I was surprised -- perhaps you will be too -- to learn that members of some of the state's local school committees collect thousands of dollars in stipends, and many more thousands worth of benefits, including free health insurance, free dental plans, life insurance, legal services, even pensions and free health insurance for life.
It all seems an expression of Rhode Island's me-first culture, where everybody takes all they can from taxpayers, and few stop to think about how that affects the common good.
Just look at East Providence.
That city, like much of Rhode Island's urban core, faces serious financial problems.
Its taxpayers are confronting an extra tax hike, because its schools are spending $1.3 million more than budgeted. Some officials asked teachers to forgo part of their contracted raises of 3.6 percent this year, but they probably will not do so.
How are East Providence's schools performing? Its high school had the state's poorest rating. Its middle school is one step up from that, still six steps lower than top-performing.
Yet, East Providence has short school days. When the hours and minutes are added up, its teachers work the equivalent of 2 weeks less a year than their counterparts in Barrington, for roughly the same pay.
Who would negotiate contracts this way?
The East Providence School Committee. And one has to wonder if members negotiate the way they do, at least in part, because they're in on the taxpayer-funded spoils.
The members of the East Providence School Committee are eligible for free (to them) Blue Cross health coverage -- including the family plan, worth about $12,000 a year. Indeed, they negotiate their own health benefits, because the bargain they strike for teachers goes to them, too.
So, we have another example of Rhode Islanders taking from the till. Combine this with the recent home day care worker call for being declared unionized state workers (to get the good benefits) and a clear mindset is discernable. It seems apparent that many Rhode Islanders believe the best job is a State Job (heck, they're probably right!), and who care's who pays as long as I get mine. Luckily, a court upheld the Governor's request to stay the Labor Boards approval of the unionization move. On Monday, Gov. Carcieri applauded the stay, saying:
"Let me reiterate that our appeal has nothing to do with child care providers, or their right to unionize. I respect the important work that they do, as well as their right to organize. This case is about one thing: the labor board's breathtaking and unprecedented decision to unilaterally create 1,300 new state workers. The State Labor Relations Board does not possess the authority to make such a sweeping decision."
We can only hope that someone starts looking into these school board benefits, and those of the legislature for that matter, soon.