Monthly Archives: July 2012

Too Much / Not Enough

I was laid off in June as the Assistant Band Director at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, OH. The district is reorganizing, and due to “necessary staff reductions” it was determined that I did not have enough seniority to remain employed. Eight years in the district was simply not enough to retain my job.

After dozens of unanswered applications to open music teaching positions everywhere, I was called to interview at a private school. I was told that my eleven years of teaching experience was exactly what they were looking for and I was subsequently offered the job. However, after much soul searching and thought, I decided that roughly minimum wage for a teaching career was not a sacrifice I would be able to make.

This week, I was called to interview at Fairborn High School, my alma mater. A resignation opened up a position for teaching instrumental music to middle and high schoolers, and they preferred a person with percussion specialty. Not only did I meet these requirements, I had the support of three other music teachers within the district (one of whom is my sister in law, one who is a relative of my wife) as well as an administrative clerical person who knows who I am. The interview went very well and I had high hopes. I thought my network would pay off as it seems to do in countless other professions.

However, I was told that the district is starving for finances and may have to cut staff if a tax levy fails in November. They wanted to hire someone lower on the salary scale so I offered to start at step zero. This is where brand new people with no prior experience begin. I’d be lucky to make half of what I made in my former job in that case. I was told that “due to union requirements, the district cannot offer me lower pay.” They must offer me pay based on my experience. I have eleven years in the system, which places me above the bottom third. That pretty much meant that there’s no way I was going to be given an offer.

Here’s the crazy thing. If my calculations are correct, my pay and benefits came to at least $421 per day this past year. I base that on my gross pay and benefits divided by the 185-day calendar. Not factoring benefits still brings my gross pay to about $324 per day. From that amount are the standard deductions, my 10% of the insurance, and those ungodly union dues that I’m forced to pay whether I’m a member or not. But I’ve had a raise every year for over a decade so I consider myself fortunate. These past few years have afforded me the ability to pay off a lot of debt and save an emergency fund that will get us through a few months.

In Fairborn, that union rule is in place, no doubt, to prevent a school board from paying teachers less than a living wage. Private schools like the one I mentioned above do not have collective bargaining agreements, which is why they were able to offer such low pay. Some colleagues would say “I told you so,” about the private school, and hail the merits of their beloved union. But this organization helped shove me out the door of one job and is now holding it closed on the new ones.

Unions and collective bargaining have had their place but I say they are responsible for the destructive economy we are presently enduring. If businesses of all types were simply able to employ people and pay them based on their value to the company, GM would not have needed the bailout. Thousands of workers would not have been laid off. Teachers in my position would still be employed. Same goes for the banks. If they were simply allowed to fail under their own mismanagement, we’d not have as high of a deficit as the current government has run up.

Wake up, folks. Your children are enrolled in schools where the primary focus of teachers is job security. The administration’s agenda is centered on trimming the budget and asking the public for as few tax dollars as possible while protecting their own assets. The private alternatives have dedicated people who are compensated so low, they are unable to earn a living wage, because unions have worked hard to block vouchers that would allow state money to follow students from public to private schools.

Meanwhile, the public has “voter fatigue” and are unwilling to have their property taxes raised again, which is already unconstitutional. (Will save for another time) While some public school teachers nearing retirement are fantastic educators, many are burnt out, unwilling to adapt to new teaching styles, and simply holding on for their promised prize, the full 100% retirement pay. Many of these people have already had to work an extra 3-5 years beyond what they were promised when they started. On the other end, younger college graduates who are eager to teach enter a workforce that hopes they will quit within five years in order to keep expenditures to a minimum. Even worse than my situation are the ones who were required to obtain Masters’ degrees within so many years. Last year, Ohio had the opportunity to end collective bargaining but because of the way it was presented, and the fact that the public sector unions spent over $30 million to kill it, it failed to be ratified. Wisconsin had a similar bill that actually stuck. The result is that in WI, unions are diminishing and more public sector employees are keeping their jobs. Here in OH, the opposite is true. Unions are just as powerful as before, and teachers are being laid off by the dozens statewide. True, those public employees are likely paid less now, but go back a few paragraphs and see if you think my compensation was in need of a trim. Of course, I had no ability to offer my former employer to take a pair of scissors to my salary.

I have a passion for sharing music with people. I love showing young people how to do something with a musical instrument, I love seeing their reaction when they experience something they’ve never seen before and it amazes me to watch them grow from a novice to an expert in a short time. To see them have so much fun at something as crucial to a person’s soul as music is something I will always have a passion for.

But from here on out, I will no longer seek employment from any school. I will reach those students somehow, without having to go through the route of established learning institutions. I suppose there’s an outside chance I could be recalled to Huber Heights, but even then I’ll carefully scrutinize the offer. Meanwhile, I’ll take my desire to learn quickly and perform well into another profession where I may be able to still reach people but with a different line of work. Maybe it’s time to silence the music from this former educator and go do something where diligence is rewarded.

In the end, I’m in this predicament because I did not have enough experience to remain employed in my field; but I have too much experience for schools elsewhere. I’ll take my share of the blame: I didn’t barge my way through a masters degree in order to obtain tenure. I simply cared more for focusing on the actual teaching instead of following the union midset of finding a way to keep my job safe.

So goodbye, Ohio schools, to you and all your bureaucracy and red tape. To the unions, I say good luck and good riddance. Best of luck to you all as the economy continues to collapse from your destructive hands, and the corrupt officials whom you bribe with money you steal from people like me. Enjoy the ride as the students learn more and more from the internet rendering you even more useless in the classroom. I know a lot of good people in these institutions. It saddens me to speak so harshly about these arenas while friends and colleagues are simply doing their own jobs to get through this life. Some of whom are bound by rules that are out of their control either way. We all need to wake up and demand better from our elected leaders. and force them to fix things or be thrown out. I worry that only violence will work against senseless abuse of power by elected officials. Students already know that it surely gets the attention of some adults who otherwise ignore them.

To make a long story short, goodbye. I’m going somewhere else.

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How I know the World Ended, Pt.1

It has been said that every memory we have ever had, every single waking experience is locked up inside our minds just waiting to be recalled. Some information is considered incredibly mundane, which is precisely why you can’t find your car keys. But sometimes things are stored with a bit of metadata that tells our brains to keep it ready because someday it will matter. I’m about to put this in context here but I should warn you that although this post deals with my memory recollection, it is in almost no way important. In fact, it will explain a lot about me to some, leave others in a state of confusion, and the rest will simply back away slowly desperately avoiding eye contact. In a few moments you will have the opportunity to peer into my childhood memories in a way which is actually quite disturbing. It deals with music, and will shed some light on why my musical nature is beyond warped. It will also confim some suspicions that I am stark raving mad. So without further adieu, I mention:

THE BUICK TAPE

Right after my family moved back to the United States from Athens, Greece, my family went through a series of changes. I was pulled away from my mediterranean home, my brother grew large enough to drool, bite things and flush random objects down the toilet. My dad also bought a new car. It was a 1980 Buick Century with a (wait for it…) stereo with CASSETTE PLAYER. In order to demonstrate the amazing audio that could be enjoyed while driving, a simple cassette tape was included in the glove box. Over the next couple of years, it became known as the Buick Tape.

Now, this tape wasn’t just played, it was played to DEATH. I still have the cassette, but the iron oxide inside is more or less gone. We played that tape so much, I’m surprised it didn’t make my parents go so far as to fill my bed with tarantulas while they ceremoniously burned the tape with napalm. We played it on every trip back to my grandparents’ house in Kentucky, and almost any time we had to go somewhere taking longer than a few minutes.

At this point the story is pretty straight forward. Most kids love to hear music and when they find something likable, they tend to wear it out. Repetition is the key there, to the point where it irritates other more mature listeners. But the problem was that this tape did not contain what most people would call good music. In fact, most people would take one listen and pray for oversized jetpacking sewer rats to fly in and stab them with sharpened knitting needles than endure the songs contained in the Buick Tape.

You have to remember what kind of music would have been popular with the average Buick owner in the late ’70’s. No, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Rush and the rest were nowhere near this tape. Unfortunately, we have a category of music out there today called Adult Contemporary which serves little purpose than to soothe uptight, stressed-out upper-middle class mall dwellers who may or may not be emotionally frail. Back then, it was called Easy Listening.

The sad part to me as a music person is that Easy Listening was a softer, sleepier collection of tracks that were so sterile they couldn’t possibly contain any artistic value, and the wretched arrangements were remakes of actual good songs. A trend began where good music was deemed too antagonistic for the average person so softer, cheesier versions were created to satisfy a person’s musical cravings without them having to know what they were actually hearing. Remember, Rock ‘n’ Roll was still considered evil. Some artists went for this softer style and created acts such as The Carpenters, Captain & Tenille, and Dan Fogelberg. But at least those performers had some talent and worked with good material.

Now back to where I fit in here. I did not get to listen to much music that was outside the realm of symphonic or classical. I got to hear a lot of crossover stuff in the form of Vangelis, thanks to amazing TV programs like Cosmos and movies such as Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner. The truth was that while other children were hearing various forms of pop and rock music, I came of age hearing orchestras, synthesizers and many layers and textures, including those which are present in the pseudo-disco-easy listening Buick Tape. By the time I enteres first grade, I had heard more Bach than Beatles.

I admit, to this day, I still like the music in the Buick Tape. When I found the mp3’s online, I instantly recalled every sound, even the ones I couldn’t identify back then, but now know are steel guitars or delay pedals. It took me back and other memories started flooding in. I unlocked a drawer in my brain that allowed me to remember that the license plate number of that car was MLB-046. The other car was GSA-624, and eventually we wound up with 624-FRL on another vehicle. But I digress.

So, I thought I was being kept safe from the dangers of rock music? Wrong.

At least one instrumental on the tape is the song “Beth” by Kiss. Since we all know that stands for “Knights In Satan’s Service,” I’m yet again surprised that the cassette remains intact. There is a London Brass version of “Hotel California,” which I was taught was actually a reference to the Church of Satan. One song is by an artist named Evelyn “Champagne” King. How can a wholesome person include an alcoholic beverage in her name?

OK, that last paragraph was a bit facetious and maybe sarcastic.

The point is that I think my parents partly allowed me to keep that tape because of its wholesome, non rock-n-roll properties yet here I am, over 30 years later recalling all of this and making fun of it. Because not only did I eventually discover rock music, I learned that you can’t stifle creativity in any form, even the irritating ones. You can’t shelter a person from good music for very long, and even great music has some appalling qualities at times. You can have new favorites every so often and you can admit to liking some cheese. But music is music. Rhythm, melody and harmony can come together in ways that blow the mind, or cause us to vomit. Sometimes both at the same time. I think the primary reason they let us play the tape is because it got two bratty kids to shut up for the tiring trip from Dayton to Lexington. Ugh. That means that in my youth, I loved some pretty cheesy stuff. And on one stopped me. (Maybe that’s why I still like Mr. Bungle and Tom Waits nowadays.)

So while you’re out there enjoying something good, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the Buick Tape all over again and imagine I’m 6 years old on my way to my Gran’s house. ┬áThe music may be awful, but man, it sure relieves some stress. Time to escape.

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