Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pass the levy or we'll shoot this teacher 

It's that time of the year when a school district's thoughts turn to money. (Do they ever turn anywhere else? -- ed.) I listened to KNSI this morning and heard this report:
If school levy referendums don�t pass districts say they will be forced to make more cuts.

Sauk-Rapids Rice Superintendent Greg Vandal says if their operating levy doesn�t pass they would have to make about a million and half dollars in cuts. The cuts would come on top of three and a half million dollars worth of cuts made in the past three years.

St. Cloud schools Superintendent Bruce Watkins says they would look at cutting about five and half million over the next two year. That includes teachers, transportation and activities.

99 of Minnesota�s 341 school districts have levies on the November sixth ballot.
Over in the St. Cloud Times, the editorial says "c'mon! it's just $2 more per day! What is the matter with you people?" But for Rocori, the district under consideration, average teacher salaries last year were $49,759; its superintendent is making almost $110,000. That's more than $21,000 less than the Sauk Rapids-Rice superintendent makes, but that's not the point. There are about 120 FTE teachers in the Rocori district for 2006-07 school year, down from 126 FTE in 2002-2003, but they are also down 59 (2275 vs 2334) students over this time period. The district has not had a cut in the number of administrators, and has added 1.5 full time positions in non-instructional staff. (All date from the Minnesota Department of Education.) But you still need to sacrifice a bagel and cream cheese to them, every day.

I opened my mail the other night to see the official notice of the levy vote in St. Cloud. We have an expiring levy here which they wish to renew and juice an extra $20-30 a year on the average home. So it's sold as costing just a few dollars more, but in essence we are being asked for an increase of $180 on that house if we let the old levy expire. In a world where home sellers are having trouble finding buyers, the extra levy amounts to a decrease in the price of their house, as some potential buyers are priced out of the market.

Speed Gibson correctly notes that when they say they'll lay off teachers, they mean it.
First off, they will follow through on their threats, for it's schools first, students second. They are indeed that ruthless. Meanwhile, they'll get started working on the next referendum, wasting more time and money.

Second, we no-voters (of either party) will get the blame, i.e. give them yet another excuse for failure. Even the conscientious staffers, and there are many, will be disheartened, maybe pull up a little. Similarly, students will be told we grinches are too cheap to give them a quality education, giving them a reason to merely get by.

And in the final analysis, the Legislature will eventually give them what they want anyway. That's where the battle must happen, and without making the kids suffer while we sort this out.
That, and the begging that continues from teachers, many of whom are in fact trying to create good projects. Russ Roberts, commenting on one website that solicits voluntary contributions for schools, says the problem is incentives:

The tragedy is that creative teachers probably do struggle to find funding for creative projects. That's because they're in public schools. There is little or no incentive for funding increases to please the customers, be they students or their parents.

Alas, In 2007, donors have already funded $4,176,945 worth of resources for students through DonorsChoose. Please, if you are one of those donors, give your money elsewhere. Help students get out of a system that wastes resources on such an extraordinary scale. Give to a charity that helps students get into private schools where there is at least some accountability.
"But that's heartless! You will allow kids with good parents to opt out of public schools leaving them only the kids with bad parents." Which is to suggest something: It is up to us to provide for accountability of public schools, and to insist that school officials and legislators meet our expectations. Will this happen? Like Speed Gibson, I'm skeptical.

But quitting cannot be an option. If you are in one of those 99 districts that are seeking more money from taxpayers, you should use the Minnesota Dept. of Education data download website to get statistics such as what is happening to enrollment and likely to happen in the future? (The State Demographer's website is good for that too.) What is happening to the number of teachers and how much are they paid? What about administrators? Non-instructional staff? What about graduation rates? Test scores? All that data is available now (one good benefit of No Child Left Behind). Do the research, and impress your friends with your knowledge. You might educate a few.

Labels: , ,