As public attention understandably turns to legal developments in the toll case and the very visible construction of toll gantries around the state, it is important to note how the governor explicitly broke her word on the critical matter of when toll gantries would go up and highlight the heavy financial consequences to which she has needlessly exposed Rhode Island residents with this completely unprincipled volte-face.
A familiar subject floated through Rhode Island’s news cycle again last week when Warwick schools Superintendent Philip Thornton reported to his city’s school committee that the district should do something about teacher absenteeism:
Two schools — Wyman Elementary and E.G. Robertson Elementary — have chronic absenteeism rates of 24.4 percent and 22.7 percent, respectively. Chronic teacher absenteeism is defined as missing 18 days or more of school out of a typical 180-day school year.
Two more schools — Oakland Beach Elementary and Sherman Elementary — have rates above 20 percent.
In the 2018-2019 school year, more than 11 percent of all Warwick teachers — 100 teachers — were chronically absent, Thornton said, using data from the Rhode Island Department of Education. That said, more than a third of all teachers — 312 — missed less than five percent of school.
This isn’t just some hobby horse on which the superintendent wanted to beat for some reason. He raised the issue because teacher attendance is part of the formula that the RI Department of Education (RIDE) uses to grade the Ocean State’s schools. Looking for some means of holding our education system accountable (without actually changing anything), the state has developed metrics, and the chief executive of an organization has strong incentive to have his metrics look good.
We’re used to these spats, around here, but it’s worth stepping back a moment and plainly noting what is going on. The superintendent has identified a metric on which he believes the district can make improvements, and the relevant labor union, the Warwick Teachers’ Union, led by Darlene Netcoh, called out the troops and ramped up the objections, staking out ground for the fight. Some teachers have to work until 67, she says, which drives up the sick time, as if Rhode Islanders in the private sector have anywhere near the days off that government-school teachers get. Netcoh also attacked the numbers themselves.
Big picture, our elected and appointed officials have to be able to discuss ideas big and small, and they won’t feel as free to do that if every comment or proposal might begin the gears of the labor-unrest machine. In the private sector, management can discuss things and make plans before a possible dispute is placed in the open. In the public sector, only the unions have that privilege.
If we want open, transparent government, then we need some social (or legal) pressure on the labor unions to back off.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 13, included talk about:
- A union president accuses race heretics
- OPEB swamping Providence and Warwick
- Fear about “red flag” laws
- The legislative session starts
- RI losing claim to a Congressional seat,
- The rolling fundraising party of the State House
Transparency in local contract negotiations will help, but calling for state-level legislation to force it is too easy at this point, because it will never happen.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 6, included talk about:
- RI Congressmen’s bad alignment with the enemy
- Projo points to key issues for the legislature
- Linc finds another party to run with
- RI pols try to get out of the way of the Census
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 30, included talk about:
- Elorza’s interest in being governor
- Causes and effects of Providence Mall brawls
- Disappointment in Raimondo’s failure to succeed
- Stephen Skoly’s warning about opioid nannyism
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 16, included talk about:
- The governor’s Projo interview
- Where’s all the money go… in Providence and RI?
- Progressives’ state-killing tax proposal
- Women’s caucus: another progressive organization
First Circuit Court Decision Stokes Urgency to Pass Truck-Only Tolls and Begin Gantry Roll-Out
Dead wrong as she may be, at least Governor Gina Raimondo made a decision and stuck with a plan. Her indecisive counterpart next door in the Nutmeg State, Ned Lamont, seems to change his mind on how and who he will toll on a weekly basis.
Governor Lamont’s latest maneuver has Connecticut poised to pass truck-only tolls as emergency legislation in the wake of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision last week giving jurisdiction on the American Trucking Associations’ challenge to RhodeWorks truck-only tolls back to the federal court.
In an interview Sunday, WTNH’s Chief Political Correspondent, Mark Davis, asked Lamont the following:
One year ago today, five weeks after the election, I asked you if you were still committed to the trucks only tolls, you said you were. About six or eight weeks later you changed your mind and included passenger cars. Last month, you went back to trucks only. Don’t you think that’s a problem for a Governor and a politician?
The key question we should ask when we hear that enrollment in teacher-prep programs has declined is whether that’s a bad thing.
State of the State co-host Richard August invited me on for a full hour of the show to cover a broad range of topics, from Tiverton’s recall election to broad political philosophy.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 4, included talk about:
- The return of Laffey (?)
- RI’s suffocating labor unions
- Progressive tricks with statistics
- Getting a kick out of soccer stadiums
- Smiley’s pay-cut stepping stone
The story of misplaced breathing tubes by Rhode Island EMTs brings us directly to the deepest problem in the Ocean State.
Retired Providence firefighter/EMT Michael Morse has a brief post on Rescuing Providence making the reasonable claim that “it’s okay to get paid”:
Without decent pay and great benefits I would have been forced to take my ability and passion for helping people elsewhere.
Morse’s argument is a bit of a strawman, however, and it’s one that labor unions tend to expand into a false dichotomy. Nobody seriously argues that firefighters in communities that need or want something more extensive than a volunteer department should not be well compensated. The tricky question is how much that should be.
Yes, in a more or less free market, it would be reasonable for employees to argue, as Morse does, that “it is okay to be selfless for selfish reasons.” And if a community isn’t providing pay and benefits that attract workers, it will have to increase the pay.
The problem is that unions are designed to push beyond this dynamic. We saw evidence earlier this year when legislation from Tiverton Democrat Representative John “Jay” Edwards the Fourth interfered with local negotiations to forbid firefighter union locals from continuing to negotiate contracts that the state and national unions don’t like. (Edwards was very clear about who holds the power.) This makes the compensation artificially high. It takes whatever level of pay would not force Michael Morse and his peers to take their abilities elsewhere and then keeps going.
In those circumstances, one might reasonably suggest that it is not okay to be selfless for selfish reasons selfishly. The unions would have us believe that workers who are not grabbing everything they can possibly get, by whatever means they can possibly get it, will inevitably be underpaid. That perspective causes Morse’s reasonable point to evaporate and creates a society in which neither side can ever be content.
There may be no better illustration of Rhode Island’s central problem than the foolish people celebrating the halt of a redevelopment project in Providence:
[Jim] Abdo’s request for a tax stabilization agreement, or TSA, was met with opposition from labor unions and progressive groups. Members of the groups applauded when the plan was tabled Tuesday night.
“I know Mr. Abdo is going to make out tremendously from his investment, with or without the TSA,” Nancy Iadeluca, the Rhode Island director for UniteHERE Local 26, said at a hearing about the TSA earlier this month. “What are we getting back?”
Mr. Abdo is looking to develop the former Providence Journal building and another next door, but he says he can’t secure financing for the project, pegged at $39 million, unless there’s a $2.7 million tax break. According to the developer (who has reason to present his case in the best light, of course), property taxes resulting from the project would have been $5.7 million, anyway, in addition to more than $20 million in various state taxes. All that comes with jobs and economic activity.
The article does not say, but one wonders, given labor’s involvement, if Mr. Abdo declined to promise to use union shops for his project. Be that as it may, he says he’s going to hold on to the asset, undeveloped, whether or not it takes 20 years for him to do something with it.
Many Rhode Islanders oppose these special deals that make an inhospitable economic climate tolerable for hand-picked investors, but even we might see this outcome as tragic — if only as an indicator of things we don’t see. Imagine how many deals are not being done in the Ocean State because of the environment progressive policies have created!
This is more than just tragic, though; it’s frightening, because under the progressives’ glee is the expectation that this is a step toward their “progress,” not an obstacle. Note this comment from the Providence Preservation Society’s director, who supported the deal: “These two buildings are eyesores in the core of downtown. They drive down the sense of positivity.”
Abdo says he’s patient, but his patience might be misplaced. What the progressives may understand is that an “eyesore” is “blight,” and our society has given the government authority to confiscate properties on which they can pin that tag. As Providence’s economy gets worse and worse, it may be that progressives are counting on being able to take Abdo’s property away from him, using public dollars to redevelop it into some delusional hipster dream (with expensive union labor), and taking the money to do it from the rest of us suckers who haven’t fled the state.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 25, included talk about:
- Insider Alves and the radical caucus
- The union view of employer responsibility
- Gaspee versus campaign finance laws
- Paint on the statute becoming blood on government’s hands
- Blood on the police officer’s hand gets a slap on the wrist
To understand Rhode Island politics, one must understand the activities of organized labor (that is, unions), and to understand their activities, one must understand their attitude. (By the way, one should also know that reporters for the state’s major daily newspaper, the Providence Journal, are unionized under the AFL-CIO.)
This is from a Providence Journal article by Katherine Gregg about a press conference promoting legislation from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo that would impose a new tax on large companies whose employees are on Medicaid:
“There is a loophole in the Rhode Island health-care system allowing certain large corporations to avoid their responsibility to provide adequate coverage to their workers. Instead they shift employee health-care costs to the state budget from their own balance sheet,” said George Nee, president of the RI AFL-CIO.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on there, a second. When did it become my employer’s responsibility to take care of my health? Put from a perspective that sees workers as adults capable of making their own decisions, when did it become the case that when we choose for whom we want to work, we’re picking the people who will take care of us?
We’re not wards of our employers. They aren’t our parents; they aren’t our masters. That’s a huge stolen base in our rights and our autonomy.
Why would labor organizations — who claim to be all about the rights and humanity of workers — see us as something like children who need to be cared for? Because they have a worldview that breaks us all into classes of people, in this case workers and management, and they want workers to feel like they are something more like servants under the protective thumb of a master so that they, the unions, can edge into the relationship promising that only they have the strength to go up against the master.
Once they do that, it ceases to be your job, for which your employer pays you an agreed upon rate, with agreed upon benefits. It becomes the union’s job, which you get to fill for the moment, as a nameless servant of the boss and a client of the union. One uses you for labor, and the other uses you for leverage.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 18, included talk about:
- Raimondo fundraising as governance
- The governor sues the General Assembly
- Municipalities sue the state government
- Protestors’ liberal-meeting interruptions
- Cranston seeks investigation of another department
The problem of public education grows from two deep social changes and therefore won’t be easy to solve.
“Imagine that! Teachers sending out postcards with a picture of violence to silence others in town.” Tiverton Town Council member Donna Cook makes that statement in a new letter to the editor informing people about some facts from the recent recall election in town (which knocked me out of office).
She’s referring to one of the five mailings that the recall advocates sent to homes in Tiverton. The return address claims that it comes from “Progress RI,” which although not registered appears to be a “doing business as” name of the state’s teachers unions. The return address is that of a middle school teacher in town. And this is the front of the card, which Cook describes as “a violent picture similar to a kidnapping, hijacking, robbery, or a hostage situation.”
Note that the claim at the top of the card is demonstrably false; it’s a lie.
While recording an episode of a soon-to-be-released local podcast, Cook contrasted this card with all of the talk we hear from those in the education system about bullying. That’s an important contrast that isn’t made often enough in our world of hostile politics and toxic social media.
Imagine a high school student sending out something similar on social media about other students. Nobody would have any trouble seeing that as inappropriate bullying, and the student would face consequences, probably including suspension.
Of course, we rightly balance freedom of speech versus the giving of offense differently for children and adults. Grown-ups should be able to handle more, and society has less right to impose restrictions on them, at least in an official way. Still, this card was sent out by teachers in our public schools, behind a thin veil of anonymity and the thin excuse that it actually came from their labor union.
Is that the sort of standard we want for our nation, state, and community?
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 4, included talk about:
- Jeff Britt in court (with Nicholas Mattiello looming)
- Brett Smiley in the news (with Gina Raimondo bumbling into ever-bigger controversy)
- The Board of Elections in the market for a lease (with Stephen Erickson running interference)
- Senate President Dominick Ruggerio in a symbolic role (with the RI system setting the standard for corruption)
Legislators’ relentless attack on Rhode Islanders’ rights may leave only recourse to a constitutional convention.
One reason for stagnant or declining teacher pay is the legacy costs of defined-benefit pensions, which weigh down government budgets.
When considering suicides among first responders, we should consider whether they used to get the help they needed without asking, in the form of cultural stability.
No single indicator should be of more importance to lawmakers and civic leaders than whether or not our state is retaining and attracting talented and productive people.
The opportunity for prosperity is a primary factor in the migration of families from state to state. In this regard, our Ocean State is more than just losing the race. Far too many Rhode Islanders are fleeing our state, leaving a swath of empty chairs at our family dinner tables.
The most glaring problem in need of reform in the Providence school system may be the most unlikely one to be targeted.
Everybody agrees that educating our youth is a moral obligation, and a vital basis for renewed economic growth.
Yet, very few in our political class have the courage to stand up to the special interests who want to maintain a government-run school monopoly. Look at the broken Providence School system. Parents need answers for their children today, not reforms that may help students five or even ten years down the road. Educational freedom is the answer.
It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer.
A new report from our Center, released this week – Paid for Not Working, Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence – highlights the many forms of collectively-bargained “leave time” allowed for teachers.
When Rhode Islanders read an article reporting that about 25% of all Providence teachers were marked absent 18 times during a school year, we tend to think that’s a lot. That’s especially true considering that the teachers’ 181-day work year is already one-fifth smaller than the 230 days private-sector workers typically work after they’ve taken all of their allowed paid time.
But there’s another way to look at this question. As the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity points out, today, the Providence teachers’ contract allows them to take many more days off than they do. In fact, in a standard year, every teacher could be out of the classroom 26 days, for various sick, personal, and other reasons.
On top of that, life events requiring time off — weddings and deaths — are counted neither as sick nor personal time, but are additional. If the teacher gets married and experiences deaths in his or her the immediate, in-law, and extended families, the total would be 11 days.
That doesn’t happen all the time, of course, for which we can be grateful, but teachers could also rack up another 11 days out of the classroom for various activities related to their labor union. And even this doesn’t count the equivalent of 36 and 72 days that a union coordinator and president do not have to do classroom work.
These totals also do not count longer-term absences, like sabbaticals or time off for being injured on the job, or the years Providence teachers can take off without pay.
A table on the Center’s report lays it all out, with references to the contract. And again, this is all in addition to the fact that public school teachers who don’t take a single additional day off would still work about five fewer workweeks than somebody in the private sector who used up all of his or her time-off benefits.
So, maybe the takeaway shouldn’t be that Providence teachers are abusing their time off allowances, but that they aren’t even using them to their fullest. It’s the entire system that is abusive.
(Of course, one caveat in our compliment to teachers’ diligence is that they get to carry over all sick days they don’t use, up to 150, and then receive a portion of that pay as a bonus when they leave the district.)
The problem of getting rid of “terrible teachers” points to a problem with the incentives of government when it is used to accomplish anything that isn’t straightforward and critical.
At a cost of approximately $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one-million or so residents, a typical family of four is paying over $3500 annually to support the extravagant compensation programs for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.
Beyond these extreme financial costs, there may be an even more corrosive impact from this kind of political cronyism.