Monday, August 22, 2005
BILLION-DOLLAR TEACHER PENSION SHORTFALL A REAL POSSIBILITY
Did you catch, in Sunday’s paper, that if you added the $750 million projected shortfall in the state teachers’ pension fund to the $191 million shortfall projected for Omaha Public Schools retirees, that is getting uncomfortably close to a BILLION dollars? If the market goes south, we taxpayers are going to have to come up with a big chunk of that to cover our pension promises to our state’s public-school employees.
Funny how the union lobbyists were soaking people’s hankies all across the state a few years ago about the “starvation wages” we pay teachers here in Nebraska. Yeah, right. Then they got the “Rule of 85,” the nation’s sweetest teacher-retirement deal. They did it under the leadership of longtime union activist Joe Higgins, now a member of the State Board of Education for the south Omaha area. He really should be pinned with this big shortfall now, and lead us out of the quagmire with pension reform, and stat.
Teachers can retire early, at age 55, with full pension benefits, with 30 years of teaching service (55 + 30 = 85 and hence the name). They chopped five years off the retirement age, with cost-of-living protection to boot, which helped swell the numbers.
The instant they got that sweetheart deal, they shut up about teacher salaries, for the most part. And now we know why.
NOT TO BE A KILLJOY, BUT . . . WAS THIS TRIP REALLY NECESSARY?
Did you read the story in the Sunday World-Herald about all the teachers who are going, at taxpayer expense, to Spanish immersion classes for three weeks at a time down in Mexico? It’s supposed to give the teachers “cultural insight” that helps them teach non-English speaking kids better.
Five or six hundred Nebraskans are said to have gone through a University of Nebraska at Omaha program alone.
The Omaha Public Schools has sent about eight teachers a year, for the past six years, at a cost of $1,600 per person, through a federal grant of tax dollars. That comes to $76,800. Most of the kids being served with this cost are non-English speaking children of illegal immigrants. Stop and ponder what that tax money might have bought in the way of learning materials and teacher time for English-speaking American citizens. It’s a slap in the face to parents of inner-city kids, most of them African-American, who are full-fledged American citizens, but posting those low test scores in OPS.
I’m not saying we’re not supposed to be compassionate to children no matter whether their parents break the law or not . . . but come on.
Come to think of it, my husband and daughter and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Henry Doorly Zoo, and I was amazed at how many Spanish-speaking families there were down there. They weren’t even making an attempt to weave some English words in there with all that Spanish, which is too bad for their kids, since hearing English is an important building block to being able to read it and write it.
Here’s an idea: for a whole lot less money, we could provide an “immersion” experience for our teachers by buying them a ZOO PASS.
BRIDGE-BUILDING FOR BACK-TO-SCHOOL TIME
Here’s my Show ‘n’ Tell for Parents column for today. If you have more suggestions along these lines, drop me a line.
Building a Strong Bridge Between Parent and Teacher
Q. What are some things parents can do to have a good working relationship with teachers?
It’s a lot easier in grade school, when there’s only one, or a couple. But through high school, there are certain things every parent probably should do, and a number of things you could do, to befriend, support and encourage a teacher. Here are some suggestions:
-- Meet the teacher and paraprofessional, ever so briefly, at an authorized time the week before school starts. Don’t just drop in, because teachers are really busy that week getting ready for the children. You can call ahead and make an appointment, limiting it to five minutes so that the teacher knows it isn’t going to be a Black Hole. A good school will have time set aside for parent visits, or you can call the office and find out what time might work. Just introduce yourself, say you want your child and that teacher to have a great year together, you’d welcome a call or email at any time, and you’re there to help.
-- Volunteer, even if you work full-time. The teacher works full-time, too, you know. Sign up to read to the kids for 20 minutes once a week, if you possibly can, or to help with room parties, field trips, straightening bookshelves, or whatever’s needed. Being willing to help and present in the classroom is a huge influence on a teacher’s attitude about your child in the early grades. In the later grades, ask for helpful things you can do in the evenings, at home, such as collecting project supplies, collating, stapling, preparing bulletin boards and so forth.
-- Watch how you volunteer at school. Everyone’s pressed for time, but the quality of your volunteer time should be devoted toward helping meet the children’s needs, and having contact with teachers. You might want to pass up those very helpful, but tangential jobs, such as organizing the school carnival or gift-wrap sale. Make it a high priority to give your time to help with the learning process directly.
-- Communicate through notes, especially thank-you’s. You’d be surprised how boring a teacher’s mail is, so a day-brightener would be much appreciated.
-- Never miss conferences, Open House or big productions such as concernts and science fairs. If you and your spouse really can’t be there, arrange an alternate time for a conference and send a representative, such as a grandparent, to a special event.
-- If you have concerns or don’t like the way things are taught, hold your fire until you feel you have a pretty strong relationship with the teacher. If you “shoot” too soon, it’ll come off as an attack. Even then, follow the 80/20 rule: make sure 80% of the teacher’s contact with you is positive, and less than 20% negative.
-- Don’t try to flatter the teacher, or suck up, but sincerely say up front, “I feel we’re in this together,” and “I want the best for my child and for all children; how can I help?” It will be music to that teacher’s ears.
Homework: An excellent guide is the book, “Helping Your Child Succeed in Public School” by Cheri Fuller (Tyndale House, 1999).
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