Pittsburgh School Board Election

In the school board election there have been many of the same old, same old nostrums offered up by the candidates. We need more money, let’s go after the non-profits. This in a school district that spends well over $20,000 per student and has little to show for it in terms of academics. This in a school district with a "Promise program" that offers scholarship money to virtually everyone who graduates. Yet school enrollment keeps falling and preparation for college languishes at abysmal levels. If money were the answer, Pittsburgh schools would be among the best.

There was one comment from a candidate that has a lot of potential. The candidate suggests changing union contacts to remove the overweening influence of seniority on personnel decisions and presumably on pay-although that was not explicitly stated.

There is little question that for too long teachers and the so called educrats who have been in charge have neglected the wellbeing of students, their parents and taxpayers in favor of political correctness, liberal ideologies and self- preservation of the employees and bureaucrats. The citizens of Pittsburgh and the taxpayers from across Pennsylvania who cover about half the cost of the school system deserve better.

Predictably Wrongheaded Comments at the Labor Parade

What would a Labor Day parade be without a few choice parade attendee comments demonstrating a lack of economic understanding and faulty logic? Gems from this year include the parade’s theme, a steelworker’s opinion and a head scratcher from a school teacher.

According to the head of the Allegheny County Labor Council "the message of this year is bring our jobs home." Presumably, he means bring back the factory jobs that have gone overseas or to states with a better business climate. He cannot mean teacher, transit driver, or firefighter all of whom provide local government services that cannot be supplied from Taiwan or Alabama.

So what does it mean to "bring our jobs home"? How can they be "our" jobs if someone else has them? Were they "our" jobs before they left? Were they the workers’ jobs? Were they the unions’ jobs? How interesting. Who hires the workers and pays them their wages and benefits? If the jobs belonged to the workers or the unions, how were they able to pick up and move? Clearly, to the extent jobs can be owned by someone they are owned by the employer. The labor effort belongs to the worker, but the job must belong to the owner.

And why did the jobs leave in the first place? Some were lost due to productivity improvements or technological changes that eliminated jobs or made fewer workers necessary. Some were lost due to less expensive or higher quality imports that lowered demand for U.S. made product. Some were lost as companies sought better business and labor climate locations for their production facilities.

If the Labor Council wants to see more job growth in the sectors that have seen huge losses over the decades, the first thing they must do is to quit thinking in terms such as "bring our jobs home." To business owners and decision makers, that phrase conveys the notion that the same old adversarial labor-owner attitude persists. After all, in many cases it was labor’s exorbitant and intransigent demands regarding compensation, work rules, time off and grievance procedures that caused a lot of the jobs to move away. Until labor leaders (as well as rank and file) in the private sector realize what intense competition means and learn to deal with it, the odds of "their" jobs returning will remain extremely slim.

Meanwhile, back at the parade, a steelworker offered the opinion that President Obama needs a second term because it takes two terms in order to get anything done. One has to smile at that in light of the hash the President’s policies have made of the economy, the debt that has piled up, the impending tax hikes, the runaway job killing regulatory environment and the loss of business confidence in the President’s economic leadership. And beyond that, it is amusing to consider how the unions excoriated earlier Republican Presidents at election time arguing they did not deserve a second term even when the economy was in far better shape than it is currently.

Finally-and the cake taker-came from a local teacher who said, "Every child should have the right to learn the same-not the best education their parents can pay for." Here some speculation as to meaning is called for. Surely, it cannot mean that if a parent can afford a high quality education for a child that child should learn the same as everyone else. More likely, the teacher means that public education is needed to ensure that all children have an opportunity to attend school. But like most public school teachers, this teacher believes that government provided education must be a government monopoly run education. Consider students in the Pittsburgh school district where spending is well in excess of $20,000 per pupil. If the taxpayers could switch $12,000 per year to parents so they could choose their child’s school and educational opportunity, does anyone doubt the parents could afford and find a much better education than the average student in the Pittsburgh schools is receiving?

So, the unjustified assumption underlying the teacher’s comment is that because the taxpayers subsidize education, the schools must be a public monopoly. That of course is not the only option. But in the union dominated public school system that is the mindset. Teachers are the most important element in the education equation, not the students. And certainly the taxpayers get no consideration at all as witnessed by the demands teachers continue to make and the strike threats even when the economy and taxpayers are struggling.

Paraphrasing the teacher’s comment, "We need to make more money so parents cannot possibly afford to pay for a good education for their children and only taxpayers can be squeezed for that much money."