Teachers’ unions don’t look too appreciative

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week, yet Clark County’s teachers may be feeling unappreciated.

Start with the prospect of up to 1,400 teachers being laid off. Why? They won an arbitration hearing that requires the school district to pay teachers what they are supposed to receive for seniority and advanced education, as opposed to freezing their pay completely.

The response? Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones said the arbitration system in Nevada favors unions, and he hopes enough teachers will retire or leave the area to ease the number of layoffs. Probable state Senate Republican leader Michael Roberson said binding arbitration must be eliminated. Less significantly, but perhaps just as telling, the Las Vegas Review-Journal story about the possible 1,400 layoffs inspired 357 comments, a significant number of which attack teachers as lazy, liberal and/or useless.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. In a state with one of the highest dropout rates and
lowest high school-to-college rates in the country, somebody has to be blamed. It can’t be the easy money or the culture that puts instant gratification above lifetime betterment. It must be teachers.

But then there are the times when the teachers err. And they have made a couple recently.

The teachers union, the Clark County Education Association, was the only one in the district to refuse to give up its proper pay hikes. The union reasoned that the reserve fund had, uh, funds reserved for just such a purpose. Nor has Jones exactly taken a scythe to the administration at CCSD, and heaven knows there’s chopping that could be done. But, even granting that teachers are underpaid, it’s bad PR.

Speaking of which, when union president Ruben Murillo held a press conference on the arbitration outcome, he barred the R-J’s reporter and photographer. It brought to mind when Joe Yablonsky was the FBI agent-in-charge here in the early 1980s and convinced that mobsters lurked behind and under every bush in town, while Las Vega Sun publisher Hank Greenspun was equally sure that Yablonsky had caused the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the rise of communism, and every flash flood in the community’s history. Yablonsky was to speak to a civic group one day and refused to do so because a Sun reporter was present. So the reporter had to leave, and all it did was make Yablonsky look somewhere between vindictive and silly.

The point is, first, reporters and editors ultimately do tend to stick together, and Murillo did himself no favors with the media. Second, even if he is right (he is) and the R-J isn’t objective (it isn’t, though it has improved under a new publisher and editor), he looks like he’s hiding something and plays right into the hands of those he’s trying to punish.

Meanwhile, the statewide union, the Nevada State Education Association, decided not to make an endorsement in Congressional District 3, where incumbent Republican Joe Heck faces a challenge from Democratic former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera. What? Aren’t all Democrats simply pawns of unions, especially teachers? Well, that’s what the newspaper Murillo doesn’t like would say, but NSEA leader Lynn Warne argued that, as speaker, Oceguera co-sponsored a bill that would eliminate a teacher’s tenure after two straight bad annual evaluations without so much as a hearing.

That begs the question of whether Oceguera would have received the endorsement if he had supported the hearing. It raises a larger question: Does the NSEA honestly think Heck better serves it? If so, it should have endorsed him. If not, why tacitly endorse him by not endorsing his opponent?

Teaching our children is a noble profession that requires great effort and, often, personal sacrifice. Too few grasp that. And the teachers’ union doesn’t help overcome that by making moves that may be perfectly moral but, as politics and PR go, don’t merit a passing grade.