Please realize these thoughts are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the feelings of the school district my child attends and of which I am a member of the board of education.
Friday morning a group of unsuspecting folks on Twitter were discussing educational reform. I think this is fantastic as I find the subject nearly impossible to discuss in a blog post, let alone in 140 characters. Worse than the whole character limitation was the fact that the original link that was shared was followed by a comment that sharing such on Facebook would garner all kinds of attacks.
The public education system is broken. This is the start of the conversation: not what is broken or how but that the system is broken. It is not broken to the same extent in all locations but it is broken, none the less. There are many reason for this state of broken-ness. It can come from many reasons. Funding reasons are the biggest one, at least in New York State.
New York State funds differing school districts in differing amounts. State funding comes from state taxes. Local funding comes from property taxes. So basically public education is funded by the taxes of the people of the state. The biggest issue in NY is that school district budgets are close to the only way for voters to express any amount of dissatisfaction with government. Town and municipal budgets do not get voted on by the taxpayer. Votes are for school budgets and for elected officials. Consequently, school budgets seem to get the brunt of voter dissatisfaction.
This funding method has caused some great divides between wealthy and not so wealthy districts within NYS. Places in the state where businesses are booming, granted at this point in time no part of the state has a fantastic economy, there is a tax base to fund schools – academic programs, athletic programs, teachers, aides, monitors. Places in the state where the economy is closer to stagnant, there is not a tax base to fund schools. As municipalities look to offer incentives for businesses to locate in that municipality, school districts are not sure if I want to use this portion
Many people think that because local funding comes from property taxes that only local property owners should be allowed to vote. The fallacy in this is that most property owners figure their property taxes into what they charge for rental units. In addition to this, renters are eligible, by state law, to be members of boards of education. Consequently, thinking that renters should not be allowed to vote on school budgets, and by association on tax levies, is flawed.
Funding is definitely an issue in the mess that is public education in NYS. Another issue is laws that require the last hired to be the first let go in times of layoffs. This issue has caused some heated discussions in all circles as school districts statewide notified teachers of the possibility of layoffs this spring. In a small two county area in upstate NY, over 400 positions were lost from school districts this year. The impact will begin to be felt as these people vie for the few jobs that are available in the fall. The impact will be felt as these families have less income and are not frequenting restaurants and stores in the area. To top that off is the fact that this is a small area. Most larger city areas incurred much larger layoffs.
Let’s look at options. None of these options are totally thought through yet but all have some sense of viability. First there is the last in, first out process. Teachers should not have guaranteed employment just because they are teachers. Tenure is a bad thing. It guarantees lackadaisical behavior on the part of teachers. In addition, tenure is granted after a short period of time in most cases. Tenure needs to be granted after five years in one district at the least. Tenure also needs to be renewable. In other words, there is no “job for life” guarantee that most teachers feel they have once they have received tenure. Please realize this discussion is a generalization and not all teachers are like this.
Another option is to change the funding formula. In NYS, the current governor, Andrew M Cuomo, is trying to do just that. The governor is proposing a tax cap – this is a cap of the tax levy, not the actual tax rate of a property – at 2% or the rate of inflation, which ever is lower. Had this law, the way it was originally written, been in place for the 2011 budget vote, school districts across NYS would have had to have a 0% tax levy increase, excepting previously voted on capitol projects. The only way to get around this lack of an increase would be a “super majority” vote or approval by more than 60% of the voters.
Can education be fixed? Can schools start at zero and work up from there, cutting items that are not essential? Can schools figure out a way to educate our students without breaking the bank? This issue will go on for a long time as no school district can start with a zero and build a budget up as there are contractual obligations that must be fulfilled. So what is the answer?
Do I have the answer? No. I have thoughts that may or may not work in differing districts and communities around the county. What I do know is that the method has to change and change now. What I do know is the community must be involved in the solution. What I do know is that, regardless of what happens, there is absolutely no way to make everyone happy.