Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Editorial Boys on the Bus

Super-fat dog: symbol of Ms. Elia's and administrators' hypertrophied salaries

See Below Times Letter for Joyous News About the School-board Race


Editors, New York Times:

Today's editorial "Accountability in Public Schools" jumps on the usual suspect, teachers' unions, for the dire straits of education.

Never do these kick-the-unions template editorials mention that corrupt and incompetent administrations act a big part of the problem.
Nationally, administrative pay bloat and featherbedding rank a major problem.

The administrative-superintendent game is to ask as high a salary as possible and too often get it from naive, complicit, poorly educated boards. Then subsequent superintendent candidates nation-wide cite this marker for escalating the salary spiral for people with light-weight degrees from third-tier schools that head for administrations when they graduate because that's where the money is. Smart graduates with worthy degrees and interest in education become teachers to be lorded over by the C students who people administrations and pull down big money while they bungle their jobs.

The superintendent of Hillsborough County makes ten times what beginning teachers make. About $40,000 of that haul comes from teachers' raising student scores; the board gives credit for this achievement to the superintendent, not the teachers. The same indolent, undereducated board that stamps this obscene perquisite also sat by while the superintendent made teachers engage in grade inflation to make her performance look better.

The main thing unions do is try to keep teachers' salaries in the living-wage area. If boards made it a rule that a superintendent could not make more than three times that of the lowest-paid teacher, that would reduce obscene differences between teachers' and administrative pay. That's not going to happen with the nation's obtuse editors' piling all the blame on unions.

In Hillsborough County, administrators make five times the salaries of beginning teachers. The head of Professional Standards, for example, one Ms. Linda Kipley, gets $150,000 with a home-ec degree. The superintendent with the buddy-hiring jobs program the board allows her to run just hired this home-ec teacher's husband with a high-school education when applicants included four people with the job-description accounting degrees and experience.

Reason: Ms. Elia owes Ms. Kipley big-time for all the dirty work she has done for her in cowing teachers into silence.

The board and superintendent rule teachers get no raise in the present financial downturn. The superintendent grandly announced she would take a five percent pay cut for the fiscal year: $9000, which is about one-third of beginning teachers' salary. What the superintendent should do is give up the $40,000 teacher-produced bonus she now rakes in addition to the measly five percent pay cut.

One of the board members who campaigned on a reform platform has no college degree, little common sense, and a frail grasp of basic math. Elected, she fell in line with the status quo once and has complimented the superintendent fulsomely for her five-percent salary concession.

The board had reduced the Ph.D. requirement to Ms. Elia's master's to name her superintendent instead of much-better candidates with Ph.D.s and experience. The board sensed Ms. Elia would not mess with its members' incumbency and bloated travel expenses while a Ph.D. from Columbia might very well question them.

One board member spent $50,000 for a year's travel consisting of flying to Meccas of education such as Las Vegas to pick up gimcrack awards and prizes that school boards and administrations constantly pass around in an administration-and-board racket ritual to plug the holes in administrative degrees manqué and to cover over the cracks in their wretched administrations. Hillsborough county's poor children could have used that $50,000 to buy supplies they lack so that they could participate in class activities.

The superintendent with a compliant board uses the Professional Standards office to cook up charges for flimsy causes or no cause at all to rein in teachers and prevent their commenting on administrative and board mismanagement. The well-understood threat is job loss. And it works.

Teachers' fearing the loss of their jobs hunker down and don't look up; they just teach and ignore the outrages dumped on them such as Ms. Elia's buying a multi-million-dollar program called Spring that had failed in other venues without consulting teachers that would have to implement it. Professional Standards threat of job loss hushed the teachers; complicity kept the board mum.

Ms. Elia two years ago dumped another class period on teachers to cure her budget problems without alerting teachers. The board acquiesced. This year teachers get no raise; Ms. Elia makes the feeble five percent of her salary kick-in to earn points from the obtuse for faux show of doing her part.

The administration and board stifle teachers and deprive them of free speech, not even ceding them a settled place in the board agenda for comment. The danger is that teachers' comments might let voters look behind the curtain and view the administration-and-board shoddy management practices and question both board's and administration's bloated salaries.

It doesn't help when editors such as those of the Times issue their template condemnation of unions for all problems in the schools.

If editors stepped out of their editorial aeries and introduced themselves to the real problems in schools, these quidnuncs would discover that maladroit, greedy administrations comprise a big part of the mess.

The grammar felony in the sentence from your anti-union essay below also does not help education. It features a comma splice: a grammar felony.

Put a semicolon before the conjunctive adverb "then" and appear in study hall for comma remediation.

In the past, the federal government talked a good game about requiring reform in exchange for federal dollars, then it caved when it came time to enforce the bargain.

lee drury de cesare
retired teacher and former college-union president

c: Washington Post
St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Tribune

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