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Scanlan: Union wrongly targeted in schools debates

Other Voices
Scanlan: Union wrongly targeted in schools debates

I've been called a few things in my life, but being characterized as a thug is a new one.

Early in August, Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly engaged in some gamesmanship on how to spend $80 million that had been "fenced off" by legislators. In other words, this money had been designated to be spent on particular programs, many of which both the governor and the legislature supported. However, the legislation was written as an all-or-nothing deal. Gov. Hogan could not pick and choose which programs to fund, so instead of spending all $80 million, he opted to spend none of it.

Of that money, $19 million was designated to help the counties pay for teacher pensions. Another $6.1 million was for the state's Aging Schools Program. These two programs could have directly benefited Carroll County. The Maryland State Education Association objected to these cuts because the governor had kept $5 million for private school scholarships in the budget. A war of words ensued, and for that reason, we were called "union thugs."

To be honest, I really didn't pay much attention to all the hubbub. These schoolyard antics have been ongoing for the past two years. What got my attention was Del. Haven Shoemaker calling us whiners. I find this a bit ironic coming from a person who, when county commissioner, whined about having to dial one for English, and so passed the so-called "English only" ordinance here in Carroll. As a delegate he whined about getting a speeding ticket, so he tried to outlaw camera traps in construction zones.

Nevertheless, one statement he made needs to be clarified: that Gov. Hogan is spending record amounts of money on education. Is this true? Yes, but it is only part of the story. Ever since the Thornton Funding Formula went into effect in 2002, the amount of money budgeted for education has increased. Governors Robert Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley made the same claim of record spending. Hogan's 2 percent increase in spending on education is the same as O'Malley's 2 percent. Education funding is a priority for voters and legislators. The Thornton Formula almost guarantees that spending will increase. Praising Hogan for increasing spending on education is kind of like congratulating Chipotle for not poisoning anybody lately. It's what we should expect.

Nevertheless, it seems that attacking the Maryland and Carroll education associations is the flavor of the month, as if it is a crime to advocate for one's profession. Surely, we teachers got into it for the big bucks and summers off, right? Let's not acknowledge the fact that teachers are daily on the front lines, tasked with educating our children, building the foundation for the future of our great nation, all while juggling a myriad of new initiatives and testing mandates. In Carroll County in particular, teachers have fallen behind the salary curve year after year. Teachers have lost real dollars they will never see. Thanks to the Carroll County Education Association standing firm in negotiations, teachers received an extremely modest increase, the first true increase in several years.

The Sept. 7 meeting of the Combined Education Committee illustrates precisely what educators are up against. Early in the session, Del. Susan Krebs homed in on health care costs. She suggested that one way to cut school system costs would be to make health care coverage "not so lucrative" for employees, especially in regards to their families. Personally, I am offended at the suggestion that health insurance for my children is considered a luxury. State Sen. Justin Ready then floated the idea of charging employees more for their insurance. Of course, calling for a cut in teacher salaries would be a nonstarter, political suicide. So let's go in the back door by cutting benefits.

Most recently, the antiteacher union diatribe was picked up by Karen Leatherwood. Like her, I have no strong feelings about when the school year begins. The students and I will be in the classroom the same number of days, regardless. However, implying that MSEA has something to gain by advocating for local control over school calendars is ludicrous. Planning the school year calendar takes a long time and has to balance a lot of factors. Why shouldn't each county figure out what works for them? More disturbing is her not-so-subtle objection to CCEA's political influence, as if enhancing relationships and providing data are bad things. Her opinion piece is riddled with misleading claims. For example, the CCEA did not pledge $5,000 to each candidate. Is Ms. Leatherwood blaming the teachers because the administrators got bigger raises? How is that bait and switch?

The bottom line is that Carroll County Public Schools is still facing a funding crisis with no easy answers. The state has made it clear that the funding formulas will not change dramatically for the rest of this decade. However, our state lawmakers should not be suggesting that one way to help balance the budget is to cut teacher benefits — which in fact would be cutting teacher salaries. We have gone to that well way too many times. Is it any wonder that teachers, through our association, are paying attention?

Tom Scanlan is a teacher at Westminster High School.

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