The funding shortfall wreaking havoc with local schools’ budgets is indeed severe, imperiling our students’ further education. Already, American students’ test scores fall in the bottom 25 percent, compared to 30 other developed and emerging countries. We can’t allow a funding crisis to further erode their performance.
Fortunately, there are obvious solutions available. If we consider running a school district as we would a business whose product is education, remedies are readily apparent.
It is incredible that more than half of the teachers are receiving pay raises while other dedicated teachers are being laid off due to a lack of money. Class sizes are increasing to the point of gross inefficiency, yet the length of the school day remains fixed. Stressed teachers are attempting to do more work, such as educating more kids in the same amount of time.
In private industry, when times are tough, most people have to work harder or longer, often for less pay, until the financial climate improves. Why should senior teachers with “tenure” be exempted from the laws of free-market economics? Why are we sacrificing our students’ learning without trying to work harder or longer at educating them?
First, extend the school day by one period and thus reduce significantly the number of students per class. The important student/teacher ratio in each class would improve and so would the amount of personal instruction received by each student. American students already spend much less time per day (and per year) in class than their peers overseas.
Second, cancel all pay raises until revenues improve.
Third, cut the current salaries of teachers, administrators and support personnel by a fixed percentage calculated to save enough funding to reverse recent teacher layoffs. Rehiring laid-off teachers would enable each teacher to reduce the total number of students taught in a day.
One obvious objection to the above plan would come from the all-powerful teachers unions citing the supposed inviolability of union contracts. But aren’t unions all about solidarity — the idea of one-for-all and all-for-one?
Surely they would accept a small temporary pay cut in order to keep all their members employed? And aren’t union leaders continually telling us their first priority is quality education for our students?
As for the automatic, built-in wage increases, these could be forgone for the time being as the cost of living hasn’t increased for the past two years, as evidenced by no COLA increases of Social Security payments or military pay rates.
It’s time teachers stepped up to the plate and shared in the sacrifices the working people who pay their salaries, the taxpayers, have endured during the Great Recession. If this can be done, and it can, while improving the delivery of education by reducing class sizes and extending the school day, so much the better. Our worldwide competitiveness depends on it.
Ed Cobleigh worked for 25 years in international marketing, retiring as vice president of international business development for Raytheon. He has a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech and a master’s in management from USC.