At yesterday’s meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, members heard descriptions of district policy on how a reduction in force — layoffs, in other words — world be accomplished if the district decides to use this method of reconciling its budget.
Several speakers, including superintendent John Allison, remarked how unfortunate it was that on a night the district recognized excellence in teaching, it also discussed methods of reducing the number of teachers.
Board member Betty Arnold, now a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission, said she was troubled by the possibility of laying off a promising first-year teacher when more senior teachers who might be on a disciplinary plan would be protected. Allison said that was the policy of the district’s contract with the teachers union, and a change would have to be negotiated.
Allison said that new teachers who might be laid off might leave Kansas or the teaching profession altogether. This, combined with upcoming retirements, creates a “real problem for ourselves” far beyond the implications of this year and next year. A short-term budget issue can blossom into a long-term problem, he said.
Board member Lynn Rogers said that a $25 million cut in wages, combined with potentially more cuts in other school districts in the county, harms the business community. State officials, he said, have “been willing to give the shop away and not look forward to the future.”
Arnold said she reads in the newspapers about incentives being given to employers. “The district is an employer. Where is our incentive?”
Government spending is paid for by the private sector, as government — at least the Wichita school district — has no way to create money of its own. Therefore, every dollar the school district spends is a dollar taken from the productive private sector. This leads to a reduction of economic activity and jobs in the private sector. Contrary to the argument of board member Rogers, government jobs like those in the Wichita public school system do not generate wealth or prosperity.
Government spending also leads to a loss of economic freedom, as the ability of people to buy the goods and services they value is reduced by the spending of government. Consider especially the case of low and moderate income families struggling to pay private or religious school tuition for their children, and then being told they must pay even more taxes to feed the government school spending machine, something they personally have no use for.
There may be those who think that government spending is more productive or efficient than private sector spending. This may be the case for a limited set of public goods. Education, however, is not such a good, as the private sector has a record of delivering education effectively and efficiently.
Board member Arnold, in wondering out loud about the whereabouts of the government school district’s incentive, might choose to become aware of these facts: First, some of the incentives given to employers take the form of escape from paying some taxes. This is in recognition that taxes reduce economic activity. Regarding this, Arnold might want to recall that the school district is exempt from paying all or nearly all taxes. So there’s no taxes to abate with economic incentives.
Second, granters of economic development incentives make the case that the new employment increases the prosperity of a region. There’s the possibility of that as long as the jobs being subsidized are private sector jobs. But when the jobs being subsidized are government jobs, no stimulative effect occurs.
In fact, it is folly to say that it would be possible to provide an incentive to government jobs. Since they are totally paid for by taxpayers, there is no way to reduce the cost of government employees like private sector incentive programs are designed to do. Any reduction in employment cost would simply be born by the taxpayers who pay for cost of the incentives.
Superintendent Allison’s concerns about a short-term budget problem causing long term problems should lead us to wonder why the district doesn’t make use of millions in fund balances the district holds. School spending advocates criticize those who advocate use of these fund balances by noting that the balances are not a long-term solution to school finance problems. That’s true. They are a short-term fix, which, as we now see, is what the superintendent says the district needs.
Finally, we must note the irony of the Wichita school district building new schools and classrooms at the same time it can’t afford to keep the teachers it has.