My philosophy professor in college once told me, “no paper will refuse ink.” At first, I had some difficulty grasping his point. Then, suddenly, it occurred to me: you can print anything you like, but the fact it has been published doesn’t necessarily make it true.
Dr. Jeff Moss is hosting a series of town hall meetings around the community. Thursday evening he held his first one at West Lee Middle School. The next three will be held between February 22nd and February 28th. The two topics for these meetings are his initiative to extend the school day among all schools by 30 minutes and the school budget for 2011-2012. As of tonight, the first topic has become moot– teachers rejected his proposal to extend the school day by roughly 70% to 30%. He indicated his recommendation to the school board is not to alter the current school regimen since so many teachers object to the proposal. Straightforward enough. Hats off to Dr. Moss for listening to teachers.
Sorry to say, Dr. Moss’ presentation on the budget apparently wasn’t as credible. In fact, it was a described by attendees as a scare tactic, designed to arouse anxiety among local teachers and parents about those evil public officials planing to rob our children of an education. How dare they?!?!
Dr. Moss was reported to have used a series of powerpoint slides to illustrate just how impossible it would be to achieve the $3.7Billion in cuts the state must find, using education as the exclusive source of cuts. Interesting, I don’t recall our legislature or Governor Perdue saying education was going to be the principal billpayer for balancing the budget. In fact, I recall her saying education would be spared much of the burden. I further recall preliminary announcements about the shortfall have now been reduced — down to something in the range of $1.7B to $2.5B – given the recent economic activity in the state. Funny, those facts weren’t in the slides Dr. Moss showed.
Another interesting point Dr. Moss made, according to those in attendance: the school system simply cannot take any more cuts beyond what they’ve already suffered the past two years. I find that interesting because his administrators took some hefty pay increases in late 2010, even while teachers were frozen in their salaries for the most part. If he had to suffer cuts, how did he have the funds to commit dozens of senior administrators to hundreds of thousands in recurring payroll dollars?
Reportedly, Dr. Moss showed a chart reflecting where the state believes Lee County should take its cuts. Those numbers included cuts of 42.5 teacher positions (saving $2.5Million), 128 teacher assistant positions (saving $2.6Million), $1.4Million in category cuts, $160K in Assistant Principal cuts, and $84K in central office cuts. All totaled, he would be expected to cut 174 positions and save $6,741,857 from his starting budget of around $84Million. Now, clearly, these numbers are mere preliminary suggestions, based on early guidance from the state (DPI). We already know his required savings will be less given the latest tax data coming from the state this week. And we suspect there are a lot of other areas where savings can be achieved.
Without diving too deeply into the budget, let’s look at just two areas of local school funding where significant savings can be achieved this year– right out of Lee County Schools’ 2009-2010 approved budget. http://lee.schoolfusion.us/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/929615/File/Finance/budget0910.pdf?sessionid=b870f5164aaf59ca35e86a756da60096
The vast majority of local funds obligated from Lee County government goes to function codes 5000 (Instructional Services) and 6000 (System-wide Support Services) in the school budget. The state and federal governments have chosen not to fund about 40% of the school leadership positions Lee County feels it needs ($1.7Million), all of the school’s co-curricular services ($427K), and about 25% of the school based support services the county desires ($1.2Million). These aren’t teachers or teacher assistants. They are, by and large, administrative school staff. But wait, let’s not jump on the individual schools just yet.
In the 6000 category, the state and federal governments appear unwilling to fund nearly 70% of the System-wide support Dr. Moss thinks he needs. Wow! Could that mean the state and federal governments believe 7 out of 10 of Dr. Moss’ support staff aren’t vital to the mission of educating our kids? In total, these positions consume over $12Million a year, of which our County has to fund over $8.9Million. That’s funny, Dr. Moss reportedly didn’t mention the possibility of sparing teachers by cutting administrators, technicians and paper pushers in his presentation to parents and teachers. I wonder why not? (Just kidding…I know why not.)
Call me crazy, but somehow I believe Lee County schools is able to absorb cuts of between $4Million and $6Million from last year’s hefty budget without cutting teacher or teacher assistant positions, without having to close any schools and without having to forego the purchase of essential instructional materials. To accomplish that feat, the school board and superintendent must get their priorities aligned with the fiscal policies of county, state, and federal funding authorities.
Note to Dr Moss: I’d recommend taking a long hard look at your supporting cast in line item 6000 before trying any more scare tactics with parents and teachers. Sooner or later someone is going to call you out on this one– pointing out inflated salaries and the significant numbers and costs for your team of administrators. I doubt there will be much public sympathy shown when those numbers are exposed.
Note to the Public: Be sure and exercise your right to petition your legislators and commissioners on the subject of financing public schools, as suggested by Dr. Moss. But before you lambast them with demands to extend or raise taxes, do your homework and be sure to grill our School Board and Superintendent on all those administrators and support staff and that $12Million we keep spending on non-teaching positions in the school system.