Monday, March 08, 2010

Institutional Tough Love - Reduce the Upcoming Budget

I received a critical comment for my Hitler parody video today on YouTube. It reads:
I don't know who created this, but clearly it's a grandstanding person who is trying to curry favor by advocating cuts and fiscal prudence for an already underfunded school. As such, the author appears to be more part of the problem than part of the solution, IMHO.

I'm the grandstanding person he's talking about. The critic must think there's something appealing about advocating budget cuts in education. There's not. My wife and many neighbors are teachers. They earn and deserve every penny.

But getting elected to a School Board carries responsibilities that are a double-edged sword. We have to do right by the students and the community. The critic assumes our school is underfunded. And in the psychedelic world of educational economics this is always true. It is an American meme to believe schools are underfunded. The unions, parents, teachers and administrators will all swear on stacks of holy books that this is the problem. And far too many Board members believe their job is simply to escalate and spend endlessly like rich aunts and uncles - visiting dignitaries with no responsibilities except to be loved for their largess.

In fact the idea of cutting a school budget is so antithetically imprinted on Board members that every year I sit through at least one near nervous breakdown monologue about how emotionally unprepared that school board member is to imagine cutting the school budget. No Hollywood drama can ever express the angst that goes along with these discussions.

I pass along cogent and what I believe are compelling arguments for cutting the budget. And the argument I receive far more than any other is that teachers don't make as much as billionaires and CEOs. It's hard to argue with that. By that metric teachers are really making a lot less.

But I don't live in a town of CEOs and billionaires who we can shake down for pocket change that will pay for the substantial increases in our expenses.

I know better than that but the education industry is deaf and blind to the human condition outside their world. In fact, our teachers have NEVER gone a year without a substantial raise in the past decade. In a decade where most working Americans have seen zero income growth, teachers here operate as if its too damned bad. Cough up more taxes. Ditto for administrators making six figures more or less. Teaching shared community sacrifice is something abstract that doesn't happen here.

The fact of the matter is that EO Smith is spending money as if this were the Roaring Twenties rather the Depression era of the new century. These days the unemployed are unionizing to get relief.
It's been only a month that a union for the unemployed has come into existence through an ingenious grassroots organizing campaign. In case you haven't heard about it, the union's name is "UR Union of the Unemployed" or its nickname, "UCubed," because of its unique method of organizing.

UCubed is the brain-child of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), whose leaders feel that the millions of unemployed workers need a union of their own to join in the struggle for massive jobs programs.

The idea is that if millions of jobless join together and act as an organization, they are more likely to get Congress and the White House to provide the jobs that are urgently needed. They can also apply pressure for health insurance coverage, unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits and food stamps. An unemployed worker is virtually helpless if he or she has to act alone.

Joining a Cube is as simple as it is important. (Please check the union web site: http://www.unionofunemployed.com ). Six people who live in the same zip code address can form a Ucube. Nine such UCubes make a neighborhood. Three neighborhood UCubes form a power block that contains 162 activists. Politicians cannot easily ignore a multitude of power blocks, nor can merchants avoid them.
There is not a day that goes by that the State of Connecticut is either deferring pension payments or raising fees on citizens, or cutting local aid. In an economic climate in which the taxpayer is being squeezed from all sides the teachers and administrator's contracts project unbridled avarice and greed. If I were complaining about price gouging of oil companies, electric bills, or a local crook no one would claim I was part of the problem.

I'm not a tea-bagger and I have better things to do with my life but as long as I'm serving I owe the public an opportunity to insist on a cutback this year and for the next few years. Its not a message, its not malicious. It's necessary.

The community needs to set the amount that a school can spend and then the process of seeing what that sum affords can begin.

5 comments:

roslyn.h.fitch said...

Mr. Krasicki,
I have been following your blog on and off, in an effort to understand some of the decision making at the EOSmith BOEd level. But I find your advocated positions contradictory and frankly impossible to follow.

As one example, you have written extensively about the fact that state and federal funding for education goes disproprortionately to "troubled" inner city schools (at least, I assume this is your position in claiming that the education gap that needs to be closed is between the ears of the CT BofEd members), when they should be funding schools that "work." Since their stupendously ignorant condemnation of ability-level grouping I can't disagree with you, however, YOUR stated positions seem to run in sympathy to the under-represented, under-achieving, and academically challenged. I find this contradictory? Should we spend money and effort on the schools -- and kids (i.e., A-level AP class advanced kids) -- that are capable and hard-working, OR should we spend money on the worst performers? I don't follow you.

Second, you argued against EOS joining in the State-level competition for Federal funding. While I agree with your position on the basis that the application would have carried a deadly hidden cost in required conformity to numerous ineffective state-level "policies," under-mining the areas where EOS has been successful, I ALSO believe that the discrepancy in lost funding should be made up by local tax-payers. (And I voted to fund the reconstruction of the track several years ago, too). Now you are saying we should both turn down state funds AND further cut the budget in order to lessen property taxes? How does this make sense?

Basically, I cannot make head or tails of your various stated positions. As best I can tell you are blanket-condemning local, state and federal officials (and I don't disagree), but are offering no viable alternative solutions for our kids whose textbooks are outdated, whose track is unuseable, and whose classes are too large.

I am not made of money, but I am willing to pay for what needs to be done to invest in the single most important local resource -- our kids. Maybe the Region 19 Board of Ed needs more folks who feel similarly.

Sincerely,
A Mansfield mom

The Caretaker said...

Dear Mansfield Mom,

The urban schools issue is consuming every penny of Federal Aid and is a political nightmare. The urban schools are the weakest link in public education not because they are underfunded or failing - they are being asked to do things schools can't do.

However, they are a very useful way to undermine teacher unions and public schools so the Feds disingenuously throw money at them to "solve the education gap". That euphemism means "break the back of all public education".

The Hitler parody is just that. Like all Hitler parodies, Hitler's rant is a composite set of complaints that I hear about us, the BOE. Hitler is yelling at me as much as anyone else. The video is intended to stir debate and open up the conversation.

There is no "state-funding" worth chasing and no additional money worth voting for. The federal funds are in support of fraudulent goals and subversive State laws. Going along with the RTTT is suicide for suburban schools and our constituents.

The classes at EO Smith are not "too large". They are far smaller in many cases than classes in the elementary schools of each town. The only place class size has ever been shown to be a factor is in pre-school to fourth grade and even those studies are not conclusive.

EO Smith consumes disproportionate sums of taxpayer money. The local governments and schools are where your sentiments should go. I do advocate cutting the EO Smith budget significantly so that the local governments and schools can get some relief.

Shed not a single tear for EO Smith. The best way to help our school is to rebuild the trust that it is being fiscally managed to ensure its infrastructure issues are being addressed and its overall budget is balanced and affordable.

Today neither is true. We spend too much on far too little.

The Caretaker said...

As per our Race to the Top discussion, this link has a great Diane Ravitch discussion of the program;

http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2010/03/dr-ravitch-watch-it-and-then-watch-it.html

roslyn.h.fitch said...

Dear Caretaker,
I think we agree on some things - I also prefer local control and believe our BOE knows better than the state and feds how to best run our school. I am no fan of NCLB. I also appreciate the inner-city school conundrum, if your point is that NCLB tries to make teachers sub in for absentee parents and poor home environments where money goes to TVs instead of books and computers. But can you focus on your suggestions for EOS?

More examples - my daughter ran "track" as a freshman and, despite a great coach, ended up with shin splints. To me the math seems fairly simple that we need to pay for a new track. Similarly, I am still amazed that EOS has an auditorium that cannot fit the entire school in a sitting (and is smaller than the middle school auditorium my kids came from). How can this be "good enough"? How can invited speakers with limited time come in to EOS to give valuable presentations when they cannot even reach the full school at one sitting?

Please don't tell me not to shed a tear for EOS! I can see what needs fixing, and fixes take money. Indeed, if anything, I would advocate a special tax for a school overhaul that would go beyond the bare bones of making the track "useable."

To me, this is not about paying teachers or administrators more than their private-sector equivalent peers. Its about an infra-structure that has been chronically under-funded. And as a BOE member, I believe it is your responsibility to worry about these issues? Come up with some solutions? I think you were elected to advocate for the needs of the kids first, and Ashford tax-payers, second.

The Caretaker said...

Roslyn,

My problem with Federal and State programs is that when I go to Hartford I see new school after school. When our basketball teams play Hartford public, their gym has an indoor track plus a magnificent building that WE paid for. That's right, WE.

In the meantime suburban schools are aging and smaller communities like ours have shrinking enrollments and tax bases as well as being the victims of the Wall Street scandals.

Like Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons, the Feds and the State want us to give them their hamburgers today for payment sometime in the future. So we pay for their idiotic mandates and we're no better off AND left an IOU that far too often is less than a return on investment.

Locally, I joined the Board about four and a half years ago when the economy was riding high. There was no mention of track problems but the budget grew and teachers added. And we've added other personnel.

Since then, the school has shrunk, we continue to shell out for small classes at the expense of the elementary schools whose teachers in many cases have taken ZERO pay increases and seen their school budgets crushed.

It's time for EO Smith to become fiscally responsible.

Your ability to spend is not true of everyone and that money can be better spent elsewhere. Let's make out tax dollars count.