To Cut Waste, Ban Teachers Strikes

Published January 1, 2009

One of the more common myths circulated by teacher unions is the need to pay teachers higher salaries if we want to be able to hire enough of them to meet our needs.

This is simply not true. Illinois, for example, is producing about 18,000 more certified teachers every year than the state needs. That is because Illinois public schools have a 92.5 percent teacher retention rate—of the 160,000 certified employees statewide, only about 12,000 leave in any particular year, including about 5,000 retirees.

In 2007, Illinois handed out some 30,000 teaching certificates, leaving 18,000 people unable to teach in the state even though they are certified to do so. Over the past five years, Illinois has racked up 75,000 qualified but unemployed teachers.

The teachers’ strike at Huntley’s District 158 is the latest example of how completely the teachers union controls the public education system.

In a democratic society, of course, public schools should be controlled by parents and taxpayers, not by unelected public employees. In Illinois, however, the system is held hostage by a political process that has allowed teacher unions to make political contributions in excess of $35 million since 1995, thus ensuring themselves guaranteed jobs, via tenure, at above-market compensation.

They can’t lose their jobs by striking, so why not do it? Better for parents and taxpayers to suffer than for teachers not to get what they want.

You Better Shop Around

One of the union’s complaints is that other districts pay teachers more, and therefore District 158 should match or exceed them. I would suggest a different solution: Teachers should apply for jobs in any school district they perceive would be a better place to work.

Of course, the teachers know every suburban school district has hundreds of resumes from those 75,000 unemployed teachers, and they would have little or no chance of getting hired. It’s easier to strike than it is to apply at another school.

Better yet, why don’t teachers who think they are underpaid go into the private sector and make all those big bucks they are clamoring for? Then they would be just like the rest of us—being paid on merit based upon our ability and production. If it doesn’t work out, unemployment pays $375 a week to hold them over until the next tenured job opens up.

Of course, the teachers union is not interested in the sensible principle of job competition, the system taxpayers work in every day. They are interested in society being forced to give to each teacher according to his perceived needs, from each taxpayer according to his ability to pay.

Outrageous Expenditures

If you are a teacher and are not willing to give up tenure, a nine-month work year, and a multimillion-dollar pension at age 56, then you are overpaid. You should either be grateful for what you have, or exercise your constitutional right to leave your job and find employment somewhere else. Your employer—the taxpayers of Illinois—will easily find someone else to do your job and almost certainly for a lot less money. After all, 75,000 are people eager to replace you.

In 2007, Illinois paid an art teacher $196,000, handed out $100,000 annual salary increases for superintendents, and retained 40 administrators whose salaries increased in one year by more than the median income of a full-time Illinois worker.

That $196,000 was a 22 percent increase over the teacher’s 2006 salary of $161,000, which was an 18 percent increase over 2005’s $136,000, which was a 16 percent increase over 2004’s $117,000, for a total of $81,000 in increases over three years. This teacher’s pension will start at $114,000 per year, and over the 27 years of his expected post-retirement lifetime he will collect more than $4.4 million in pension payments.

How do those numbers compare to your salary increases over the past three years? And how does that $4 million pension stack up to your 401k?

Take it Back

Why should taxpayers have to pay a premium for a service that is available elsewhere for a fraction of the cost at which the government supplies it? If taxation’s purpose is to provide for the common good, what common good ensues from overpaying for a public service?

The obvious answer is to ban teachers from striking. If an agreement cannot be reached, then each side puts its best offer on the table and we have a referendum in which the taxpayers decide which offer is best.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan successfully fired 13,000 air-traffic controllers for striking illegally. He took air-traffic control back from the unions. Now it’s time for taxpayers to do the same—take public schools back from the teacher unions.

Bill Zettler ([email protected]) writes from Prospect Heights, Illinois.

For more information …

“Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois: 2007 Report,” Illinois State Board of Education, December 2007:

“Golden Handcuff Awards for 2008: Teacher Union Contributions to Illinois Politicians,” by Bill Zettler,, August 4, 2008:

“When Average Salary Is Not Average: How Teachers’ Total Compensation Dwarfs Other White Collar Workers,” by Bill Zettler,, July 28, 2008:

“Administrator Raises Greater than the Median Full-time Illinois-Taxpayer Salary of $32,864,” by Bill Zettler,, June 8, 2008: