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May 16, 2005

1)  NEA Wants to Save Social Security… But Not That Badly. In its latest effort against altering the Social Security system, the National Education Association will contribute $200,000 to Americans United to Protect Social Security, a 501(c)(4) organization backed by AFSCME, the AFL-CIO and several other liberal interest groups.

Last week, NEA submitted testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee on the Social Security privatization issue. The union's statement declared, "Social Security is more than a retirement plan. It is our nation's most successful social insurance program. Proposals to privatize the system have thus far ignored the impacts on children who receive survivor benefits and persons with disabilities who rely on Social Security to survive. The impacts on these most vulnerable populations cannot be ignored."

This heartrending appeal might have more impact if it weren't for the fact that about 900,000 NEA members – about one-third of its total membership -- don't contribute to Social Security.

According to NEA's own data, 12 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio) and some districts in Georgia, Rhode Island and Texas have separate retirement systems for teachers. These teachers are exempted from Social Security taxes, instead contributing to their own retirement systems, which are run for, and often by, teachers.

What about the orphans and disabled persons who rely on Social Security to survive? Wouldn’t they benefit from having 900,000 more workers contributing 12.4 percent of their wages to the fund (about $5 billion annually)? "NEA strongly opposes any such mandatory coverage," reads the NEA policy. Why? Because it "would be detrimental to teachers and other public employees and would create financial burdens for states and city governments," and "would weaken existing state and local retirement plans that often offer benefits superior to Social Security."

If this is a winning argument, perhaps the Bush administration should adopt it. Instead of talking about private accounts, the White House should just "strongly oppose any such mandatory coverage." Then those of us who wish to could simply seek out "retirement plans that often offer benefits superior to Social Security."

2)  Two Ways to Make Six Figures While a Teacher. Method #1: "One in 12 teachers in Nassau, Suffolk , Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties now earns more than $100,000, and the ranks are growing fast, according to an analysis of state data by the New York Times. On Long Island from 2001 to 2003 (the most recent figures available), the number grew fivefold, to 2,800, including 498 elementary school teachers, 29 physical education teachers and 83 kindergarten teachers." – from "The Rise of the Six-Figure Teacher" in the May 15 New York Times.

Method #2: "A Valley High School math teacher who moonlighted as a manager for a downtown motel that was shut down last week because of prostitution is being investigated by Clark County School District officials. Edward Kammer, who's recently earned as much as $105,000 a year as manager of the Del Mar XXX Movie Motel, is the subject on an internal investigation, but has not been suspended by district administrators." – from "Teacher under investigation" in the May 10 Las Vegas Review-Journal.

KLAS-TV asked Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Jasonek about the case. "I think it's pretty obvious that teachers have to work second jobs," Jasonek said. "We are 49th out of 50 states. It's as bad as you can get here in Nevada in terms of pupil funding. If people did a little more action and a little less talk we might be in better situations where teachers did not have to work in all these other jobs."

Yep, if only the taxpayers had coughed up more than the $49,000 a year Kammer made at the high school, he wouldn't have to resort to running the XXX Movie Motel. That aside, it's clear that teaching was Kammer's second job.

3)  The Effect of Corruption on Union Boss Couture. Yes, it's a doctoral thesis just begging to be written. Barbara Bullock, the former president of the Washington Teachers Union, used union dues money to purchase, among other things, more than $500,000 worth of designer clothing at the Van Style boutique in Baltimore, $11,000 worth of shoes in Atlanta, and a $25,000 mink coat.

Former United Teachers of Dade President Pat Tornillo preferred to use his purloined union dues for fancy vacations and hotel suites, but also bought tailored suits in Hong Kong and python-print pajamas and a matching robe from the Neiman Marcus catalog.

And then we have former Lawrence Education Association President Wayne Kruse, who will stand trial this summer for allegedly embezzling more than $97,000 in union dues. We don't yet have any information on what Kruse supposedly did with the money, but judging by this photo -- -- he didn't blow it all on Armani.

4)  Even New York City's "Dummies" Budget Is Baffling. New York City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, who dominated newspaper headlines in 2003 for her hearings on provisions in the teachers' contract, yesterday released a report titled "The Education Budget for Dummies." The report aims to demystify the city's $20 billion annual education budget.

"The $20 billion question for parents is how can we spend that much on our schools and still not have money for things so basic as science labs – or toilet paper for that matter?" Moskowitz said at a press conference on Sunday.

The report, sorry to say, doesn't answer that question, but it does provide an invaluable introduction to the arcane world of intra-city transfers, inter-government transfers, U/As, and OTPS. It also provides the answer to the question: When does the March Response come out? If you said March, you must be new to public education.

The report is available here:

5)  Chess, Girls, and the New York Times. I didn't wake up this morning planning to write about the All-Girls National Chess Championships in Chicago, but the story about the event by Jodi Wilgoren in today's New York Times placed several cartoon rhetorical question marks above my head and I'm unable to get rid of them. So, in search of the cartoon light bulb to replace them, I must write. Please bear with me, dear readers.

The Times piece is headlined "On Boards Without Boys, Girls Reassert Their Power" and you can link to the full story if you are registered with the Times web site.

Question 1: Why is the story on the Times education web page?

Question 2: How does one reconcile the "girl power" headline and tone with Wilgoren's lede, which quotes 14-year-old girl chess player Suleidy Quesada describing a tactic she uses on her male opponents? "I look straight in their eyes, I touch my hair, I lick my lips. If you're losing and ask for a draw, they say yes," she explains.

Question 3: "Male dominance in a game that does not depend on physical strength remains a mystery. Players, parents and chess promoters say they see differences in play that are surprisingly stereotypical: boys are always on the attack and care above all about winning, while girls focus more on defense and admire the art of certain positions." I'm no chess master, but being "always on the attack" is a not a strategy for success in chess. If this description is true, shouldn't the girls dominate the boys?

Question 4: "In part, the sex imbalance can be explained by history: men have been playing chess for 2,000 years, women only since the 19th century." Men have an even longer historical advantage in distance running, but in only 30 years women record-holders in the Boston Marathon have closed the gap with their male counterparts from one hour to 13 ½ minutes. How many hundreds of years do a girl's ancestors have to play chess before she can master it?

Question 5: "For boys, high-level competition is about take no prisoners, and let us not forget, girls are not rewarded for having a take-no-prisoners mentality, girls who have a take-no-prisoners mentality are punished," said Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, at the University of Minnesota. This is chess, for pete’s sake, not gladiatorial combat. Women overcame social conditioning to become athletes, CEOs, pugilists, firefighters, soldiers and senators, but they can't play chess because it's not lady-like?

Question 6: "Many players said that they were the only girls in their schools' chess clubs, and that their female friends were too busy with ballet or soccer to learn a game they saw as boring." In our attention deficit world, how is it that greater numbers of boys than girls can sit quietly in front of a boring game?

OK, I got that off my chest. Thanks for your indulgence.

6)  Quote of the Week. "[T]he public sector provides the services and schools necessary for all people. The private sector provides the funding necessary to pay for the services. It should follow, therefore, that public sector people would want a profitable and expanding private sector. But for the very reason that the public sector is dependent on taxes collected by government, public sector people usually support higher taxes. They are generally indifferent to increased regulations. High taxes and costly regulations can hurt business, ultimately cutting both productivity and profitability, and thus weakening the private sector's ability to support the public sector…. But the hard fact remains that private sector employees can only prosper when their employers do. Their employers are the taxpayers on which the public sector employees depend. The difference is fundamental." – Bob Brown, former Montana secretary of state and life member of the AFL-CIO, commenting on the friction between public and private sector union members. (May 16 Billings Gazette)


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