Thursday, October 31, 2002


I really hope people will vote for Kathryn Piller for the Omaha-area seat on the State Board of Education. She’s the incumbent, she puts kids first, she’s tough, she’s well-spoken, she’s fiscally conservative and she won my heart a few years ago when she stood up to the educrats over getting to the bottom of that South Omaha videotaped school beating.

But she’s taking a beating now on the campaign trail by one of the most heavily-funded union guys ever to run for public office in the State of Nebraska. In campaign documents filed this week, retired teacher and former Nebraska State Education Association president Joe Higgins reported campaign donations of $20,725.16 from the NSEA. That teachers’ union representing more than 20,000 people didn’t even interview Ms. Piller before they endorsed Higgins.

I wasn’t going to tell this. I really wasn’t. But now that Higgins is sending out campaign literature claiming that SHE’S an “extremist,” while HE gets things done “through an open, honest and civil discussion of the issues,” I have to come forward and say “Nuh unh UNHHH!”

I ran for the school board in District 66 five years ago. I was concerned about iffy curriculum, suspicious increases in the numbers of children labeled “learning disabled,” and materialistic overspending. I had come out strongly against the tax-lid override that the educrats in Westside wanted. Cash reserves were high and useable, and other tweaks in nonclassroom spending could have produced the same extra money as raising taxes.

I didn’t want to win the darn thing. I hate meetings and listening to puffed-up poohbahs of political correctness for hours. I just wanted to air the issues. One other candidate held my views, but everybody else was “Stepfording” . . . just parroting the pro-spending party line.

It was getting fairly ugly: garden-variety campaign dirty tricks. Assume the position! One woman proclaimed at a big party that I was an anti-Semite who didn’t think the Holocaust ever happened. That was fun. Another rumor had it that I was mentally ill.

Yeah, you really SHOULD have your head examined if you try to run for school board in your home district and represent the public instead of the education bureaucracy. What a concept!

Well, anyway, one day before the election, Joe Higgins called. I hadn’t had him as a social studies teacher when I rode my dinosaur to Westside many years ago, but I remembered him and had a certain fondness for him. He remembered me because I had been the newspaper editor and hung out in the Social Studies IMC to talk to my frien . . . uh, that is, study. I thought of him as a “freeze-dried hippie,” someone encased in a middle-aged body espousing the values of the 1960s.

Since 18-year-olds can vote, Mr. Higgins was inviting me to a candidates’ forum at Westside, with an auditorium full of seniors. I accepted with delight.

When I got there that day, I went up to Mr. Higgins. The very first thing he said was, “We got the ‘Rule of 85’ and not only that, we got the ‘COLA’!”


It so happens that Higgins, who in 1983 was president of the state teachers’ union and remained active in union affairs, had been a leader in the imposition of a tremendously expensive early-retirement program for educators. The Legislature had just granted it. At age 55, with 30 years of experience, an educator can retire with full pension, and then double-dip at taxpayer expense. It was going to drain our schools of our best, most experienced teachers, including some of the more famous ones at Westside.

At the same time, the union had obtained a 2 percent cost of living increase for retirees from the Legislature. According to the union’s website, www.nsea.org/legpol/retirement.htm, the changes in retirement benefits would be worth an extra $126,292 . . . per teacher. And who pays those retirement benefits? Taxpayers.

So we empty the schools of our best teachers at unbelievable expense to ourselves. And Higgins, a member of the Public Employees Retirement Board, was crowing about that.

It gets worse. We walked into the crowded auditorium of voting-age seniors, and Mr. Higgins immediately made the whole room SCOWL at me by introducing me as “one of the nay-sayers . . . a ‘No’ person.”

I guess it was his idea of a joke, referring to my stand on the spending-lid override. But when he introduced the four pro-spenders as “Yes” people and all the kids smiled radiantly at them and kept frowning over at me, my cheeks got bright red and my heart started pounding.

I really didn’t think it was fair to pigeonhole me as a bad guy because of that one issue among many, considering that many of them had Mr. Higgins in class and had to “suck up.”

But it got worse. Higgins had me speak first. He and other school officials sat and glared at me. Gulp. I got started, and was doing OK, when suddenly . . .

. . . the fire alarm went off! The kids all leaped up from their seats and left. In shock, I looked right at the school officials, including Mr. Higgins . . .

. . . and they immediately smiled down at me, nastily, savoring my predicament.

They had done that on purpose, to mess me up. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I don’t know. They smiled too fast.

I wonder if that was a dirty trick that Higgins picked up when he was the Nebraska union’s delegate to the National Education Association from 1996-99. That was right when they were making all kinds of icky decisions that had nothing to do with academics, and everything to do with left-wing politics.

The NEA is for extremist stuff I hate: forced preschool, compulsory “guidance” for pre-K through college, forced celebration in schools of homosexual behavior, condom distribution to children . . . and I knew they trained their people to discredit and disarm anybody who posed any kind of a threat to their agenda. Even if they’ve known them since they were a kid. Even if they’re their own taxpaying patrons, who pay their salaries and cushy retirement bennies.

I went home that night, and told my husband. Yes, I cried. He was rather unsympathetic.

“You should have had your HEAD EXAMINED to go up against people like that and run for school board,” he said.

What a sad commentary on the American political scene. When I lost, I was glad. We moved shortly thereafter.

So now Higgins is calling Ms. Piller names and saying HE’S the one who would be “open, honest and civil.” And SHE’S the “extremist,” while in fact HE has played politics in the schoolhouse, put the edu-cracy ahead of kids, and taken all that cash from that unbelievably extremist union.

Look. I don’t mean to trash the guy. I just think this needs to be said.

Our oldest daughter, Jordan, is one of the nicest kids you’d ever want to know. She was No. 2 in her class at Westside, a National Merit Scholar, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a mean, critical remark about anybody in her entire life. She had Mr. Higgins for social studies at Westside. She thought his class was incredibly easy. She didn’t know what had happened to me with the fire alarm and all; we try to shield our kids from stuff that might tarnish their respect for their schools and authority figures. So any opinion she had formed about Mr. Higgins was her own.

Well, anyway, I called her at college a while ago and mentioned that Mr. Higgins was running for the State Board of Education.

Her disgusted reply:

“OH . . . MY . . . GOD!”

That was open. That was honest. Maybe it wasn’t very civil. But out of the mouths of babes . . . quite often comes the truth.

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