If public school teachers spent more time teaching in classrooms and less time community-organizing in political war rooms, maybe taxpayers wouldn't feel as ripped off as they do. Before the Big Labor bosses start complaining about "teacher-bashing," let's be clear: An increasing number of rank-and-file teachers feel exactly the same way.
Retired New York teacher Vinne Cusimano, who was required to pay forced union dues in order to work, wrote me this week after receiving the March 2011 edition of his union's monthly publication. The cover of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) magazine reads: "Defend What Matters! Educate. Collaborate. AGITATE." Inside the pamphlet, NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi rails against "malicious politicians" in Wisconsin and elsewhere proposing "extreme anti-union" budget cuts. He urges his members to join "advocacy" efforts to "maintain critical resources" and lectures about the need to "value education over ideology and greed."
Cusimano, who taught for four decades in the Empire State, fired back at Ianuzzi in an open letter:
"As a member for over 40 years, I have never been so disappointed at the stand you are taking to call members to 'AGITATE!' We are trying to tamp down the rhetoric and you are outward(ly) inciting agitation. How dare you! You are supposed to be for the students/teachers. ... How can you support 'EDUCATE,' 'COLLABORATE,' and then encourage agitation?"
More to the point, what business does Iannuzzi -- a fat-cat union official who rakes in nearly $300,000 a year (plus a $100,000 pension) while his organization's net assets are more than $117 million in the red -- have lecturing anyone else about "ideology and greed"? Instead of imposing fiscal discipline on NYSUT, Iannuzzi and his cronies have gone on a spending spree -- dumping nearly $10.5 million into left-wing Democratic politics this past year alone. The NYSUT boasts a lobbying staff of 500, a 200,000-square-foot palace in Albany and a $213 million operating budget -- paid for through compulsory union dues of about $300 a year from some 600,000 members.
"Agitation," of course, is a full-time job for teachers union officials in New York and across the country. As the New York Post reported exclusively this week, the city Department of Education compensates some 1,500 teachers for their union activities and also subsidizes other teachers who take their places in the classroom: "It's a sweetheart deal that costs taxpayers an extra $9 million a year to pay fill-ins for instructors who are sprung -- at full pay -- to carry out responsibilities for the United Federation of Teachers."