Wednesday, November 10, 2004

School overtime

The Allegheny Insitute and TV 11 News blasted to the Pgh Public Schools. See the PDF formatted Policy Brief on PPS's Excessive Overtime.

So as to not rehash what is already said, I'd like to extend the conversation to additional slants and stories behind the overtime.


We have a city finance watchdog who has duties with city government and the school district. Our city controller is Tom Flaherty, Dem, machine politician and head of the county Dem party. He should be on this. He isn't. He is absent again in matters of financial concern. Tom Flaherty is part of the problem in the city. He has been here through it all. His voice is generally absent.

The storm of overtime is an artifact of closing so many schools with so little time. After the closings were announced, I raised objections. They tried to do too much in too little time. For example, South Vo Tech High School closed. It served 450 students in grades 9-12. Final word of the school's shutting came around May. Expected freshmen, then in the 8th grade, were already recruited to the school. They needed to enroll in their high schools long before they found out South was going to be gone. All the students in the other three grades had to scramble to other schools. And, all the other schools had to absorb the wave of new students who were displaced at South. Transcripts had to shift, guidance offices need to adapt, I.E.P.s needed to be managed, so on and so forth.

Evolution is a good thing. We could have migrated the kids out of South upon graduation. We could have staged the shut down over three or four years. The school board and the administration jerked the students, their families and their staffs around because of the abrupt closings.

The school board has seen the light in my remarks, however. A couple of months ago they released a statement saying that the policy to shut so many schools so quickly would get more consideration. They are thinking again for the next round. But, time will tell.

Generally, those in power need to act quickly and do so behind a veil of smoke. The school board and superintendent think of this as pulling teeth. Do it quick, hard and it is going to be painful. But, it will be over and we'll not see our power erode. That's wrong. They don't want to have organized opposition. They know parents and families move slowly. They need to outrun the volunteers with their staffs and agendas and don't really want input and compromised positions.

The bigness works for the school district and so does FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). Above all, so does swiftness of action.

For these reasons, among others, parents and citizens can't go into a slumber -- ever. And, we've got to be our own best watchdogs.

As mayor, I'd strongly encourage school closings to be a staged process and a multi-year ordeal. If any school needs my help, I'd be available to listen, investigate, publicize, and speak loudly.

The city has a legacy now of miss-treatment to residents by jacking up taxes by 34% and knowing it will be suicidal. We toy with the deed transfer tax with an increase in 33%. We put parking tax to the roof, without time to even change the signs and rates. And then we knock the kids out of Rec Centers without warning. Then schools close, seemingly, at a drop of the hat. The people of Pittsburgh are getting jacked around, pulled all over the place, and it happens with litle warning. It is like the crew is falling overboard and the skippers are just darting around the rocks.

Summary: we jack around our residents, the students, and the employees. That is no way to be effective.

The overtime is often a ploy to boost retirement. The county police do it too. Same with coaching. A union teacher needs to pad his or her pay check in the twilight of the career to qualify for more upon retirement. So, teachers often coach three sports and opt into summer school to boost the take home pay. That's okay if they really care about the kids. And, if teachers come in and take away jobs from others who are already doing a wonderful job, that stinks. Teachers generally don't get overtime, but the motivation on the job is to spike those income averages.

Furthermore, Pittsburgh has a serious debt problem. A good bit of the debt is devoted to pension payments. Our pension payments are high because we paid a lot of overtime in certain key years to certain key employees, and for years to come we'll pay the pension based on those higher numbers.

Do the math. A person who retires from a $45K job gets a pension that is much less than another who had overtime to push the amount to a $80K job. Then you can compound that increase by 10 or 15 years and notice the difference. Those overtime pay amounts become precious dollars.

Too bad I don't get overtime for blogging.

Shows that we are not with our house in order. Part of that order is management, supervision, hands-on oversight. The board members need to ask hard questions and hold the administration's feet to the fire. But, the administration needs supervision.

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