Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Cutting the Education Budget Anti-pattern

At a budget meeting last week, I suggested that when town officials come to Board of Education meetings, they should look upstream at the fixed costs in every budget and address the Teacher's Union with the same resolve to control the cost of education.

And the context for this is that over 70% of all education budget money goes to salaries, benefits, and the like. Of the remaining 30%, there's busing, maintenance, heat, electricity, supplies, and so on. The table scraps that remain fund actual student-centric programs. Extracurricular activities, field trips, and all of the stuff that might distinguish and vital high school from a teenager holding pen.

It should go without saying that I am NOT attacking teachers nor questioning their effectiveness or whatnot. I'm simply pointing out that the really big budget numbers are generated by the annual, automatic 4.5% pay and benefit increases. I wrote about this last year as The Accountability-of-Education Anti-Pattern.

No sooner had I made the recommendation than an official from one of the towns declared, as if to give the Pledge of Allegiance, "teachers work hard for their money!", 'somebody in the family is a teacher', blah, blah, blah. I could feel a Greek chorus of teachers yell, "Hurrah!" as if this were a Monty Python segment.

The truth of the matter is that teachers do work hard. But under NCLB they aren't working smarter. Nor are curriculums keeping pace with the changing world. When discussing the incorporation of technology into the classroom with a teacher, one gets the impression you are asking them to fly without a plane.

And under NCLB the teachers and their unions have abdicated all professional responsibility for their profession to a federal bureaucracy hell-bent on destroying the quality of public education. And this leaves children at risk and defenseless and unwitting pawns in the Department of Education's evil mandate

In Connecticut teacher's pay is significant, the benefits package outstanding, and their contracts far exceed the fiscal reality of the community. If altruism ever existed in teaching or government service, one would be hard-pressed to prove it based on the windfall contract details.

As long as we don't constrain the sky-rocketing cost of salaries and benefits, school budgets will continue hurt children the most while teachers sit with Cheshire Cat smiles in the back of the room content that there is nothing any tax-payer can cut that will slow the gravy train down.

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