Article published in The New York Sun
A philanthropist who just gave $22.5 million to help the city’s low-income children who attend Catholic schools suggested that if it weren’t for the teachers union, he would have considered supporting public education.
Upon hearing of the donation, United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten described the gift as “tainted.”
What actually taints New York City’s schools, however, is the union’s leadership and the collective bargaining agreement it has negotiated with the city. Thanks to that contract, New York City wastes millions of dollars each year on union perks that could instead be spent on improving public education.
In fact, the $22.5 million donation pales in comparison to what the UFT draws from the city’s taxpayers.
Consider Gotham’s infamous rubber rooms, which the city euphemistically calls “Reassignment Centers.” There are 13 of these rooms across the district, housing nearly 700 public-school teachers each day. As of March 2007, there were 662 schoolteachers assigned to city Reassignment Centers. These teachers have been removed from the classroom amid accusations of wrongdoing. Since they cannot be fired until their case has been fully investigated, they sit in these rooms until their case has been resolved. Yet, in the meantime, they continue to receive their salaries.
Some of these teachers stand charged with rape or acts of violence, others with simple incompetence, and others with inappropriate conduct. Some teachers are innocent, of course.
But in teacher salaries alone, this system costs the city $33 million each year. In fact, it costs even more if one counts the wages of substitute teachers and investigators working on these cases.
In other words, the taxpayers of New York City spend millions every year on teachers who aren’t even allowed near the city’s schoolchildren. Imagine if that money went to boosting salaries of the city’s most effective educators.
And the waste doesn’t stop there. Each year, millions of taxpayer dollars that should be spent on improving city schools wind up supporting union demands instead.
Many union leaders who double as school teachers, for example, receive paid leave to conduct union business.
According to their contract, New York City teachers are supposed to teach five periods per day. But if those teachers are union officers or representatives, then city schools are prohibited from using them for more than one period each day. The union then reimburses the city for the loss of just three periods instead of four. So the schools get short-changed.
In other words, New York City’s taxpayers are forced to subsidize the union to the tune of one period, per day, per union representative.
The contract also obligates New York City to provide dozens of union leaders with free office space and additional preparation periods for the explicit purpose of conducting union business. And schools must give the union free use of at least one bulletin board to post union material.
Simply put, New York City’s contract with the UFT runs counter to interests of students and teachers alike. Worse, it helps the UFT’s leadership promote a political agenda that has little to do with education.
In 2005, for instance, the UFT funneled nearly $4 million to a Democratic consulting firm, the Glover Park Group, and more than $100,000 to a leading Democratic pollster, the firm of Peter Hart. And every year, the UFT donates thousands of dollars to the Democratic National Committee.
If it weren’t for the generous subsidies the UFT receives from New York City’s taxpayers, the UFT’s leadership would be unable to funnel such amounts to causes that have so little to do with education.
Meanwhile, the UFT’s parent organization — the American Federation of Teachers — has been equally willing to spend money on causes that have nothing to do with education.
Last year, for instance, the AFT spent money promoting an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and a single-payer health care plan, and urged its members to “protest Wal-Mart’s presence across the country.”
The $22.5 million donation will go a long way in ensuring that thousands of New York City children receive the education they deserve. If only the UFT’s leadership shared that goal.
Mr. White is an adjunct scholar at the Lexington Institute, a public policy research organization based in Arlington, Va.
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