So What’s the Plan B, If Students Really Are the Priority?

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The Rhode Island House Republicans’ proposals for the state budget bill, as reported by Katherine Gregg in the Providence Journal, raise an important point that’s coming into increasingly stark focus:

The GOP argument: “Recent reports place the cost of school repairs across the state at $1.8 billion; far too much for our struggling taxpayers to reasonably provide in a practical time frame.”

“The State of Ohio used this policy and saved approximately 20% on the cost of repairs for equal quality. The increased competition encourages more cost-efficient bids. Contractors, both union and open shop, can do the work … Taxpayers reap the benefit of more work for the same cost and most importantly, our children can attend schools that are in good repair and conducive to dynamic learning.”

So, we’ve got a school infrastructure problem that we hear about from time to time, and lowering labor costs is an obvious way to fix more buildings for more students across the state.  The only way this isn’t an obvious exception to make to labor laws is if maintaining labor union leverage is more important to the people who run our state than the learning environments of our children.

Yes, depending on your point of view, you could argue that other relevant things should be a lower priority than maintaining union leverage — letting taxpayers keep the money that they earn, for example.  At most, however, that’s an argument for doing all of the above.  

That brings up the question: What’s your Plan B?  If we’re not willing to increase the amount of school deterioration we can repair by 20% with a new labor rule, how do we get to the same finish line?  A similar question arises with an article by Sean Flynn on the front page of today’s Newport Daily News.  

Representatives of Newport’s teacher union, along with some parents, are expressing concern about the disruptive and dangerous behavior of a minority of students, insisting that the district needs a bigger budget in order to hire more (union) employees to deal with the problem.  If the city council doesn’t approve the requested budget, well… trouble.

So what’s the Plan B?  Surely many taxpayers and parents will believe that disruptive students are a problem, and surely many of them will believe that there actually is something that the school district can do to mitigate it.  What if the higher budget isn’t approved?  Is the disruption not so bad that it takes priority over some other expenditure, or some benefit afforded to union teachers?

If the answer is that the teachers will just deal with the problem if addressing it would mean curtailment of their employment perks, then their priority isn’t really the “incredible amounts of teaching and learning time are being lost every day” that teacher and union VP Jennifer Hole decries.  And if that’s the case, taxpayers and their representatives should start wondering (because they’re supposed to be primarily concerned about the students) whether their dollars would be better spent trading a few teachers for more employees to address the behavior challenges.



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