November 12, 2004

Acclimating to RI's Education Dispute

Justin Katz

Commenting to a post by Marc, Rich from East Greenwich offers several specific questions that he might ask if mediating teacher contract disputes there. Among the considerations that he proposes is a comparison of teachers compensation with the median for the town.

Although not addressing East Greenwich, Marc and I worked through some of these sorts of questions on our personal blogs (pre–Anchor Rising). The following figure, which tells nowhere near the whole story, provides a baseline beyond which the picture only gets worse:

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As a parent in the Warwick system for the last two years, and also being a new resident of Rhode Island - I am so angry at this stalled contract for the Warwick school district. We came from Brainerd, Minnesota and a wonderful school system where I knew teachers were not paid enough. My sister, a 30 year teaching veteran in the St. Paul school system is not paid enough. I hear about her union battles and have always cheered her efforts on.

But out here in Rhode Island? I am nothing short of disgusted. As we moved here, my son was at a great neighborhood school. The first argument I had was him, as a 9 year old - being made to WALK to school. There was not enough budget for transportation. Next was the odd thing that he didn't have books for all subjects in the second half of fourth grade and all of fifth grade in the first school (Wyman). He got copies of pages from the book to bring home for homework. They couldn't let the books out of the classroom. Why? No money to spare! Fortunately, the principal at his school, and the teaching staff were bucking the pressure the union was putting on them. Despite less PhyEd, Music, Art, Science time (which is a crime in itself), my son had a great school experience at Wyman.

This year, for 6th grade, we moved to the Hoxie neighborhood with the purchase of our first home in Rhode Island. We'd always been owners in MN, but took a year and a half here to find where we wanted to live. And - what we could afford. The article above highlighted greatly the outrageous housing costs in RI. As little as 4 years ago, this same house we bought would have sold for $80,000-$85K. We bought it for $189K. One bathroom, one small garage (and if you can find a house with an attached garage for that price, good luck!) at 950sq feet. This same money in Brainerd would have gotten us a 4-5 bed/4 bath house with double attached garage on half an acre! In fact, we sold our Baxter home to move here with just those specs (2700sq feet) to move out here for a better job for my husband.

In this new neighborhood, sandwiched between two deadly streets (Warwick Ave and West Shore/Airport road) I had to actually negotiate that my kid get on a bus to make it safely to and from school. It wasn't a forgone conclusion. With the Warwick teacher contracts in year two of the battle, the largest argument being benefits, the union has envoked a WORK TO RULE ethic. You get nothing past work hours in being able to work with teachers for your child. Tonight, there is a school open house, but no teachers will be there. I will say that the Principal is a hard working woman who is trying to get the most for her children within a messed up system. Most teachers would capitulate to negotiating in reality, but they are hostage to the union leadership.

Here's how it affects us on a daily basis - last year, school lunch was $1.85. This year, it went up to $2.00 a lunch. ELEMENTARY school lunch. My son, who is not overweight and does like fresh fruit and veg (okay, he's not average) tells me that this year, costing more, school portions are LESS than last year. And, that there is rarely a piece of fresh fruit to be offered. The menus are not all that balanced, but little kids are picky so they have to do something to get them fed. But less for more seems to be the Warwick school district theory. It goes for lunch as well as subjects beyond math and reading.

Of all the insults in not being able to get a ratified contract executed, I think the thing that makes me most upset is the benefits packages. In MN we owned our own small business. We had a 5 person set up and we got health coverage for us and our 3 employees. It nearly killed us, but we covered 50% of their premiums. In all the overhead of owning our own business, it nearly killed us with stress. Part of the reason we moved out here was that my husband could earn what he was actually worth out here with the RI job. He's a highly skilled foreign auto mechanic. Auto industry has always paid workers, no matter how good they are, on a FLAT LABOR HOUR. It's just how it is. This company we moved for offered great benefits. My husband is full time, he'll put in a 10-12 hour day if that's what the work load needs in a day. AND STILL - do WE get FREE health and dental? OH HELL NO! We pay $106.00 a WEEK for coverage in our family of three in health, $23 a week for dental. That probably is the story for most of you reading these articles. You work, if you get benefits, you pay in. We gripe about it, but that's how it is. No one really expects to get it for free. And - if you want a real scary story, check out the corrupt way BC/BS of RI has operated and the scandals coming out of that whole deal. Corruption in RI is a spectator sport, I don't know who said it, but it is the truth.

The teachers contract debacle in Warwick's district is one tiny piece of the union graft allowed out here, yet, it is big in our lives as it affects us every day this contract is not settled. And if the teacher's union gets their way, my taxes and my son's education will continue to be much less for much higher cost.

I came from a state of mind where I always cheered for Union. I came from MN where I saw what Northwest Airlines did to their unions. I saw the lies and cheating from the company.

Now - living out here, I am no longer a fan of unions. Not in this particular environment.

Posted by: SJLegge at November 15, 2004 1:14 PM

if you hate it here so much go back where you came from

Posted by: b at February 4, 2005 10:09 PM

Or else change it for the better, eh, "b"?

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 4, 2005 10:11 PM