more money winding up in the unions’ treasury, where much of what remains after the union leaders and bureaucrats are paid is used in support of “progressive” political candidates and causes.The teachers unions have also discovered that when teachers can be portrayed as helpless, put-upon professionals who, ironically, have little control over their own field, then they can appeal to public sentiment and generate more support for boosting school funding – some of which also winds up in the union treasury.All of this takes place irrespective of the burden to taxpayers, who are being bullied into paying for personnel and programs that are not allowed to be “evaluated.”Overall, union presidents such as Chicago’s Karen Lewis are in many ways enablers of the same flawed system they claim to be improving, protecting the adults who work in the system at the expense of the children who participate in it. Money, power, influence – what a lesson they are teaching their students.