Is This The End (of Civil Service and Teacher Tenure)?


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Well, maybe not entirely but one thing’s for sure: City Hall and our respective state capitals and schools ain’t going to be the same as we’ve known it for the past 60 or so years. The national trend that’s been taking place is the abolition of protections: chief among them, Civil Service and teacher tenureship.

Understand, the reason for civil service originally was to prevent abuse of governmental offices. Prior to the Civil War of 1861, people were hired and fired at will, with much disruption (or, as former President Andrew Jackson famously said upon being first elected, ‘to the victor go the spoils’). Any institutional knowledge was often removed, records destroyed or deliberately misplaced to prevent the in-coming administration to better administrate and perform their duties. In other instances, civil service dealt with the simple outright and total incompetence owing to the hiring of political hacks and individuals whom normally wouldn’t be permitted to drive a horse and buggy, much less oversee the distribution of funds or major governmental services. Starting around the time of President Benjamin Harrison, Civil Service was formally introduced into the American Federal system (around 1871) and although far from perfect, it was the start of an evolution of government as being a place of professionalism and competency.

Likewise, teacher tenureship also served as a viable protection for teachers potentially caught in the crossfire of warring social political groups seeking to impose their own viewpoints on schools. Piss off a group of parents who hold a specific belief and chances are, rather than face an angry mob of potential voters teachers often face dismissal.

Now, in the past 20 or so years, what with the growing economic uncertainty and growing political savagery and lack of political discourse and civility, it is now apparent that mutual consent by both major political parties – Democrat and Republican – civil service protections and teacher tenureships are being removed. Ironically, it will be far easier to hire and fire at will, re-assign individuals to office and tasks heretofore were not even considered – or shift personnel resource in ways that were not even imaginable 10 years ago.

In many ways, this can be a good  thing – if managed properly.

Let’s face it: in this changing world, technological advances and growing socio-economic challenges, governments face limited budgets and the means to best meet these challenges. In many cases, the best were not often chosen for the most important positions while hidebound rules prevented entities the ability to create positions that were not even considered when the rules and/or job positions were established. True, new job positions could be created (often with delays reaching as long as 8 months to a year) but with the loss of time, talented individuals would move on, seeking work elsewhere in the private sector – or so the argument goes,…

Now, with the job market as soft as it is, this argument is no longer valid: there is a multitude of talented individuals seeing work and would be willing to accept work at far lower wages than they would prior to the 2008 collapse.

But yet the elimination of civil service and tenureship moves forward, and the sad thing is that it’s being quietly encouraged by various political factions painting the civil service employee as lazy, do-knowing, incompetent and greedy (some public service unions would point out that is exactly the kind of employee one can expect in the future as tenureship and civil service protections are removed)_.

This trend is troubling, for although the many needs of governmental management call for greater and faster response to situations and conditions (and the flexibility which often is lacking with existing rules and regulations) still it is troubling when prejudices are fanned and those hard-working and dedicated employees (of which the majority fall into this category) are dismissed.

Also, it is troubling when one of the last bastions of security and the basis of a viable middle class structure is being removed: governmental employees.

In many ways, this nation of ours is becoming like those of those poorer, less affluent nations whose governments are derided and dismissed, watered down into impotency and incompetency.

There is a subtle irony to all of this: those who seek drastic changes utilize the very arguments of change at a time when such arguments are no longer valid: owing to poor economic conditions the talent pool is vast and the positions within government (owing to limited funds – or so we’re being told) are limited or simply being eliminated outright. Governments, like private sector employers, can pick and choose at will.

But yet the evisceration continues.

In some states – such as Wisconsin – teacher tenureship for grade schools has been successfully passed.  In New Jersey, major changes to Civil Service have been introduced and are expected to pass, with the resulting impact – as one observer suggested – being a two-edged sword.

Unfortunately, given politics in a number of states, it’s not too likely that folks will behave rationally or responsibly. This is regrettable (and perhaps, hopefully, time will prove otherwise) for this is a powerful moment: given the tremendous need for governmental reform and the call for able talent, coupled with the number of the unemployed, this could be a potentially tremendous boon for local economies as well as create more responsive and effective governments through a variety of cost-savings and effective policy implementations.

But as trends are suggesting, this may not be the case: rather, many of these moves are increasingly appearing to be little more than revenge against governmental unions, as opposed to rational review.

This is a dangerous development: safeguards that were put into place were done so on the basis of over 100 years of reason and purpose. To be certain, rules need to change to follow present day realities, but to capitulate to growing uncertainty and eliminate outright the rules and protections which ensure continuity and stability over the course of multiple administrations only invites confusion, insecurity and the potential for corruption – and with that, liability.

Consider this: it’s only a matter of time before the federal government will follow suit; something to keep in mind next time you take a drink of water, wonder who’s really monitoring your banks and financial investments or watch your kids play while breathing the air,….

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