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March 2, 2009

1) NEA Works Both Sides of the Pension Street. In the latest issue of Education Next, Robert Costrell and Michael Podgursky examine the costs and liabilities associated with teacher pension plans.

Teachers' unions will vigorously defend retirement plans. In the coming years, we can expect that defense to become more vigorous, as the ranks of the retired Baby Boomers grow, and they sharpen the unions' attention on that issue.

But NEA and its state affiliates have an additional complication related to pension costs. They represent employees, but they are also employers of staffers who have substantial pension benefits in their own right. As the value of stocks and other investments decline, the amount of money the unions must contribute to staff retirement funds to make up the shortfall increases.

In the past few years, larger payments to staff pensions have contributed to budget crises in NEA's Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania affiliates. And these are just the ones of which I am aware. The question of "fully funding" staff pensions was also a predicament for NEA headquarters in 2007 (see item #4 here, plus this blog entry from Intercepts).

Guaranteeing retirement benefits while controlling costs is a dilemma for most state and local governments. NEA will insist on the former for its members, but the on the latter for itself.

2) Soaking the Rich. I offer in full and without further comment, this letter to the editor of New York Teacher, the organ of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), written by Ed Gruber, president of the Eastchester Teachers Association:

"In your Feb. 5 edition, it was interesting to see that NYSUT is joining 'most New Yorkers' and calling for a 'more progressive' income tax plan ('A matter of fairness') that would tax high-income New Yorkers making more than $250,000. Though the article was not specific, other news sources have specified that the tax would apply to households earning more than $250,000. What you are supporting alienates part of your membership.

"My wife and I are both employed as science teachers in Westchester County, and earned a gross household income in 2007 of more than $240,000. This year, we may top the $250,000 figure with step increases and extracurricular activities. Thus, NYSUT is suggesting that union teachers who worked hard to get good-paying jobs be taxed at a higher percentage than others.

"Most Westchester teachers already pay the painfully unfair Alternative Minimum Tax, which disproportionately taxes household income over $150,000 by taking itemized deductions (such as classroom supply deductions) away from high-income households.

"This threshold was never corrected for inflation. A progressive state income tax will tax high-earning teachers similarly to the AMT. Remember, you represent us as well."

3) Bring Your Own Burrito. The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association is co-sponsoring "An Evening with Jonathan Kozol" on March 9. Refreshments will not be served.

4) Limited Intelligence. Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association in Maryland, has an idea to improve teacher job satisfaction: term limits for principals.

"I'm subject to term limits; the County Council is subject to term limits; our county executive is subject to term limits; our president is subject to term limits. So why not principals?" DeLacy said.

Um, all those people, including yourself, are elected, and principals are employees, Ms. DeLacy. But if you want to talk about how to get rid of educators who aren't measuring up, there are quite a few people out there who are willing to discuss the matter with you.

5) Colorado WINS, or Else. Colorado is giving a little glimpse of what life will be like when card check passes. If you need some background on the formation of the state employees' union, Colorado WINS, read the EIA exclusive from November 2007. Then check out the current situation via the Associated Press. Then make your way over to the web site of David Ohmart, who organized Colorado LOSES, a small group of opponents.

The union in theory: "We prefer to approach challenges from a team standpoint and focus on what we have in common – an approach that leads to more constructive problem solving with an 'everybody wins' outcome."

The union in practice: "You're not going to say anything, are you Dave?  I'll have to toss you out of here if you do." 

6) Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from February 23-March 2:

* U.S. Supreme Court Deals Blow to Union PACs. It's come to this: We need a Supreme Court decision to tell us that taking money from someone's paycheck is not "speech."

* Organizing Is a Beach. Summer blondes, revealing tan lines. I make more moves than Allied Van Lines.

* All in the Family? Birthright.

* NEA Should Trademark the Kumbaya Conference. Hans Moleman could put me out of business if he wanted to.

* Brain Teaser. Release time is a favor… to the district?

* Twenty Questions for Educators. A worthy exercise.

* "Captain Obvious on the Line, Governor Rendell". If I stick my hand in the fire again, it won't burn this time.

7) Quote of the Week. "I disagree with the court in that I believe there is a First Amendment interest at stake. The exception affects speech, albeit indirectly, by restricting a channel through which speech-supporting finance might flow." – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting from the majority opinion in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association. The court ruled that states have the right to ban payroll deduction of union PAC contributions for public employees.


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