December 20, 2008

Market wrong model for public education

Tom Neumark's column "Free Maryland teachers from unions" (Commentary, Dec. 9) should be labeled what it is - an argument for union-busting.

His claims that teachers have "a right not to be represented," that they should individually negotiate contracts and that they should start companies that market education services to local districts are, in effect, a call for the privatization of schools and for an individualistic, entrepreneurial approach to education.

Implicit in Mr. Neumark's comments is the belief that the private sector is best capable of educating our children - a belief history and experience show to be untrue.

Teachers join unions so that their common concerns and problems can be addressed collectively instead of through a fragmented and individualized process that would allow administrators to marginalize and dismiss these issues.

Those teachers who prefer not to join unions nevertheless benefit when unions negotiate better wages and improved working conditions - improvements that would never have become realities if teachers had to argue for them individually.

It is only fair that nonunion teachers help bear the costs of benefits won and secured by union members.

Education is a common community and societal concern, not an enterprise to be run with profit as its first priority.

Teachers, parents, and the public have come too far to buy into Mr. Neumark's kind of thinking - especially in today's economic climate, which is revealing just how unstable and unreliable the market can be.

Lorretta Johnson, Baltimore

The writer is executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Furloughs, tax hikes squeeze consumers

I hope budget officials won't be "taken aback" when next year's state income and sales tax revenues come up short ("'Devastating' state revenue report may mean cuts in public safety, education," Dec. 17).

The governor just reduced the income of 67,000 taxpaying state workers and consumers by ordering furloughs for state employees. This translates into a reduction in income tax revenue and to less money available to be spent on taxable consumer items.

The state sales tax increase that arrived at the same time as disposable income was falling only compounds the problem.

And it doesn't take a budget specialist to see that state revenues are likely to fall even further next year.

Karen Shavin, Baltimore

Preserving land saves open space and funds

As a former state employee, I strongly object to the governor's furlough plan. However the letters in The Baltimore Sun that compare the furloughs to state spending on land preservation were misleading ("Preserve income instead of open space," letters, Dec. 7).

While the state payroll comes largely from the state's General Fund, funding for park acquisition and other land conservation comes from the real estate transfer tax.

This is a dedicated funding source established in 1969 to protect Maryland's disappearing open space in a way that keeps pace with development.

Polls taken in 2005 and 2006 showed that almost 90 percent of Maryland voters support land conservation programs like Program Open Space. In fact, most voters in the 2006 poll said that the governor and state legislature should be required to repay all the money that had been diverted from that program in the past.

And the overwhelming support won by Question 1 in 2006 (a referendum prohibiting the sale of park land without legislative approval) confirmed voter support for land protection.

Furthermore, preserving open space actually saves the state and counties money. Studies performed in Maryland by county governments and the American Farmland Trust show that for every dollar the state and counties receive in tax revenue from development, residential land requires more than a dollar in expenditures for public services like schools, police and fire protection.

In contrast, undeveloped land, forests and farms generate far more public revenue than is spent on them.

I join others in applauding Gov. Martin O'Malley's support for land conservation.

It is an essential investment in our future.

Ted Weber, Annapolis

The writer once worked as an ecologist for the state of Maryland.

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