November 24, 2008

Open Letter Against Ratification

Justin Katz

Dear Tiverton School Committee members:

It so happened that, the Friday before you'll decide whether to approve the arbitrated teacher contract, my boss called me on the construction site to tell me that, after I take my five paid days of annual vacation this week, he and I will have to sit down and agree to cut my salary. Having trimmed all indulgences from my family's budget, I'm already barely making enough to get by, but as you know, times are hard. Indeed, the governor has already warned you that the state will likely be cutting your budget, too.

I understand that everybody in Tiverton just wants to move beyond the current contract negotiations --- buy a respite and feel, for a short time, that we're all working together toward the same goals, maybe kick off the new school committee with a lowering of the tension that simmers with each meeting. But that feeling would be an illusion, and shorter-lived than you'd like to believe. Times are only going to get harder, and any compromises made now, when the contract is not yet signed, will be unreachable for modification when Tiverton joins other RI towns in considering asking its unions for contractual concessions.

Forgive the passive voice, but I was informed this week that I'm broadly disliked in certain circles in town, circles with which some of you run. That, I cannot help; I am who I am, and I believe what I believe. As our town's elected education representatives, however, you ought to be concerned about my belief that the teachers' negotiating tactics and their ever-increasing slice of the budgetary pie made it a matter of parental responsibility to pull my children from our public schools. My wife and I cannot afford private school, but our assessment is that we would be shirking our duties as parents not to sacrifice for it.

Our house --- the only home that our children can remember --- should not be among those sacrifices. But if the cost thereof should increase in keeping with recent yearly trends, its loss is a very real possibility, and we are most definitely not alone.

In these times, Tiverton teachers --- who are already well paid in comparison with the norms under which average Rhode Islanders live --- ought to be giving back, not demanding thousands of dollars in retroactive pay. If they receive raises, instead, the possibility of keeping tax increases within bounds will disappear, and I'd remind you that you do not represent them, but us.

At every meeting you are all presented the faces, the voices, and the requests of public school teachers. They may not demand so much attention, but my family has faces and voices, too. Ms. Black and Ms. Herrmann see those faces and (despite my admonishments) hear those voices every Sunday morning, and I hereby request that you represent us and refuse to write large checks to working-to-rule teachers during times of fiscal uncertainty. I request that you consider my children before you decide that teachers whom their tax-paying father does not trust with their education deserve to be rewarded even as every private-sector Tiverton worker suffers pay cuts, unemployment, or (if they're lucky) insecurity.

If you would hesitate before telling my children that they should live in their grandparents' basement so that union teachers can continue to earn well above the median household income for the state, do not ratify this contract. The stakes are that high.

With sincerity and hope,

Justin Katz

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

That's cold, man.
From one end of the political spectrum (who would probably be facing the same disapproval as you if I worked and were politically active in the town I live in) to another: Don't let the powers that be mess with your family's livelihood. These people are picking a fight with you, and you've got to respond as best you know how.
Just hope your boss didn't listen to these types and use the economy as an excuse to cut your hours.
Best of luck. If you'll pardon my liberal sentiment...fight the power.

Posted by: rhody at November 24, 2008 3:08 PM

Just to be clear: I'm employed in a different town, and it's extremely unlikely that my writing/activism are in any way related to my employment situation. I used the anecdote as illustrative of the market that citizens are facing.

I will say, though, that I can see the basis for the liberal impulse. I think the conclusions are incorrect, but I've always empathized with the motivation.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2008 3:14 PM


Thank you for doing the public service of expressing the reality that so many in Tiverton go through.

People need to understand that the greed behind the union message is really hurting everyone: individuals, families, children, businesses. Everyone.

Let us all fervently hope, dare I say pray, that our town officials will stop destroying Tiverton and her people by giving away the town treasury with no accountability whatsoever. The consequences are very real.

As painful as it is, Tiverton people need to tell their stories: stories of struggling with costs, of no jobs, of marginal education... Sadly, there are many in the union that feel no shame and demonstrate a stunning lack of integrity as they portray every effort that would slow the growth of their incredible paychecks as coming from the phantom rich without kids who "don't care about the children."

Posted by: thinkaboutit at November 24, 2008 4:02 PM


No one, not even your fiercest enemy, should find any sort of pleasure in seeing one’s family suffer from hard times. If there is animosity, maybe it is because the perception being shown isn’t always appropriate. You drive a white van, I drive a 97 Pathfinder with 150K. I’m 40K in debt and I can’t dig out because I have a 300 per week child support order. Unlike the perception many have of educators, I live in a modest 2 bedroom house in North Tiverton and I DO NOT take the whole summer off. I work for the Durfee Alternative School teaching unprivileged/at risk students in a job readiness program. Its goal: get these kids off the street, get them extra tutoring and get them into the workforce. If I seem strong with my opinions, it is because, like yourself, from my experiences. After working with kids from abusive urban environments and dysfunctional families it is hard for me to feel sorry for groups owning million dollar condos overlooking the bay. I guess it is similar to the elderly in town looking at teachers. Both views are biased. I have taught 31 years and I will never apologize for it. I feel I have the most important job in the world. If you think a doctor has a more important job, my response will be “How many doctors would there be if there was no education system.” Are we over the average income for the state? Maybe so! But, how does are salary rank against others with similar levels of education? I have the equivalent of 6 years of college. Don’t most, with people with degrees one step below a doctorate make a living above the average?
Contract compliance? I know you seem to dislike all unions, not just the teachers, so I’ll drop that point, but please do not paint a picture that I did not do my job because I complied with the union’s wishes. I went to work. I honored the request of every student who asked for a college recommendation. All of my colleagues, to the best of my knowledge, did the same. I had a heart attack in April. Three weeks after the attack, I returned to work, against the advice of many family members, friends and colleagues. Is this the action of someone who does not care? I’ve taught almost 10,000 students. If I could, I would line up all 10,000 of them and let you ask them if I cared! I am confident of the response you would get. Am I a burden to the taxpayers? Let’s see, I developed my program from scratch. I wrote the Perkin’s Grant that funded it, and developed the curriculum myself. After that, I started the district website, which I think is an asset to the students, parent, staff and town. Yes I get a small stipend for it, but if I put all the hours I spend on that site, into working at Wall Mart, I’d make more money. I now am able to grant every student who completes all 4 levels with 9 college credits. I spent 5 years as a volunteer football coach, working 12-14 hours days for an extra zero dollars and zero cents. I took over the girl’s tennis team, because they were going to loose the whole season, even though I know little about the sport.

I’ll stop because I know I am not exactly “preaching to the choir” and you’ve all heard enough. But we, just like yourelf, are real people with hardships, problems, and debt. We feel the pinch of these times. Not all teachers live in the suburbs with Mercedes. Some are single mothers, and like me, have parents on fixed incomes and relatives who are unemployed (my own son) and struggling. We have families, so when we look at every other community in RI, see they are making more (we are 38th out of 38), and we feel we deserve better. Whether you like us or not Jason, we give the town good value compared to others. The high school is 11th out of 59, and the per pupil expenditure (I know, you still think it is too much) is far below other communities. I’m sure you will counter with a passionate, well written and thought out response. I do not think I will convince you that my opinion is correct. It would be foolish of me. Nor do I think you sit there thinking you can sway my thoughts. But, for some strange reason, I had to write this! I will not apologize for fighting to support my family better, but I will not begrudge you for doing the same. But no one is doing this to purposely bring hardship on others.

Ed Davis

Posted by: Ed Davis at November 24, 2008 7:38 PM

thinkaboutit comments in another post "I am so tired of hearing these trite attacks on people as not having kids, being rich, etc. All of it false generalizations, and to the point where hyperbole starts to become dishonesty."

I think both Justin and Mr. Davis' posts show that false generalizations are being made on BOTH "sides" of this issue. Something for everyone to keep in mind.

Justin - I do hope your family, friends and faith see you through any hard times and I'm not sure what "circles" you are talking about, but within mine, we may not agree with you but certainly could not "dislike" someone we do not personally know for having an opinion.

Posted by: WillP at November 24, 2008 8:21 PM


I am sorry to hear about your family's situation. I know what it is like. Unlike your portrayals of Tiverton school teachers being well-paid, I have to work multiple jobs to get by. My wife, who owns her own successful business, has to do the same. It appears we have figured out something that you have not. Quit wasting time on the internet and get another job!!!

Posted by: jon devolve at November 24, 2008 8:48 PM


It is perhaps Rhode Island's defining problem that policy is consistently made from a "defined benefits" perspective, if you'll forgive the pension metaphor. Contract negotiations cannot begin, nor linger long, with the disconnected question of how teachers' salaries stack up, much less what teachers might deserve in some abstract sense.

In a concrete sense, public school teachers across the state could take quite a financial hit before it began to affect recruiting. (Personally, I'd rather the good ones see increases, at the expense of the bad ones, in a system of merit-based pay.)

According to the NEA-RI, the step 10 salary in Tiverton for 06-07 was fully 97% of the state median; hardly a game changer. (That's the most recent data, and if you'd be inclined to object that the comparison worsened over the last school year, then I'd reply that you should have accepted a contract sooner, without expecting retroactive pay.) And while you may rank toward the bottom on that list, according to the latest available state data, Tiverton ranks 13th for the percentage of per-student expenditures that goes to instruction, and within instruction, we devote 95% to teacher compensation, compared with the state overall of 90%, funding materials and trips at less than half the rate of the state overall.

The long and short of the argument is that you do deserve moderately better, but our students deserve significantly better than the system that we provide, and the private-sector citizens of Rhode Island deserve much better than the costs and opportunities currently on offer in the state, and improving our shared lot has to come first. We shouldn't be educating our children only to ship them off to states in which it's actually possible to make a living and advance in life based on one's work, rather than the power of one's union.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2008 8:48 PM

Easier said, Jon, when your primary career involves an annual 180-day commitment, as opposed to my 250 days.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2008 8:52 PM

Nothing's going to change until vouchers are instituted and the "public" schools are packed off to the history books with other communist relics.
My CPA uncle told me that to buy an annuity equevilent to what a top-step teacher retiring today gets (including COLA's and free health care for life) would cost $2 million.
Now we can see why the real RI Fre is bankruptcy for the cities. A step which, by the way other cities beyond Vallejo are going to be immininently ng in California.

Posted by: Mike at November 24, 2008 9:12 PM

Something wrong with my keyboard-I don't make THAT many typos!
RI Fre is RI Future
ng should be happening
The poor spelling of equivalent is my own!

Posted by: Mike at November 24, 2008 9:16 PM

Maybe I am typing in a different language. I thought I clearly stated that I work longer than my precious "180-Day School Year!" I have worked every single summer since I have started teaching. That accumulates to another 70+ plus days. I also have worked throughout the school year during the night and weekends. Did I mention the time I have volunteered each summer coaching the Tiverton/Portsmouth American Legion Baseball Team? If I add up all my time, I am working more than you. Please know the facts before you post on your blog!!

Posted by: Jon Devolve at November 24, 2008 9:19 PM

Vouchers? Are you serious? Are you for the complete privatization of America? If so, God bless you. There are 5 school districts in the United States that offer vouchers. Milwaukee, WI, Dayton, OH, New York City, Florida, and Washington, D.C. There is no relevant data over a long period of time to determine whether or not, vouchers are beneficial to the American school system. This blog is all about fancy catch-phrases that get peoples attention. You people are creating more of a problem then a solution by throwing out these "hot, new phrases." Instead of typing on the internet, and ting groups to bash teachers, why don't you spend some time to focus on improving your own situations.

Posted by: Jon Devolve at November 24, 2008 9:30 PM

You're typing in English, Jon. I'm not sure that you're reading in it. My suggestion was that it's easy to advise extra jobs when your primary one provides such leeway.

So you've got a teacher's salary, a summer salary, nights and weekends, and a family business. And despite all of those advantages, you're demanding more of my tax dollars. Criticize my financial decisions all you want, but as far as I can tell, you're confirming my premise.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2008 9:46 PM

Jon D

The benefit of vouchers is the message that you shape up or we ship out. This is how it works in the real world. When it comes to their children's education, I trust parents' decisions more than I do the decisions of NEA/AFT bosses and school administrators. Certainly, counter-examples exist. However, I remain a firm believer that taken in aggregate, millions of parents decisions are better than the decisions of tens of thousands of union bosses and school administrators/boards.

Posted by: chuckR at November 24, 2008 10:10 PM

Based on the statement of...

It appears we have figured out something that you have not. Quit wasting time on the internet and get another job!!!
I can only say that I hope to God that Jon Devolve is not a social studies teacher.

Posted by: Andrew at November 24, 2008 10:13 PM

Man, I just love it when these teachers chime in with their whining about how they have so manyyears of education, yada yada, yada. I have one simple question - if you want to be treated like a professional, why the hell do you need a freakin' contract? Because guess what, [snip]- contracts are for factory workers. So take your pick, but don't think you get to have a contract, and the respect that goes along with being a professional. Professionals don't do contracts. They have a job to do, and they get it done, unlike the teacher union [snip].
And also, listening to these jerk teachers here you'd think they are the only ones who volunteer in youth organizations. What losers! It just shows you how out of touch they are.

I say it is high time we show them what the real world is like.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at November 24, 2008 10:15 PM

Justin, did you have a choice to become a carpenter? Did you have a choice to recieve a B.A. in English? My point is, you choose your profession, just like I choose mine. I am sorry that your life is not working out for you.

Posted by: Jon Devolve at November 24, 2008 10:22 PM

Rhode Island teachers are in the top 20% salary-wise while school and student performance is in the bottom 20%.

Concurrently, Rhode Islanders must contend with taxes (combined state and local) that are in the top 20% and have been for a long time.

Clearly, School Committee around the state have been handing out raises far too automatically for far too long and without regard "for the children". It's time to stop this misguided practice.

Posted by: Monique at November 24, 2008 10:23 PM

Actually, Andrew, I'm thinking that Mr. D. has given us a good clip for an ad campaign:

Tiverton homeowners are watching their taxes spin out of reach. The teachers' response? "Quit wasting time on the internet and get another job!!!"
Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2008 10:24 PM


At this point, I'll leave you to sink into your increasing nastiness. I will say this, though: I didn't say my life isn't working out for me. I said that times are hard and that my elected representatives ought to consider whether a little extra gravy for loud unionists justifies the consequences for struggling families, as well as for a state that's already entering its death-spiral.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2008 10:30 PM

Chuck R,

I agree with you that there needs to be new measures of accountability in the teaching profession. The "real world" which you reference, is something everyone with an opinion lives in. The decisions made by union officials, administrators, and parents is what education is unfortunately, all about. No one group has the right idea. Everyone is looking out for their interests. Alternative education is an example. Theses options were created because Urban parents felt their children were attending unsafe schools. This is not the case in Tiverton. Children attend schools that are safe, promote learning, and are a great place to be.

Posted by: Jon Devolve at November 24, 2008 10:30 PM


nastiness? I am sorry for stating my opinion. That is what you do right? You have the opportunity to attack my profession and when I speak my mind, I am now being nasty? What is this all about? Furthermore, I do not have fellow teachers on this site berading you with derogatory terms as some of the other responders have. The fact that everyone here is throwing out labels to one another like it is there job, is mind-boggling! People are right, many of us do volunteer our time for the good of others. Many of those go unnoticed to the majority of us. If the people that post on this site think I am here because I am in favor of getting more money while you continue to struggle or look for work, you are all wrong. I just decided to state my opinions on my profession that everyone likes to chastise. I look forward to meeting with some of you in person to discuss these matters in a professional manner.

Posted by: Jon Devolve at November 24, 2008 10:42 PM

My comments have been limited to observed union behavior as a group. You're the one making presumptions about mental well-being; other presumptions made here and in your earlier emails to me are telling, especially with regard to perspectives you apparently miss.

Regarding other commenters, well, it's an open forum. I do what I can to keep it civil, but it's a continual issue.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2008 10:51 PM

Teacher unions and teachers are entirely different things.

So to are educators.

Teachers have a job, but aren't necessarily competent and/or diligent. Education degrees are notorious for their "gut" (easy) procurement. And slackers are protected by tenure, seniority and the absence of accountability promoted and protected by teacher union contracts.

Educators are forced to be in the teachers union, but in spite of the union and its slacker / industrial model mentality comport themselves as competent and diligent professionals.

They too are harmed by the union, for they're tainted by association with the rank and file teacher and their union bosses.

Vouchers would help break the teacher union monopoly and free educators, children and taxpayers from the stifling and parasitic grasp of slacker teachers and their union protectors and enablers.

Posted by: Tom W at November 24, 2008 11:03 PM

If teachers have it so good why don't you take the required courses and become a teacher? I think for many of you its a case of "The money isn't enough for me, but too much for you".

Posted by: David at November 24, 2008 11:11 PM


In retrospect, I was too quick to cry "nastiness." I apologize. The personal assessments of my life on your part were a bit much, though.



There are a variety of reasons that people don't become teachers despite the good deal that y'all have, but very few, I'd wager, look at the employment package and turn it down as too little.

Personally, if the hoops weren't so prohibitively costly, with the certainty of work in a saturated market so low, I'd seriously consider going after an English teacher position. But the system is set up to enrich education ed. programs, and the rigidity of the union pay scale make it unrealistic for folks with experience in other fields to make the switch.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2008 11:19 PM

I would like to say something that I hope everyone is thinking. It looks like two teachers from Tiverton have posted comments to Justin. Their posts have numerous spelling and grammatical errors. These are the people teaching our children, that expect yearly raises along with their step increases, and they write sentences and paragraphs that an eighth grader should (and hopefully would) be ashamed of.

Posted by: BonDotts at November 25, 2008 8:30 AM

Sorry for the mistakes! When I wrote my response, with my 3 year old climbing on me, I did not realize it would be used to assess my ability to instruct children. This summer, they gave me 12 "at risk" youths, and I painted many of the neglected rooms in the Government Center of Fall River. If you give me 12 able students, I can build and maintain a school district website. I think these accomplishments give evidence to my ability to instruct. And yes, the site has some grammatical errors. If you would like to proofread all 400 pages for us, I’d be thrilled!

No disrespect intended, many contributors to these forums make grammatical and spelling errors. Do you point out the errors of others? I am not surprised. I entered this forum knowing my views would come “under fire.” My submission was not typed under the best of conditions!


Posted by: Ed Davis at November 25, 2008 9:34 AM

I am comforted to read the comments of Mr. Davis showing what appears to be devotion to the community and his profession. I recall from another post that we disagreed vehemently as to economics, data, and the appropriate role of greed in the equation, but it is always good to see someone doing more than the bare minimum, especially a highly paid professional. It helps assuage my belief that the union positions often approach legalized extortion and are ultimately, morally reprehensible.

I always wonder if our best teachers, individually, would be better off outside of the union model so that superior dedication and performance could truly be recognized?

Posted by: thinkaboutit at November 25, 2008 10:07 AM

Folks, a little respect for people who are losing their jobs and going through "transitions" (as I am, too) these days.
And also some respect for the more than 100 people at Focus on the Family who are losing their jobs after Rev. James Dobson sank millions and millions of dollars into getting Prop 8 passed in California.
Guess the fight against gay marriage caused Dobson to lose the focus on his employees' (presumably Christian) families.

Posted by: rhody at November 25, 2008 11:29 AM

In response to Mike Capelli's earlier comment - "Professionals don't do contracts." Hmm, let's see. Professional sports figures "do contracts which are often worth millions of dollars a year - and get paid even if they have only an average season; corporate executives "do contracts" which detail such things as multi-million dollar stock options, unlimited expense accounts and corporate jets - and get paid even if the company has to seek a bailout from the federal government; professional doctors "do contracts" with health insurance companies which spell out fee arrangements in great detail - and get paid even if they make mistakes that causes problems for the patient. These are just a few examples that jump out at me in regard to professionals who do have contracts through an organized group such as a labor union, a group medical practice or through individual contracts with their employer or the entity paying the bills. While there is opportunity for labor unions to perhaps change some of the old ways of doing business, many professionals have contracts so let's leave the red herrings in the ocean.

Posted by: Mike at November 25, 2008 11:11 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.