From the Crow's Nest / Ed Chrostowski
Thrown for a loss by contracts
The University of Notre Dame, cathedral of big-time college football, has fired another head coach.
Charlie Weis is the third head coach in a row to be sacked by "The Fighting Irish" despite compiling a record of 35-27 (6-6 this season) during his four years in South Bend, a won-loss mark that most colleges would consider at least mediocre, but which equates to utter failure at high and mighty Notre Dame.
Don't shed any tears for Weis. He leaves with an estimated $15 million buyout for the six years remaining on his contract. Save the pity for Notre Dame's trustees who must have been under a spell induced by Weis' previous successful stint in professional football.
They had launched the coach's career at Notre Dame with a six-year deal reported to be worth about $2 million annually. After just two seasons, they then, inexplicably, gave him a 10-year extension for more than $30 million. Maybe Notre Dame, which always arrogantly proclaims that it is the most prestigious collegiate football program in the nation, was conned. Then the bubble burst and Notre Dame discovered he is merely a good football coach and not even the campus "Touchdown Jesus" was able to canonize him.
Whatever prompted the university trustees to extend Coach Weis' contract remains a mystery. After all, Notre Dame has a well-known proclivity for firing coaches, having sacked five of them in a 10-year span. Why on earth would they give Weis a 10-year deal then? The trustees must have been convinced that he is a gridiron god and therefore, unlike most mortals, worthy of Notre Dame.
The generous contract syndrome extends beyond football of course. Boards of education everywhere are afflicted by it during negotiations with teachers' unions. Spurred by parent-teacher organizations, the most powerful pressure groups in the country, school boards routinely agree to automatic annual salary increases, regular upward adjustments in pay scales and working conditions ranging from class sizes to days off with pay for "in-service training."
An area town recently presented an example of that kind of leverage. With enrollment declining for five straight years, a school board member publicly favored closing one elementary school to save tens of thousands of dollars annually, money that he said could be diverted into general program improvement. His opponent in the election disagreed. She said that instead of closing a school, the extra space should be used to reduce class sizes.
Guess who won the election. After he prevailed by two votes, a mandated recount determined that there was a tie and a special election was called. This time the PTA rallied the troops as teachers convinced parents that their children's education was at stake. She won by more than 1,000 votes.
Teachers' unions get some powerful leverage in contract negotiations when they contend that the basic issue is the quality of education for a community's children. But that's never really in dispute. Everybody realizes that a sound school system is of utmost importance and that good teachers are essential. Boards of education and finance readily acknowledge those truths and make every effort, often straining a community's affordability, to extend tangible evidence of appreciation for good teachers and what they do.
For their part, however, teachers' unions need to be more realistic. Stamford offers a case in point. The union there has filed for state arbitration because it is dissatisfied with the city's offer. The union wants a two-year contract with pay raises of 2.75 percent the first year and 3.75 the second. That's over and above the annual step increases in the salary scale. The city offered a three-year contract with no raise the first year, except of course for the step increase, and then one percent in each of the next two years. The city also wants to raise health insurance contributions by two percent each year.
There comes a time when public sector workers will have to settle for the same kind of wage increases and health and retirement benefits that exist in the private work-a-day world. And that time is now. Other school unions made contract concessions; the teachers would not.
It is curious to note at the same time that the scores of Stamford students in the Connecticut Mastery Tests fall consistently below state averages. There's something wrong with this picture. Somebody's not connecting all the dots. Charlie Weis didn't get a raise when his team was deemed a failure.