Friday, May 23, 2014

Their Education; Their Choice; Our Money

The final issue of the year of Bradley student newspaper, The Reporter, includes an editorial titled "Our Education, Our Choice."

First off, The Reporter is a well written and well edited student newspaper. I support and applaud the effort of our students to engage in political discourse. The School Board heard from students when changes were made to the Honors/AP class grade weighting, and it led directly to changes in the policy. We're hearing from them these days in regard to potential changes to the German programming.

The most dangerous threat to democracy is apathy. I've said it many times on this blog. Democracy is designed around discourse and debate. Not everyone will get their way all the time. To reach a majority, compromises must often be made.

So I'm glad that there is a student voice being heard about changes in course offerings. But they are also naive in regard to the economic reality.

Our school district offers an incredibly rich catalog of course at the high school level. Last year, students were scheduled in 209 uniquely number courses in our high schools. The Program of Studies for 2014-15 looks like a college course catalog.

When I went to high school some 40 years ago, our course options numbered about 30.

I'm not saying that offering 200+ courses each year is inappropriate. I'm just pointing out that it's not free. Every one of those courses must be taught by a licensed teacher, who gets a decent paycheck and great benefits. There has to be a place for the class to meet in a school building (except for the online courses). Those buildings are pretty nice in our district, and our community pays a boatload of taxes to repay the bonds (ie mortgages) on those buildings and to keep them maintained.

The range of what school districts spend, on a per-student basis, ranges widely in our state, from $21,776.student in Orange City Schools in Cuyahoga County to $6,000/student in Washington Court House. This is a consequence of both the differences in teacher compensation, and the number of teachers per student. And the number of teachers/student is heavily influenced by the variety of courses offered. You can be sure that the course catalog in Washington Court House pales compared to Orange. Or Hilliard.

I'm glad we have such a rich course catalog. But it's expensive. If we want to keep it so, then it has to be supported by regular tax levies to generate the revenue to pay the ever-escalating cost of faculty, staff and administrators.

The students don't bear these costs - the property owners of the community foot the bill. They're the ones who get to decide how much we spend to run our schools. They do so  by electing their neighbors to serve on the School Board, and more directly by voting whether or not to increase their property tax burden when we put an operating levy on the ballot.

A desirable school district is good for everyone. It makes our community a great place to raise kids, and it makes it a place where one can have confidence that the homes we buy retain their value.

Many kids want more. Nothing should be cut - only new things should be added. Meanwhile the voters tell us that it already costs plenty to run our school district, and they're not eager to increase the rate of spending. In fact, they'd like to see it slow down.

Economic discussions are about choice, when you can have some, but not all of what you desire. This editorial in the student newspaper doesn't acknowledge that because the students don't understand or participate in the cost side of the debate. Sadly, few voters do either. A parent showed up at a recent Board meeting to angrily tell us that he would campaign aggressively against us in the next election should the German program be terminated. He's free to make that threat.

I wish I had asked him that if we do not make any changes to the German program, would he be equally energetic in his support of the next levy...

No comments:

Post a Comment