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."
The UFT soldiers "collect top pay and fringe benefits, but work just one class period a day." Nice non-work if you can get it.
NYSUT, by the way, is the parent of the double-dipping UFT, which itself rakes in $126 million in member dues -- but only reimburses the city less than $1 million out of the $9 million it costs to take teachers out of the classroom to serve at the altar of Big Labor. UFT is also a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which spent nearly $2 million on the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. (In return, you may recall, the Obama administration granted the UFT one of its coveted health care Waivers for Favors last year -- exempting the behemoth union in a sweetheart deal from the federal mandate's costly rules on phasing out annual health coverage limits.)
The forced-dues racket is big business for teachers unions crying poor. In Ohio, the state's education association siphoned nearly $23 million from rank-and-file school workers to fatten up its union staff. The Ohio Education Association donated more than $1.6 million to Democratic campaigns last year and tossed off five-figure checks each to union and progressive allies in Oregon, Colorado and Policy Matters Ohio, a left-wing think tank funded by radical billionaire George Soros.
At the federal level, the National Education Association squandered $13 million in teachers' dues on every pet liberal cause and crony from the AFL-CIO ($150,000) and AFSCME ($90,000), to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate ($200,000), Media Matters for America ($100,000) and the White House brigade at Health Care for America Now! ($450,000).
The goals of the teachers union machine are not academic excellence, professional development and fairness. As former NEA official John Lloyd explained it: "You cannot possibly understand NEA without understanding Saul Alinsky. If you want to understand NEA, go to the library and get 'Rules for Radicals.'"
The goals are student indoctrination, social upheaval and perpetual agitation in pursuit of bigger government and spending without restraint. No wonder the signature "solidarity" color of the teachers union protests this month is red.