Monday, May 05, 2008

ISD 742 learns the Washington Monument strategy 

You could have seen this from a mile away. The local school board, in the midst of hiring a new superintendent, has released a document that describes "a glimpse of what may happen if St. Cloud school district voters defeat a property tax increase Nov. 4."

The cuts could include school closings, mass layoffs, reductions in activities and special education, and spending reserve dollars. More ideas are funneling in as Superintendent Bruce Watkins shares the proposals throughout the district.

The ideas represent more than $6 million in cuts. When the list is put before school board members in late May, it will be whittled to $4.3 million.

"They look terrible. When we look at them, there isn't a single thing on the list that is a reasonable alternative that would not affect the education of children," board Chairwoman Deb Lalley said.

A graphic (here in .pdf from the Times) leads with closing schools. Of course that's what they want you to see; "give me my levy or we'll shoot this school." In public finance, it's known as the Washington Monument strategy.

Within the article are the seeds of the fight.
Voters in 2007 rejected a request to renew a tax passed in 2003 that provided $4.8 million a year. That caused a budget shortfall for 2008-09 that the district plans to fill with $1.5 million in reductions and $3.3 million in reserves.

...In 2007, the district was more cautious about mentioning possible reductions until later in the campaign. The philosophy has shifted to determining potential reductions about a year before they would be made.
So they said no, but the school district's reply is "you didn't really mean that, did you?" When you think about what the 2003 tax levy was for...
One possibility eliminates the 30 teacher positions that were added with money from the property tax increase in 2003. Each teacher costs the district about $45,000. One proposal suggests laying off 30 to save $1.4 million.
Note that this saves more money than closing both of the junior highs, according to the graphic. This is what school districts should be saying: We can either close a school and keep student-teacher ratios at current levels, or we can keep the schools open and lay off some teachers and let ratios rise. We've discussed that point here before, and the evidence that ratios matter for learning is tenuous. So if people want to have neighborhood schools, and they've voted against the levy last time, why not accept the word of the voters and make the layoffs?

Because teachers make lousy Washington Monuments.

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