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Wichita school board discusses job reductions, incentives

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?”

Analysis

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.

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12 Comments

  1. Dismal Scientist March 9, 2010

    Bob, it is ironic that they are building new schools and adding on to older ones when they will not be able to staff them. I know for a fact that during spring break classified employees (custodians/electricians/plumbers/drivers) will be paid for five days they do not work as well as certified employees (teachers/principals). I would hope that this is the last time it will be happening, what a waste of taxpayer’s money!

  2. Anonymous March 10, 2010

    The school board needs to start now addressing the long term financial problems in addition the the current short term crisis. The excessive retirement plan for teachers that is currently underfunded, fringe benefits that are well above the private sector to name a couple. They need to recognize that they are serving about ten percent of the population and are spending more than either the City or County.

  3. Mike March 10, 2010

    Hi

    This one really set me off: “Arnold said she reads in the newspapers about incentives being given to employers. “The district is an employer. Where is our incentive?” ”

    The incentives are (at least damn well should be) for private cititizens / businesses so that the income generated from their profits is REALLY additional to the tax rolls. Jobs from the public sector are a BURDEN on the tax payer. Public jobs should be well under 50% of the jobs in any region. The income produced by a public job gives back 40% of the 100% given to the employee out of the taxpayer’s pockets. The income produced by a private job gives back 40% of the income produced by the taxpayer, 0% of which can from other taxpayers.

    Part 2. The comment “The excessive retirement plan for teachers that is currently underfunded, fringe benefits that are well above the private sector to name a couple.” is a little misleading. The retirement plan may or may not be excessive, BUT the school district promised that retirement plan to the employees back when a teacher’s salary wasn’t above average. The plans should all be fully funded, and remain so. If you want to change the plan for new teacher’s be my guest, BUT (again) you get what you pay for. Good teachers are worth quite a bit.

    Any school district employee who isn’t a teacher is what private business calls “overhead”, i.e. the school engineers, bus drivers, and administrators do NOT educate children. These types of jobs are part of the cost of “doing business”, and the cost of doing business nees to be minimized.

    Later

    Mike

  4. KipSchroeder March 10, 2010

    “Allison said that was the policy of the district’s contract with the teachers union, and a change would have to be negotiated.”

    This is the second time in as many days that I’ve read about a Wichita board member pointing to the inflexibility of our district’s teachers union contract as to the reason we can’t do the right thing.

    Anyone know when this contract is up for negotiation? I’m not opposed to unions, but I am against common sense being thwarted in the name of job security!

  5. bman March 11, 2010

    We used to have a principle of a High School and a Principle of a Grade School. Now we have a Principle of Schools, and he teaches a class. You have to cut the administration costs.

  6. concerned March 14, 2010

    Kip

    In reality, 1/2 of the teachers in Wichita took a 4% pay cut this year when the BOE changed policy pertaining to at risk schools incentives. On top of that, ALL Wichita teachers agreed to a 2 year salary freeze to do their part in helping with the impending budget crisis.

    How does that make the teachers union “inflexible”? It seems the classroom teachers have done their share. It is now time to cut jobs, starting as far away from the classroom as possible.

  7. concerned March 14, 2010

    Dismal Scientist March 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm
    Bob, it is ironic that they are building new schools and adding on to older ones when they will not be able to staff them. I know for a fact that during spring break classified employees (custodians/electricians/plumbers/drivers) will be paid for five days they do not work as well as certified employees (teachers/principals). I would hope that this is the last time it will be happening, what a waste of taxpayer’s money!

    You are totally incorrect about the certified employees being paid over spring break. Teachers are paid on a 190 day contract. Spring Break is not included in 190 days. The same is true for principals, except there contract is for more days.

    Dismal

    I’m pretty sure that the classified employees are paid per hour. If they work over Spring Break, they get paid. If they do not work, they do not get paid.

    Get your facts straight before you shoot off your mouth.

  8. concerned March 14, 2010

    Drivers, as in school bus drivers, are not even employeed by the school district. I’m pretty sure Wichita currently contracts with Durham to provide bus service. I doubt if Durham chooses to cut into there profit percentage by paying drivers on days the students aren’t in school.

  9. KipSchroeder March 18, 2010

    Concerned,

    You’ve highlighted the problem and made my point. Not all of those teachers should have to suffer a two year pay freeze. There’s the inflexibility I’m referring to. There are tremendous men and women making huge strides in our classrooms and they should be rewarded not relegated. When publicly educated; my children had both fantastic and dismal teachers. Unfortunately, the poor ones are still around. Now that my children are privately educated I see that they are not exempt from ineffectual instructors. Fortunately, through parental input and oversight of the school board one such unqualified instructor was let go. That instructor has been replaced by an educator who really cares and the results are already notable.

    I absolutely concur with your suggestion that we now begin cutting those furthest from the classrooms. In conjunction with that recommendation I’d propose that we introduce merit based pay. Thoughts?

  10. Kerr Avon March 19, 2010

    Based on what criteria does one differentiate between a “fantastic” or a “dismal” teacher Kip? One test score? Whether the students like the teacher? Whether parents like the teacher? Does the teacher blindly follow a possibly inefffective administrator?

    Who is going to make this determinations? The presumption seems to be that the evaluator should be administration, but is that evaluation valid and effective if there isn’t a system to prove rater reliabilty.

    For something you want to make very simplistic, it is actually quite complex. I also concur that cuts need to be made as far from the classrooom as possible.

    All this being said, I think maybe you should give the teachers a break Kip.

  11. KipSchroeder March 22, 2010

    Kerr,

    My sincere apologies if I’ve said anything that appears to denigrate the work of our outstanding teachers. I have nothing but the highest respect for those who’ve sacrificed and continue to sacrifice so much for the betterment of our future. In fact, I have personally nominated many Wichita public school educators over the years for the Good Apple award and have been successful on several occasions in seeing them so honored. In humility, I too have been the recipient of the award on two occasions. My goal is not to hurt the profession in any way, but rather to assist in the removal of those barriers preventing these incredible men and women from achieving their ends. I suspect you’ve spent time in our public schools and understand those impediments as well or better than me. To that end, I believe our goals to be aligned. Let’s keep up the outward education battle.

  12. Anonymous April 4, 2010

    concerned:
    I am concerned that Betty Arnold makes the presumption that a senior teacher on a plan is not worth saving or helping when these individuals have given many years to the district and sacraficed needing to buy materials out of pocket and received less pay for thier positions, perhaps volunteered for many after school activities. If there was a follow through with more classroom supply money, smaller class sizes would not fewer teachers need some support. They earn thier tenure, as agreed when they sign the contract. It concerns me that the district to save money will do just that push retirement, from teachers on higher salaries to keep the younger less experienced teachers on lower salaries. What constitutes the senior teacher needing to be on a plan? parents don’t like him/her? kids doen’t like him/her? the administration doesn’t like her- I already see the administrators leaning towards discrimination towards the older teachers- thank goodness for the UNION

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