I’ve been thinking about a lot of things since last week’s school board meeting.

We all need a some…
That meeting sent me down a whole lot of rabbit holes. The analytical side of me wants to make a rational argument that supports my overall aim of improving life for all people in and around Shelby Co. While I think that’s important, I also know that no matter what I say there are some who are so bought in to their notions of reality, regardless of how little factual basis there is behind that belief, that nothing I can say, no matter how rational, will sway them.

One thing that I think we call can understand is the idea of respect.

Respect is something we all crave. It is a sign of accomplishment. It tells us that others believe we have done something positive with our lives.

The very definition of respect: a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements even evokes an emotional response.

We instinctively understand it. Regardless of the facts surrounding the specific case.

The interesting case of Joe Flacco

Last night, when I was on my way home from work, I was listening to some Sports Talk guys talk about the contract that just got signed by Superbowl MVP and Ravens Quarterback Joe Flacco. Here’s the thing that really hit home.

Joe Flacco
via Wikipedia Commons
“It was never about earning the money and all that. It was about earning the respect,” Flacco said Monday at his press conference announcing the new deal. “Definitely about earning that respect and feeling that respect around here. The fact that we got it done and that they made me [the highest-paid player in the NFL] definitely makes me feel good about how we played and how they feel about me.” – Joe Flacco (Source)

No matter how you slice it, Flacco’s contract is a boat-load of money. But its interesting what he equates with respect in a capitalistic society…namely money.

Of course, Flacco is a highly valued employee of the Baltimore Ravens. Some might say he’s overvalued based on the sheer size of his contract in relation to his ability. But this is what they were willing to give. This is what he wanted to feel respected. In this situation, I guess everyone got what they wanted.

Earnings and Respect

I’m not sure how I feel about the whole idea of equating respect and earnings. There are people who make more and less than me who I respect. The converse is also true. But more than that, there are people who do things that I just wouldn’t want to do, and I respect them for having the intestinal fortitude to actually do them.

What’s interesting is, many of these folks don’t get paid that much. Some are more educated than others. But the value they bring to society far outweighs all that, including their cost…or earnings.

If the principles of simple supply and demand were at play, they would probably be paid far more than they are now. By filling a need that few people want to do, they provide a service to the community that demands our respect (as a group, if not as individuals).

What’s most interesting to me is these are the very people whose earnings have been under attack over the past several years.

– Teachers have been attacked by the State Legislature, not to mention local officials, despite the fact that they do a very difficult job, in difficult circumstances, and most of them do relatively well (it we honestly look at the circumstances).

– Sanitation workers and first responders have been under attack for being a drain on resources. In all honesty, I wouldn’t want to live in a city where these three groups of people were either absent, or in short supply.

– Most recently, the janitors with the school district have been under attack. Tonight the School board will vote on outsourcing janitors to a private company. This contract is said to save the district as much as $11.5m/yr even though none of the details of how this service would be rendered have been provided in the bid.

In all of these cases, people who are doing a job that is necessary for our society to function are under attack because they just happen to be public employees. This is compounded when politicians rate their performance not on what they accomplish, but how much of the tax rate they can cut.

Considering this measure of success, its not surprising that we’ve seen absolutely zero movement on the issues that truly impact our community. They’re not worried enough about those issues to actually tackle them. They’re too focused about the damn tax rate as if that is a panacea.

Putting the Money in Perspective

It ain’t all about the Benjamins.
Now, $11.5m is probably more than I’ll make in my lifetime. Its a lot of money. A savings of $11.5m, if applied to our current tax rate, would mean about $18/yr for the median homeowner in Shelby Co. (for a home valued at $120k).

The way this money gets saved is by cutting $5000 – $6000 of pay a year from the average janitor.

The argument in favor of this idea says that the savings in taxes would provide jobs. I don’t know about you, but $18 won’t even get me a babysitter for 2 hours, so I don’t know what kind of jobs I’ll be providing.

Of course, they’re not talking about me, or even you. They’re talking about businesses with millions of dollars of assets. Based on my very rough estimates, it would take a company with assets totaling more than $850,000 to net enough savings to net even one minimum wage job.

That is assuming that they need to hire to expand their business. The money may just be pocketed in savings, which would actually hurt consumption, which hurts the economy, on top of hurting the 650 janitors currently working for MCS, making at least $5000 less a year and either having to work another job, or go on government assistance.

What about FedEx, AutoZone or International Paper? Our largest local employers already have tax deals called PILOTS (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) as well as other incentives that minimize their exposure to fluctuations in the tax rate, so no, it wouldn’t do one thing to cause them to expand their operations.

End result, not 650 jobs good paying jobs. Not even 1/10th of that.

Where’s the Respect?

Not just no respect. Disrespectful.
What we’re left with is a decision. Is getting $18 (maybe a little more, maybe a little less) back a year worth putting between 650 to 1000 people in financial jeopardy?

These are people, not numbers.

How would you feel about an arbitrary $5000/yr. cut to your income?

How would that make you feel about your employer?

If you worked for a public entity (like the schools or the City or County) how would it make you feel about your community?

Would it make you feel respected to know that your economic wellbeing was being sacrificed for $18 a home?

Is that respect? Is that honoring human dignity? Does that make our community a better place?

I don’t think so. To me its a small price to pay for people to make a decent wage.

Now I’m sure someone out there thinks its totally acceptable to tell these workers that their economic livelihood is worth $18 a home in property tax savings.

I’m sure someone thinks its disrespectful to taxpayers to pay anyone 1¢ more than they have to.

I’m sure that someone thinks the private sector can do this job better, and that custodial work isn’t part of the “core functions” of the school district

But it is.

Providing a safe, clean place for children to learn is absolutely a core function of the school district. And paying people a respectful wage for their labor and their loyalty is something that should be a core belief of any community that isn’t diving into a pit of “eating their own”.

That’s what this has become. From the School Board, the City Council, and on up the tree of government to the Federal level. That doesn’t mean we can’t trim unnecessary things, it means we have to do it in a smart way.

Starting with low income workers in a town with a 26% poverty rate isn’t it…unless you want more poverty.

I won’t hold my breath, but I hope the members of the school board will respect the people who have worked for the district enough to hold firm on their incomes. I don’t believe they will.

What I see is a group of people who are terrified a Judge might disapprove of their decisions and appoint someone to watch over them.

This decision won’t have a great impact on whether that happens or not.

This decision isn’t the hardest decision the school board has put off. But it might as well be. Because if this decision is indicative of the level of thought the School Board is putting into planning the next school year, we’re in a lot more trouble than even the folks wanting their own schools think we are.

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