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Every time the teachers' contract comes up for negotiation, a stream of letters from teachers appear in the local newspapers implying that the board of education is doing something wrong by not agreeing to the Port Washington Teacher Association's conditions. If anyone writes to support the board of education's negotiating positions, they are condemned for hating children.

Few parents want to publicly criticize the PWTA's requests. On the other hand, a majority voted down the budget. Although teachers get vocal support from PTAs, those PTAs represent only a narrow segment of parents and even less of the community. Their recent letters to the newspapers may actually be alienating most voters.

To their credit, I'm sure that many teachers work more than the minimum 35-hour week. Strangely, it seemed to be mostly pro-PWTA letter writers who considered 35 hours as a full work week. For comparison, the parking lot at the LIRR is full at 7:30 in the morning and half the cars are still there at 7:30 at night. At least half the people working at those high paid jobs in the city are away more than 12 hours a day. Most are probably working 50 to 60 hours a week.

Reading in one letter to the Port Washington News that "teachers are the hardest working people" was scary to me because it implied that the writer didn't consider those bio-organisms getting on the train in the morning as human.

Long hours, of course, do not necessarily equate with high wages. There are plenty of people in Port working 60-hour weeks with substandard benefits or none at all. Nor does higher education necessarily equate with higher earnings. A doctorate will, in most fields, take you off a higher earning business track and leave you in a lower wage academic track.

Higher earnings come to those who prove themselves through regular cycles of corporate downsizing, the purges that come with mergers and acquisitions and a generally competitive business culture in which far more people fail than succeed. In comparison, the district does not regularly restructure to discard its older workers and replace them with 35-year-olds.

Teachers are isolated from that competitive environment by their union. They can't bargain as a group and expect to be paid as much as the most successful individuals.

Teachers may have relatively low salaries, but their overall compensation packages are great. They trade high salaries for job security with generous healthcare, vacation and retirement packages. A self-employed person would have to earn twice as much to buy a comparable compensation package.

It is to the PWTA's advantage that salary negotiations are confidential. If the general population realized that the PWTA was unwilling to make minor concessions in exchange for salary increases, the next budget would be defeated too. For example, the PTA could (1) give up two days of their 12 weeks of vacation, (2) increase the number of classroom hours from 20 to 22 a week, (3) increase their contribution to health insurance so that it begins to approach the 25 percent to 35 percent that most people pay, or (4) accept a two tier system in which new employees receive less generous benefits packages.

With their great vacation, health and retirement benefits, the PWTA's intransigence is an example of an affirmative action/entitlement culture gone mad.

A quarter of a century ago, a generation of educated young women entered the labor force and were given the opportunity to compete in the global marketplace by working 60 to 80 hours a week. The feminist/gender equity movement began to collapse shortly thereafter as the majority of those women decided that they would really rather not. Teachers have a perfectly respectable place in that picture. The only thing threatening that respectability is the delusional nature of their letters.

Multiculturalism is great. I'm glad that my daughter will have the choice of pursuing a professional career, focusing on parenting, or finding a balance between the two. I've always recommended teaching to her as a great job that would let her balance work and family life in a way that few other jobs can. The most important thing to me is that she becomes a mature adult citizen. Most of the recent letters make me wonder whether the culture of the teaching community will allow that.

Port's schools and teachers are doing a great job, but it's time that they start dealing with the same economic realities that the rest of us live with. The median income in the USA has been dropping steadily for the last five years. It is not surprising that anyone wants to disassociate themselves from the majority of "losers" and relate to the top tiers (e.g. stockbrokers) in a society with rapidly expanding income disparity between the rich and everyone else. Teachers can't demand a wage increase in the name of fairness, while equating themselves with market managers who reward companies for gutting pension plans and exporting jobs to less developed nations.

If there is a pressing issue of social justice today, it is that so much more is spent educating children in suburbs like Port than on educating children in the city. Given that, the board of education can't expect state or federal aid any time soon. They have to manage costs themselves.

People who want to control school costs do not hate children. We want to make more funds available for school programs by better use of the limited resources we have.

Negotiating the teachers' contract is not a popular job. Historically, board of educations have conceded to the PWTA and left a legacy of financial liability for future board of educations. New government accounting standards being introduced are far more than planned for. That will lead to more tax increases. The board of education and the PWTA have to agree on productivity and cost control measures now, and publicize them, or they risk defeat of the next school budget in May.

Robert T. Schill


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