Sometimes you have to look outside the world of education to capture attention for issues affecting Colorado schools and the students and taxpayers invested in their success. Two headlines in particular popped up this week. The first comes from the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, which is litigating Cheatham v. Gordon, a troubling case of wasted tax dollars in Phoenix and other cities:
The contract provides an estimated $900,000 in annual release time for police union work, including lobbying. Six officers are released from city work on a full-time basis (each receiving 160 hours of overtime at 1.5x their regular salary). PLEA also uses 35 representatives. These representatives are not given a set amount of release time. Instead, they are authorized to use an unspecified amount of release time to accompany fellow officers to grievance meetings, use of force hearings, etc…. Release time harms police officers….
Then yesterday, the national website Real Clear Markets featured commentary from the Manhattan Institute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth that the federal government is dishing out huge sums of taxpayer dollars for bureaucrats not to work:
…The Office of Personnel Management reports that taxpayers paid Federal workers over $137 million in 2010 to work as representatives for government unions, up from $129 million in 2009.
The time that union representatives spend not working for taxpayers is labeled “official time” by OPM. According to the report, “Official time is time spent by Federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work.” Under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, this is perfectly legal.
I’m not sure whether to be completely outraged that money I’m going to have to pay back when I grow older is being wasted like this, or relieved to learn that Colorado school districts aren’t alone in having this problem. Back in 2010 my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote his latest analysis of the union release time boondoggle. Previously he uncovered the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars annually used to subsidize teachers union activities. His 2010 report simply asked for a little commonsense accountability… Please?
The privilege remains embedded in many collective bargaining agreements. The Jefferson County Education Association, for example, gets 275 days each year releasing teachers from the classroom to do union business with the district responsible for paying the substitute costs. Evidence showed an earlier president of the Poudre Education Association engaged in political activities while most of her salary was paid from public funds. The same arrangement remains in place.
Did I mention some of the taxpayer-funded leave days have been used to lobby at the State Capitol?
I get it. There’s only so much attention out there that parents and other citizens can give. There’s only so much outrage to go around before forehead veins start popping everywhere, before the stress does all the big people in. And the federal government in Washington, D.C., is eating up some people’s quota for outrageous and disturbing news.
But I’d like to think if there was a little more awareness of the problem, a little more reporting of the wasted taxpayer dollars — maybe some open union negotiations to expose the “release time” subsidies more widely to the general public — that we might see some positive changes. A little accountability? Some taxpayer savings, or maybe rewards for better teachers?
I don’t have to be a dreamer, though. Any school board members or legislators out there paying attention?