Judgment Day?

Posted by Ty Fischer on Oct 13, 2012 6:21:00 AM

Public schools here are only going to be able to increase their budget by 2% next year (without applying for special permission from the state). Here is the story:

State limits schools to 2% tax increase

This puts them in a bind because we (as communities who pay taxes and make contracts with public school teachers through school boards) have made promises to aging teachers concerns pension and benefits that we cannot keep without some radical changes AND we are unwilling to come clean about this. As an aside, I have contemplated this situation because 1) it involves all of us who pay taxes, 2) I think it is important to keep your promises (people are counting on them!), and 3) I think that honest is a good and necessary prerequisite to peace. Right now, reality is knocking on the door and we (conveniently) are not answering. The knocking is getting louder. Some now say that this problem was caused by the recession, but it was not. People (like me) were talking about it many years before the housing bubble burst.

I have two thoughts....

First, I think that school boards and the teachers unions need to come to some compromise. When I assign the blame fo this mess, I usually start with the school boards. They made promises that, in the end, we cannot keep. I do not fault the teachers for trying to negotiate the best deal possible. The school boards acted imprudently, but they also could not have know the future. The main problem is the skyrocketing cost of benefits (especially medical benefits) for retired teachers. This reality has to be the starting point for compromise. Teacher's unions have to recognize that the benefits that they negotiated are much more costly than could be imaged in the past. Teachers need to bend on this and move the the defined cost plans that will stand a better chance of helping communities and the state avoid fiscal ruin. If the teachers' unions are unwilling to do this. The school boards MUST stand their ground--even if it is very painful. We need to move toward reality. If they do not, they are not guarding the public interest and should replaced (because we can not arrest them!).

Second, in lieu of a grand compromise, there are good and bad ways to balance the budget and keep taxes low (maybe even reduce them) now. First, you need to start the cuts in areas that are painful, but not essential to the core of education. Start with sports. Cut the whole thing... sever it from the public schools and invite all living within a district to participate. Charge participation fees that cover the expense and that pay the public schools for the rental of their properties. Folks love sports and they will pay to participate.

The worst way (but the most painless in one sense) is to make the classroom size larger (mainly by letting people retire and not filling their spots with new teachers. This is the worst possible solution and the one that is being tried most. This discourages good teachers, punishes students, waters down the education, and allows students to disengage.

Education is an act of love. It should be mercenary. The Greeks thought that educators should not be paid (Socrates criticized his enemies because they were PAID teachers). I am not advocating this, but we have to trim our sails. We are poor and we need to start acting like it. To fail to do this is to reject the maturity that is necessary for freedom.






Topics: Education, Democracy, Economy, Family