A Way Forward

We’ve spent the last three plus years criticizing RAS 281, or as we see it public school generally speaking, and we keep getting asked for suggestions on how to fix education.  So we decided to put some ideas or suggestions all in one article.  We won’t all agree and sorry for the length of this but here we go:

Here’s some ideas on what we can do here locally:

*We can’t spend more than we have

You’d think this would be obvious but this district continues to shell out more money to the employees than they are getting in “revenue” or as well call it “tax money.”  And, they’ve done it long before this most recent contract.  With 80% of our operating budget spent on people, there’s only so much we can cut from the other 20% before we have to lay off staff.  So let’s stop giving the unions more than we are getting!

*Get out of defined pensions

This could take a while to negotiate since Tom Dooher and his buddies will fight us tooth and nail, but it’s worth the fight.  Replace pensions with a 403B plan is a terrific idea.  Of course, we need to take of the people approaching retirement now, but we think younger people understand that there is no endless pot of money out there.  Let them invest their own retirement money so the public school system doesn’t become General Motors.

*This is a tough one, but perhaps we need to consider making some cuts permanent.

We think RAS 281 has to stop this business of having an activity or program, then cutting it, then restoring it, then cutting it again.  This isn’t fair to the taxpayers, the kids participating. the parents, and especially the staff that we hire, let go, re-hire, and then re-let go.  Again, what these programs and activities are is up for debate.  It could be a sport or band or orchestra etc..  We can’t be everything to everyone, no school can be.

*Negotiate Merit Pay

Here’s another one that will be tough, but again we favor paying good teachers well and paying bad ones less.  Perhaps the Union will agree to some kind of formula.  The formula could consist of say a combination of test scores, experience, attendance, attitude, progress, and whatever else you find in any other job.  Unfortunately, we have Board members who were endorsed and funded by the unions so we may have to wait until we have a non-union majority for this to occur.

*Get rid of steps but not lanes

We don’t agree with automatic pay increases.  Raises should be earned not given.  However, levels of education mean something so we have no problem with a masters’ degree or a PHD getting more than a bachelor degree.  Automatic increases simply for teaching for X amount of years is something different.  This is where merit pay comes in.

*Shorter referendums

Given the unpredictability of state and federal funding, perhaps it would be better for school districts to go out for shorter operating levies.  Ten years is a long time to give a school district money.  Even seven years is a while.  We’d like to see 4-5 year levies.  We also like the idea of splitting referendums into two questions, that way people have more input on how much they want to “invest” as the district would put it.  A shorter referendum for less money is much less likely to be divisive and would probably pass easily.

Here are some ideas at the state level;

*End tenure

Again, experience an important aspect in a job but it shouldn’t be the ONLY aspect.  We need to give districts the flexibility to hire/promote good employees and remove the bad ones.  Are the schools about the children or are they about employing X amount of people?

*Simplify the formula

It shouldn’t take an army of accountants, IRS auditors, and finance geeks to figure out what a given district is going to receive in funding.  We can design the system so that more than five people in the entire state understand it.

*Level the playing field and end some mandates

We love Charter Schools and think it is very important to have competition (we’ll get into that in a minute) but RAS 281 has a point when they say that charter schools have more choices that other public schools.  Perhaps we need to extend some leeway to our public schools to allow more innovation.  We can also end some cumbersome and unnecessary mandates as well.  We can’t end all mandates.  That would be totally irresponsible.  In no way do we want RAS 281 to have a blank check, but we can’t demand results and handcuff the schools at the same time.  Let’s find the happy medium.

*Get rid of some school districts

Though we know there are some advantages to being smaller, do we really need the amount of school districts we have? Enrollment has actually declined state-wide by about 1% over the past nine years yet we have the same amount of districts.  If some districts can be combined, we can save administrative costs without increasing anyone’s taxes.  The Brooklyn Center district should go for sure.  They have only 1800 kids (fewer than we have at either Cooper or Armstrong).  Districts can combine on their own if both sides pass a referendum but we feel the state needs to show some leadership on this issue.

*Competition

Here’s an area that we know we’ll get flack on, but we strongly support vouchers and tuition tax credits so people can choose whatever school they want to go to.  Besides public education is not going to reform itself.  Outside pressure is needed to get change.  Most people don’t have choices when it comes to education while some can buy their way out.  This means kids have unequal opportunity.  We keep wanting parents to be more involved so let’s give them the incentive with a voucher.  We know some people disagree with us on this issue but vouchers, in our eyes, have never had a fair debate.  Usually it’s just trashed by public school apologists.  If you’re getting a great education, what difference does it make where you get it or who is teaching you?

Federal Funding

We are not big fans of the feds sticking their noses in our school districts and maybe it’s time to do a cost/benefit analysis of whether it’s worth taking federal dollars (which is still our money of course).  Is the funding worth the mandates and requirements.  It would be interesting to see the results of a study on this.

We wonder how many of these suggestions will make our LAC platform!

Now these suggestions won’t solve every problem or make up for bad parenting.  This is a beginning not an end.  These changes won’t be easy to do but we think advocating for these changes is worth the names we get called.

Now to be fair…..

The District has taken some baby steps in the right direction

*They switched to even year elections

*They are going to sell their unused property (we hope)

*We continue to like Dr. Sicoli who has been a huge improvement over Stan Mack especially in communication and future planning (even though we aren’t fans of creating a committee for everything).  We also like Lonnie Smith our new finance guru, though, again, at $156K a year, he can pay for his own cell phone.

*And we once again are happy to report that our ACT scores improved even with more kids taking them.

So let the endless debate begin…..

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One Response to “A Way Forward”

  1. numbersguy Says:

    Nice job of listing and putting out a comprehensive issues. Good explanation of possible solutions. Now we can wait for the others to cut down everything they disagree with, but probably without their own solutions.

    Keep up the discussion.

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