By Budd Schroeder
By the time this column is published, the school districts will have their elections for the budget and school board members. The general consensus is that there are problems in the educational systems. Administrators and unions keep saying the problems can be solved with more money. The taxpayers are saying that they are paying too much.
When it comes to spending, few states, if any, spend more per pupil than New York. The unions keep saying that the taxpayers should pay their “fair share.” When the taxpayers look at bloated administrations, employee costs, and the results, they wonder what a “fair share” is.
Not only salaries are counted, but pension benefits and fringes like health insurance are in the package. Many taxpayers believe the employees should be contributing more to their pensions and health insurance. Pension reform comes to mind when the media divulge that some administrators, by using saved vacation time, unused sick time and other benefits for the last three years before retirement have raised the pension base to make the taxpayers pay the person more in an annual pension than they received any year in salary. That is hard to justify, but it is legal.
Then, there is the running of the school system itself. When superintendents, principals, and administrators get salaries that are higher than that of County Executive, Comptroller, County Clerk and Sheriff, it makes the taxpayer wonder what makes the educator’s job worth so much more than the elected officials. What is more, those elected officials don’t have the job security of the educators.
That is what bothers taxpayers when they get their school tax bill. Of course all those in the educational system pay school taxes, too. However, consider a school employee who has a house next to a retired person and the school taxes raise by $500 a year on each house. A reason for the increase in house taxes is because the school budget includes raises for the employees. The unions are good at providing benefits for their membership. That is their job and they do it well.
So, let’s make a comparison of benefits. The employee may get a raise of $1,500 a year and after taxes, income and property, the net income increase is maybe $700. That person’s standard of living has increased by $700 while the retired guy next door has his standard of living reduced by $500 a year. That is a hardship on the person with a fixed income and can create negative votes on school budgets.
So, what can be done to help curtail school costs and improve education? For the purposes of argument, let’s start with the City of Buffalo. They don’t have elections on school budgets. It is left up to the School Board, and that is pretty divided. They have been known to spend outlandish salaries for superintendents who, to be kind, have not earned their money and left with golden parachutes.
Brown v. Board of Education decades was a big failure and it is still a failure with the cross bussing. Why should millions of dollars be paid to the NFTA to take the children out of their neighborhoods and bus them across the city to another school? Of course, the bureaucrats running the NFTA approve of this school expense. It keeps them closer to solvency.
A thinking school board would give serious consideration to going back to neighborhood schools. Those were the days when parents were better involved with their children’s education and there was much more cohesive interaction between the teachers and the parents. If the kid had a birthday, a mother could send cupcakes to the class to celebrate the event. The birthday kid felt special and his classmates liked the cupcakes. You don’t hear of that anymore. What a shame.
The other problem today is a change of attitude within the schools. Kids of the past generation would be terrified if the teacher threatened to send a letter home to their mother. Now, there is a reasonable chance that the letter to the mother could bring the mother to the school to beat up the teacher. Teaching in some schools can be a risky business.
However, within the districts there are difficult decisions when it comes to spending money. If there is the shortfall, the first thing that seems to come to the board’s mind is what programs that benefit the children are at the top of the list. They can cut the cafeteria, sports, music, art, field trips and after school activities.
Maybe the pecking order should be reversed and placed in order of importance: 1. students, 2.teachers, 3. principals, 4. support staff (maintenance), 5.administrators and 6 .administrative staff. It might be time to consolidate school districts. A superintendent should be able to handle a system with 10,000 students. The building principals should be able to cover the running of the building, if not, there should be a reasonable way to fire them. The pool for principals seems to always have enough for replacements. Competence should be the standard and those who might not be up to the pay grade requirement should have to figure out ways to improve. Fear is a powerful motivator.
There has to be improvement and give more bang for the buck to taxpayers. Remember, “It’s for the children.”
Budd Schroeder chairs the Shooters Committee on Public Safety Education (SCOPE).