Speaking Truth To Power


Recently we had some kind words for the District 207 teachers when it sounded as if they were going to hold the District to its contract but kick back enough of their pay increases to save the jobs of their non-tenured teachers union members who were otherwise going to be chopped to help the District fill the gaping $19 million budget hole for the coming year.

Well, the teachers union sure fooled us.

Wednesday night at Maine East High School, union brotherhood/sisterhood went the way of common sense, fiscal responsibility and basic altruism, as union officials and tenured teachers demanded that the District draw down its reserve fund in order to keep everybody – except the taxpayers – fully employed, properly enriched and reasonably happy. 

In the process, the teachers union and its supporters appear to have callously exploited their well-meaning but naïve students, who we understand were “encouraged” to attend the meeting and voice their opposition to the District’s belated recognition of fiscal reality.  After all, it’s common knowledge that weeping teenagers are even better than puppies and kittens for tugging at heartstrings and interfering with clear-headed thinking.

Just because the union and its backers were shameless, however, doesn’t mean that that the District’s board didn’t show it could be spineless.

To the contrary, Board president Ed Mueller sounded like a typical politician when he seemingly blamed every external force except the Haitian earthquake for the District’s deficit, while making sure that not a hint of blame or accountability fell on him or his board.  Amazingly enough, after blaming tax caps for contributing to the District’s revenue shortfalls, Mueller bizarrely announced that the board has ruled out any referendum to exceed the tax caps – a position supported by Supt. Ken Wallace, who said it would “not be responsible” to ask the taxpayers to vote to bail out the district.

In other words, folks, what they’re telling us is that, if not for those darn tax caps, they could have gone ahead and raised our taxes to fill the budget hole without having to get our permission via referendum and without having to cut anything. 

That sounds like Exhibit A to the case for why we need tax caps!

But if revenues really are such a problem, why not at least ask the voters if they want to lift the caps to send more bucks to District 207 – before it turns into a real crisis, like the one District 64’s board caused during the first half of the last decade, when it foolishly refused to go to referendum until its finances were so shaky that the State Board of Education was reportedly considering taking over their management? 

Are Mueller and Wallace afraid a huge “no” vote might seem too much like a referendum on the board’s stewardship of District 207?  Is the teachers union afraid such a vote might be perceived as an indictment of the teachers’ greed?  Or are both sides afraid that such a vote might make it more difficult for them to tap into those District 207 reserves, which we’re still betting will end up being the dirty little deal that gets done before the final curtain falls on this particular drama.

One voice of reason did stand out above the grumbling and caterwauling, however.  Mike Bender, a Maine East teacher and softball coach who is on the chopping block, publicly asked his union to reopen negotiations with the District.  

We know virtually nothing about Mr. Bender, but he gets a Watchdog bark-out for having the courage to make such a request, albeit self-serving, in what he had to know was a hostile forum.  Not surprisingly, his request was openly mocked by his union brethren (and sistren?), who already had shown that they have no reservations about “playing chicken” with the District over the jobs of non-tenured teachers like Bender, or the long-term financial soundness of the District.  

Bender will be lucky if mockery is the only consequence of his speaking truth to power.  That’s because when it comes to our public schools, the teachers unions hold all the power.  And when it comes to their wallets, they have no use for truth.