Public school employees are public servants. They provide services free of charge to anyone who is qualified to receive those services and who applies to them for said service.
Earlier this year a memo was circulated through our district reminding teachers and other employees not to accept food or other enticements from potential vendors of private financial institutions. That meant that if a representative from an investment firm came to our school with information pertaining to buying financial advice and oversight from their company, the school employees are not allowed to accept any “presents” that representative might want to offer.
To be more precise, “You can try to sell us something but you can’t bring donuts for us to eat without us paying you for them.” Or bagels, or sodas, or a box of See’s Chocolates for that matter.
Makes sense doesn’t it? As public servants we wouldn’t want our dealings with private firms to be compromised.
The Washington Post is studying congressional practices in reference to their dealings with investments (“Members of Congress trade in companies while making laws that affect those same firms” 1). The amount of money being traded is significantly greater than the cost of a Dunkin donut.
Which made the study by the Washington Post even more interesting to me. Where do we draw the line?
If you are elected to office to serve the public, isn’t there is an inherent agreement that you are not doing so in order to profit personally? In effect, like a public school teacher, you have been hired to do a job. Yes, you are paid a salary and that salary is established according to what the market will bear or what seems fair for the service you provide. But where does your commitment to public service end and personal responsibility begin?
The questions beg comparison to the ancillary battle occurring in many states over unions. Unions are established to strengthen the bargaining position of employees. Public pensions are also under scrutiny and unions bargain for those retirement benefits. Does that make any teacher who belongs to a union automatically suspect as to their motives? Some governors might have us think so. Is it coincidental that some of the biggest contributors to Democratic candidates are the unions and those unions and their practices are coming under attack in Republican controlled states?
In the end there are always going to be abuses. They exist in unions, they exist in public schools and they exist in Congress. There may be an attempt to control these abuses through legislation and investigation. The Washington Post is trying to ferret out possible abuses, if any exist. My district attempted to prevent the abuse of bagels and cream cheese. How do we legislate or oversee such disparate measures?
We can’t. But we can try to minimize them.
In the case of our federal or state legislature, the people who are in charge of this oversight and investigation are the one’s making the rules. And since Citizens United, those people in the responsible positions can be supported by funds that are not regulated or sometimes, even identified. As long as undisclosed money can be applied to the processes of public elections, there is no way to prosecute the abuse. What we can legislate is the process. We can level the playing field by saying that elections of public officials are with public monies, just as the hiring of teachers is.
Finally, there is a problem of proportionality. You will have a hard time convincing me , or almost anyone else for that matter, that you can equate a can of cold Dr. Pepper at the end of a long morning of teaching to the realization of thousands or even millions of dollars through trading with insider knowledge of activity on Wall Street.
What it comes down to is each person’s conscience. If someone says they will do something, we generally believe them until they prove different. If we elect officials and charge them with a job we must let them do that job. As much as I can’t believe I am saying it, I have to trust that my freely elected government is working for my behalf until such time that they prove they are not. Should the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or anyone, substantiate such abuses then I will be among the first of those to say, “Throw the bums out!” Until then I must assume my representatives are acting in my best interests.
Even if I choose to replace that government, eventually, I can face the same problem all over again.
And people who send their children to public schools need to feel they can trust their children’s teachers. They need to believe that those teachers are doing their level best to ensure that they educate those children to the utmost of their ability. Teachers aren’t just there for the donuts.