This column is not about the cost of education in government schools, but about its value. It is not about teacher competence; nine hundred teachers are no less competent than nine hundred bank tellers. We believe that they are generally more competent since almost all teachers, at least at the beginning, take that work with highest ideals of preparing the children for the future. It’s only after the union dominated system pounds the teachers into the mold and discards those who refuse, that the fire of inspiration is snuffed out. I once heard a teacher talking about how she despised her job, but “only had eleven years until retirement”. I wondered how great that eleven years would be for her – and her students. This column is about value, and even more, about priorities, than the cost or spending in our school system.
We can forgive a lot of inefficiency and waste if the schools produce education in our children; not political indoctrination but preparation for them to challenge the best from anywhere in the world and take their place among them; a place that they will have earned. We have demonstrated that schools are not now, and have not been for some time, doing this, their fundamental work. We have reported that in a triennial international testing in 2009 American 15 year olds rated 17th in reading comprehension, 25th in science, and 31st in math, behind Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Poland.
We should do no less than demand that our children be taught so as to be able to compete in a world where ideas are far more valuable than physical strength; and where nimble minds are grounded in solid science, math, and comprehension and are instilled with the ability to focus resources on those ideas that will define who succeeds and who fails. Quick minds, with the freedom to work out the ideas that seem to have the best chance at success, will truly define those who own the future. None of this is happening in our schools today.
As for the school system, the past will continue to belong to those who do like we have always done; who follow the rules and who group people together rigidly by job titles, race, ethnicity and other ways which do not allow for, recognize or celebrate individuality. The ways in place today are arbitrary, and discourage meaningful recognition for teacher excellence with financial reward. The past, in short, belongs to labor unions, governments and other organizations that operate with the same kind of top down mentality where the most grievous sin is not failing to produce results, but failing to follow the guidelines. George Will, in the Washington Post wrote: “The three R’s — formerly reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic — now are racism, reproduction and recycling: especially racism. Consider Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction. It evidently considers ‘instruction’ synonymous with ‘propaganda,’ which in the patois of progressivism is called ‘consciousness-raising.’ Wisconsin’s DPI, in collaboration with the Orwellian-named federal program VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America; where the ‘volunteers’ are paid), urged white students to wear white wristbands ‘as a reminder about your privilege, and as a personal commitment to explain why you wear the wristband.” We would like contact from any parents who hear of such things in our schools.
Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS) system has 23 elementary, middle, and high schools and the Early College High School. HCPS reports that there are 933 active classrooms. There are 929 people classified as certified classroom teachers. That matches up pretty well. But there are others in the system who also hold teaching certificates. There are 269 certified assistant teachers, 15 assistant principals and 23 principals, presumably also certified, and 131 more with various titles who are designated as certified. So about 1,344 people are qualified and reasonably capable of teaching, or about 1 for each 10 students. I would think this would put to rest any serious claims of a teacher shortage.
The total direct pay for these is $68,844,131, averaging $51,233. That leaves a balance of 276 (exactly 12 for each school) non-certified people being paid $16,943,957, or an average of $61,391 ranging from the Superintendant at $183,599 to a Custodian at $28,800. Some other highlights include, 16 Speech Pathologists for the 23 schools, that’s right, sixteen at an average of $53,371. There is a Child Nutrition Director at $98,000 and an Assistant to the Director at $77,000. Twenty Cafeteria Managers average over $38,000, and an Energy Czar at nearly $58,000. Total direct pay to 1,620 full time employees is over $85,000,000.
A recent Board of Public Education (BOPE) meeting was marked by a flurry of worry over how to identify substitute teachers and how to have them efficiently and promptly available when needed; with 269 full-time Assistant Teachers on staff. What better work for them can there be than teaching in substitution for an absent teacher? Talk about contracting and paying substitute teachers is nothing short of ridiculous. What possible use can substitute teachers be other than padding the personnel roles on the taxpayer’s back. A lot more can be said about the problematic personnel policies and a studied incompetence in staff management at HCPS, but it is hard to top a situation where 933 classrooms are staffed by 929 teachers and 269 assistants but we still have hire substitutes when a teacher is absent. Aren’t the assistants on staff much better prepared to substitute in the schools they work in every day, than people who are not in schools daily?
Where there is a union mentality dominating, you have featherbedding; a term used to describe practices like those once demanded by railroad unions insisting on firemen (coal shovelers) and conductors on freight trains for decades after diesel power made firemen nothing more than traveling companions for locomotive engineers. Conductors on freight trains had just as much to do as diesel “firemen”, but the staff cost per each train was two people too many; and HCPS franticly searches for substitute teachers while 269 assistants busy themselves on duties more important than substitute teaching. On the railroads, these practices eventually were stopped.
We have written in this space about the cavalier HCPS attitude toward school security. Recent pressure by a parent brought the promise of task force on security; so far a promise unfulfilled without even the public announcement and assignment of responsibility to an HCPS representative(s). We have written about the pathetic performance of American high school students against the world without any serious rebuttal or plan from HCPS. Our school system and the rest across the country is largely controlled by state and national forces. These include not just Federal Departments of Education (DOE), but the National Education Association (teachers union). The union lobbies for rules that require a scattered and divided definition of duties in order that many people are required to perform the duties of a few. Our BOPE/HCPS does not oppose this. HCPS comes up with a new education program-a-month from the Feds, the State or their own creativity. But keep in mind that if HCPS and BOPE are constrained by outside forces, they volunteered for them by accepting the regulation-wrapped money, and tied the ropes that bind them with their own hands.
In order to get the money that the taxpayers would never pony up without local oversight, they happily applied for this grant and that subsidy and continue to use the state and national governments to hamstring us, the taxpayers and our children with the required indoctrination and almost anything except solid academic discipline. Our use of the term taxpayer excludes those whose entire salary is from taxes. They have an entirely different view of the public spending than the rest of us think, given the state of education, is out of control.
And we mustn’t fail to include the contribution of parents who demand that their children succeed regardless of actual performance, and refuse to support, and sometimes seek the dismissal of teachers who demand excellence; parents who demand that the trappings of excellence instead of the hard work required to achieve it, be the focus of schools. If parents don’t back good teaching where they find it and demand academic excellence from their own children first, the schools will never be able to throw off the political priorities and concentrate on education. Personally I cannot bear and will not sit complacently by the decline in our schools, and I refuse to believe I am alone in this. I know citizens, parents, teachers and students want the best, but none of it will get any better if we are not willing to get up and demand it. That means yelling “STABLEMUCK” at the tops of our voices until it is cleaned up.
We look forward to a thorough public dialog on solutions to this and many more crises in our schools. The BOPE generally meets and takes public comments every 2nd Monday. The next meeting is April 15th. Meetings are in the auditorium on the right end of the HCPS Administration Building at Fourth and Buncombe Streets.
If you have private concerns on any county issues including school security, that need to be aired publicly, contact me with complete confidence in our respect for your privacy at: Bill@tribunepapers.com or BillOhSee@gmail.com or call 828 890-0412.