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The PWEA Can Stuff It

By Greg L | 20 April 2012 | Prince William County | 16 Comments

One hallmark of every budget season is the annual parade of members of public employee “associations” who cry out for higher government spending and higher tax bills.  Usually this doesn’t merit much commentary, as the exercise never seems to actually change the outcome of budget discussions, and it’s not likely the never ending cries of doom from members of the Prince William Education Association will have any impact this time around.  With no immediate end in sight to very tough economic times along with gas at $4 a gallon, rising food prices and the life savings of many residents starting to tap out, these cries for higher taxes start to become much more important.  Those cries are rapidly becoming utterly enraging.

I was at Supervisor Candland’s budget town hall earlier this week and was pretty surprised to see several teachers, some even wearing shirts emblazoned with “PWEA” complain that anything but a huge tax hike would wreak disaster on the schools and make life impossible for teachers.  I don’t imagine that Supervisor Candland was too thrilled with the PWEA using one of his town halls as an opportunity to lobby for tax hikes, but I was absolutely aghast.  Our family is facing some really tough times and we’ve had to cut household spending to the point that health insurance has become one of those necessities we just have to do without (Obamacare hasn’t at all helped in this regard as the kind of affordable coverage I’d hoped to get is now illegal to offer).  Yet teachers are complaining that they have to work an extra half hour to make up for the cost of contributions to their retirement accounts and a pay increase, and need more of my money to offset that hardship?  To make it even more outrageous, one teacher who is a Fairfax County resident (and thus immune to the tax increases he advocated) went so far as to deliberately debate all the points private citizens had previously raised as if his job was to attack taxpayers rather than advocate for an issue.   How surreal.

I’m sorry.  I wish I could afford to pay teachers more, as I love what they do.  My wife is a teacher who has taught in public schools in Virginia and I understand how hard it is for teachers when resources are limited.  The problem is that I simply don’t have any more money to pay them with, and I’m hardly alone in this.  Your concerns about whether it’s too much of a burden to contribute to your own retirement accounts has to be weighed against our concerns of how we can afford to eat this week and somehow manage to pay our mortgage next month, and frankly, contributions to your retirement account is going to lose in that equation.

That should be a pretty dispassionate discussion.  It’s pretty simple, and there’s no hostility there.  Well, at least there’s no hostility there until a bunch of teachers armed with inane talking points by the PWEA show up and accuse anyone saying they can’t pay higher taxes of being a heartless monster who hates teachers in a perfect reprise of Griff Hampshire’s public relations debacles.  It was bad enough when PWEA trolls stunned everyone with comments that parents should be quiet about their children’s education because they’re not competent enough.  Now we’re getting the line that we don’t appreciate or respect teachers because we’re not going to give them extra money we don’t have.

As has oft been said, our fiscal problems don’t arise here because we tax too little, but because we spend too much.  Between the School Board’s utter refusal to consider that illegal immigration is a key reason why costs have exploded and will do nothing to address that in any way, and their lavish spending on such nonsense such as installing electronic billboards in front of county schools and providing subsidized lunches to administrative employees at the Kelley Center (including the county’s highest paid employee Dr. Walts) there’s a lot that could be done to resolve budget concerns simply by paying close attention to what the county is already spending.  Millions of dollars spent on the utterly horrid “iStation” internet-based “learning” system, millions of dollars on the failed and non-state compliant “Math Investigations” curriculum, frequent seminars paid for with county taxpayer dollars featuring dubious speakers, the list here is nearly endless.  There is utterly no fiscal discipline in the school system and until there is no sane person would ever throw more money at it in hopes things would ever get better.  It will only get more expensive.

So when a bunch of teachers in PWEA shirts show up to wax poetic about how life would be so much better for us all if only our taxes were higher at the same time my youngest child’s quite reasonable request for a betta fish as a pet is something we can’t afford, I tend to get just a little upset.  I’m sure that’s equally the case for folks in Heritage Hunt on fixed incomes, the large group of unemployed and under-employed workers in the county, and those getting hammered by fuel costs in their businesses and personal budgets whose credit card debt is exploding.  We don’t need the lectures about how we’ll be better people if we agree to have our taxes raised.  All we want to do is be able to figure out how to pay for food and housing this month, and pray some unexpected expense doesn’t pop up that doesn’t upset our delicate balance between survival and bankruptcy.

It would be a lot easier to show respect for county teachers as a whole if during budget season they weren’t demonstrating such callous disregard towards the plight of the people who are paying their salaries, funding their generous employee benefits, and already sacrificing to give them a better standard of living than many of us are able to now enjoy.  When the economy has recovered and we’re not in such difficult financial straits, we’ll be happy to share a bit more of our wealth with you.  That’s just not something many of us can do right now, and this kind of behavior only poisons the well you’re going to want to drink from when things get better.

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  1. cdubbs said on 21 Apr 2012 at 7:22 am:
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    I retired from the military in 1995 and live in PWC and teach elementary school in another county. After being in the teaching profession going on 18 years now, it never ceases to amaze me how many of my fellow teachers just do not “get” the relationship our profession has with the public it serves. We serve at the pleasure of the taxpayers people! No one owes us a job, or automatic increases in pay. If we have to do more with less, do more with less. And the last time I checked, the contracts we sign do not specify 8 hour work days. We are not hourly employees we are salaried employees, we do not clock in and clock out. Which means you work until the job is done. The reason school working hours are set is because the public needs to know when normal business hours are. When I went into teaching after being on duty 24/7 for 23 years, I figured the same rules applied. The taxpayers deserve no less. It is a great profession. Where else do you get to work in a building where people use crayons? For all the whiners and criers out there, believe me folks, life could be a whole lot worse, trust me I know.

  2. Badger said on 21 Apr 2012 at 10:08 am:
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    If teachers are unhappy with the salaries and benefits offered by Prince William County, they should look elsewhere. If we can’t attract replacements, we should revisit pay and benefits. This may actually reduce the cost of education as new people drive average salaries down. Teaching is a job, not a social program. Management should treat it as such.

    If management doesn’t “get this”, perhaps we need new management.

  3. Jane Doe said on 22 Apr 2012 at 9:43 am:
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    This “debate” has been disturbing, to put it lightly, to this PWC taxpayer and parent of school aged children. I suspect there’s something larger at play here than PWEA, and the PWC GOP had better be paying attention, unless our teachers really are as petty as they’ve been acting lately.

    We’re in a national election year with Virginia as one of the must win swing states. We can predict how many of the northern counties and many of the more rural counties will vote. What we can’t predict is how Prince William County will vote, and as the 2nd most populous county in the state, we’re set to be ground zero in the 2012 election cycle.

    The recent debate over the school division’s budget has been all about class warfare, with the Democrats and their robots in PWEA taking up the charge, and the local media like Inside NOVA and Bristow Beat willingly carrying their message. So what if the facts didn’t support their arguments and what was reported was salacious and factually inaccurate. What mattered was casting the GOP as disrespectful, cold jerks who were willing to sacrifice our children to fulfill their objectives.

    Look at the new local hero Myra Sawyers, who lost to Milt Johns in the recent school board election and now chairs the PWC Democratic committee’s education group. Myra attended her first school board meeting ever a few weeks ago. Yea. She ran to head the school board and had never attended a single school board meeting in person. Good old Myra was stirring the pot as hard as she could, and talking up the STEM for kindergartener’s program she developed that she’d really like to sell to the county and other counties. She also repeated lies and misrepresented facts every time she spoke, but that didn’t stop her from becoming the new education hero to reporters at Inside NOVA and Bristow Beat.

    I was blown away by the intentional distorting and misrepresenting of facts in this debate - and how willing our local media was to go along. That facts are that when compared with other school divisions in the area, excluding Fauquier and Stafford, PWCS teachers are paid about average for their years of service and qualification level. In fact, PWCS teachers are paid the highest percentage of household income of any of the divisions in our area, and the starting salary for a teacher with no experience and a Bachelors degree is almost $5,000 above the per capita average salary in PWC. That’s hardly underpaid, especially when you consider that it’s in exchange for 7 hours a day, 195 days a year.

    The facts never got presented, by anyone! No one tried to counter the PWEA / PWC Democrats false information. No one presented the facts about teacher compensation or work days or why the budget was blown this year. No one. It’s like the school division, and our school board members, rolled over and played dead.

    I hope the PWC and VA GOP were paying attention and have a plan to fight back. The Democrats are going to throw everything they have at the GOP in this election with Democratic allies at Inside NOVA and Bristow Beat willingly carrying their water. The GOP had better be prepared to get their message out and set the record straight. I can promise you one thing - playing dead, like we did in this budget debate, won’t keep the GOP in power in VA and might hand PWC to the Democrats.

  4. anon said on 22 Apr 2012 at 9:52 am:
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    Because of cuts to school budgets there isn’t enough money to buy new math textbooks. Next year our children in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades will continue to use Math Investigations, which is no longer recommended by the state for use in public schools in Virginia.

  5. Badger said on 22 Apr 2012 at 10:18 am:
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    It’s called a budget for a reason. If we don’t have money for the “latest and greatest”, we do with what we have. Abraham Lincoln did ok without the latest math books… our kids will survive. Anyone who has really paid attention to this issue knows this isn’t about the kids.

    Sorry… but when I drive by one of those new digital media signs at the gate of a lot of schools, my sympathy for complaints such as this just goes away. We could have used “the old way” a bit longer there also.

  6. anon said on 22 Apr 2012 at 11:14 am:
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    One problem badger - the old way, at least with the math books, was the bad way. The old way in the county right now is Math Investigations, and I encourage you to look into the program and its numerous shortcomings, before claiming that continuing to use it will be just fine. Same with the crummy history textbooks that rather forgot to mention WWI.

  7. Citizen-Veteran said on 22 Apr 2012 at 8:39 pm:
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    In PWC, we hire only highly educated professional teachers for full-time positions . . . and they can provide instruction that compensates for inadequate math or history textbooks. Depending on textbooks for delivering a superior education is less than professional and certainly less than the taxpayers demand. The solution remains with the classroom teacher and that should be the budget focus too.

    No more excuses! The taxpayers want results, efficiencies, cut the fat, no more free shirts for teachers out of school site funds, or leased cars for school division senior management. Our good teachers will stay and the whiners will . . . leave. Teachers who cannot support the program and are not adequately motivated should be encouraged to leave.

    The reality is budget cuts are coming to the PWCSD and PWC. The School Board and Independent Hill need to seize this inevitability and deal with it - like a business that needs to stay afloat. The endless government largess is coming to an end. Programs that provide high results - end them. Is it cheaper to consolidate special education or keep it mainstreamed? ESOL? Well, if we cannot afford it, it goes. If the courts don’t like the cuts, they can fund them. . . because we are not.

    If the public school system cannot cope with the student numbers, well, a hybrid approach to public and home schooling can be designed to cut costs. The School Board needs to reach out to cost cutting experiences beyond Northern Virginia.

  8. John_Walter said on 22 Apr 2012 at 10:43 pm:
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    cdubbs Please do not lecture us when you you are receiving a taxpayer sponsored retirement and a taxpayer funded job.

  9. freedom said on 23 Apr 2012 at 6:38 am:
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    Good alternatives, Citizen…I would also recommend teacher salary reformation as well. Salary increases could and should be based upon meaningful measures of a teacher’s overall performance. Salary increases should correspond: excellent performance = excellent increase; mediocre performance = mediocre increase; and poor performance…well that’s one’s easy = zero increase. Equal pay raises for all encourages mediocrity and does absolutely nothing to incentivize that extra effort toward improving effectiveness.

  10. anon said on 23 Apr 2012 at 7:34 am:
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    Citizen-Veteran - I wish I agreed with you that the teachers PWCS hires are all highly qualified. I’ve been involved in the debate over the Math Investigations program for many years and was shocked at how many of our “highly qualified” elementary teachers stated that they never got fractions or never understood long division - and even some who said subtraction was confusing.

    When you couple a lack of mathematical knowledge from a teacher with an instructional program like Math Investigations that mandates a set instructional program with scripted lessons, you get kids who need to draw pictures to add and subtract in 4th grade. In other words, you get kids who are just as mathematically ignorant as their teachers.

    Sorry - but when those sorts of statements are commonplace, you are dependent on the instructional materials to accurately convey information to students.

  11. Badger said on 23 Apr 2012 at 12:37 pm:
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    You know, home schooling is looking better all the time…

  12. Padre said on 23 Apr 2012 at 1:12 pm:
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    Those same teachers will be teaching math to the same kids regardless of what program is used.

    I have heard those comments before. I feel fairly certain they meant “conceptually” understood various processes in math. They are able to do fractions and long division. Isn’t that the point of investigations?

    Home schooling requires parents to be masters of many subjects. It isn ‘t for sissies.

  13. anon said on 23 Apr 2012 at 3:48 pm:
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    Padre - spend some time talking with Middle school teachers. They’ll tell you that the kids coming out of Investigations can’t perform simple arithmetic problems and don’t get fractions. Long division isn’t taught in an Investigations classroom, nor are finding common denominators, though some of our teachers are bucking the county mandate and actually teaching long division and common denominators. Unfortunately there aren’t many doing that, and when they get kids who can’t subtract two 4 digit numbers, can’t multiply a 1 digit and 4 digit number, and / or don’t know their multiplication or division facts, then teaching them long division or how to find a common denominator to add or subtract dissimilar fractions is an exercise in futility.

  14. Rgdfry said on 23 Apr 2012 at 7:06 pm:
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    John Walter,

    Mr. cdubbs has put in 23 years service to this county and earned his reirement payment. He has also earned the right to speak his mind on this topic (lecture?), and anything else he may want to address. In fact with 18 years in the classroom, I would respect and you should respect his opinion on this topic, as he offers an insiders perspective.

    Seems to me the PWEA whiners are upset because they now have to be in the building for 7.5 hours, an extra 30 minutes per day. This 30 minutes is NOT AN INCREASE OF INSTRUCTIONAL TIME TO STUDENTS, simply time in the building. Being married to a teacher, I see that teaching (a calling to service) actually is a 50+ hour per week profession. This rule change (7.5 hrs in building) is at best a minor impact to any teacher that is working to educate the children of PWC. End, my 2 cents worth. . .

  15. Anonymous said on 23 Apr 2012 at 7:11 pm:
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    I was teaching my son the concept of base 2 , base 10 and hex while he was in the fith grade math and science program. Three quarters of the way through the school years they were still grouping blocks for base 10 place value?

    It was another one of those professional educators from some teacher mill in the hills somewere who probally received a C in math for the liberal arts. Unless you have taken some of the high level stuff, you cant explain what is going on in the low level stuff.

    Get books and train your kids at home. I do.

  16. Padre said on 24 Apr 2012 at 7:51 pm:
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    Why do I need to talk to middle school teachers? Regardless of whom I talk to, the same teachers will be teaching math at the elementary level whether they understand fractions or not.

    It sounds like their biggest problem is their professionalism. Why would they be gossiping with parents about what their boss said to do? Where I come from, that’s grounds for firing.

    People who continually carp on the same thing become identifiablebregardless of nom de plume.

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