Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Battle Of Education

As we have all seen, we are all going to have to share in the pain of getting NYS back to fiscal stability.

At the core of some cuts being proposed by Governor Cuomo is aid to our schools. What that means for most school districts, is layoffs or at minimum program cuts. As someone who believes layoffs should be of last resort, I fear most school districts may be unable to avoid them. Understanding this, I took sometime to watch the documentary by Geoffrey Canada called “waiting for superman”. Waiting for Superman, is a documentary showing how families who have little means struggle to get their kids a quality education. It goes into the school district and identifies what Geoffrey Canada believes is part of the problem why we have under performing schools, the tenure system.

Geoffrey Canada points out that after 3 years on the job teachers are granted tenure status. At the college level, in order to receive tenure, one would have to go before a board of peers and be evaluated on performance along with other qualifications and measures. In this process only about 1/3 of college professors ever get tenure.

Today, Governor Cuomo proposed a bill that would end LIFO, (last in, first out), which relies exclusively on seniority. Some are arguing that this would disrupt the stability to the teaching profession. As it stands right now, in order to fire a teacher that is underperforming other teachers, that teacher would have to basically commit a crime. Very few jobs have the same kind of job security as teachers, one that comes to mind is police officers. One of the problems that has come with teachers who reach tenure is, some, not all, once they get tenure tend to relax on their responsibilities as a teacher. Most of us, without naming any specific teacher, has had a teacher who would put the daily assignment on the chalkboard and then you wouldn’t see them until the bell rang to signify the end of class. In the private world, like working for Goldman Sachs, Microsoft or even Walmart, if you are amongst the bottom performing employees in the company your employment status would be tenuous at best. Thus driving home that work performance and measures are the standard, essentially making companies more efficient and effective.

This begs the question, why shouldn’t teacher’s employment status be based on performance measures, which is the standard most who work in the U.S. follow?

Also at issue is the bureaucracy of the school system. The pay of school superintendants is being questioned along with how many school districts are actually needed in any given area. These issues are going be an ongoing battle that may end with the consolidation of school districts to lower cost.

School budgets are amongst some of the most pressing issues facing our communities today. Questions like, how should our school budgets be funded? should a cap be put on our school budgets? should smaller school districts be forced to consolidate?

One thing is clear, as taxes rise and employment opportunities continue to shrink people are going to scrutinize where every penny of their tax dollars are being spent. At the rate we are going, using the State of Wisconsin as an example, battles are going to be fought over pension obligations, healthcare obligations and how school budgets are funded.

I for one believe a start would be to extend the millionaire’s tax. I would be willing to compermize increasing the minimum threshold level to a salary of maybe something like $500,000 or more, but that is a debate point, getting rid of the tax should not be a option. Also, the current method of funding school budgets through property tax is broken and it needs to be addressed in the very near future. I think regarding this issue, everything should be on the table, from a grocery tax to an income tax. However it is decided to address this problem, it needs to be modeled to include a greater portion of the population instead of putting the heft of the financial burden on homeowners.

Our schools and the quality of education for our children is a battle that will not end anytime soon. In order to keep pace with emerging countries, we need to do more with less.