|(Updated June 28, 2002)
Tillamook's Schools (and yours)
Who's Getting Milked?
In the 2001-03 state budget debate, a reduction from a planned $5.2
billion to $5.1 billion for k-12 is being called a "cut" even though this
is an increase over 1999-2001 spending of $4.6 billion. -- MATT
EVANS, Executive director, Oregon Tax Research
Did you understand that? The
actual 1999-2001 budget was $4.6 billion. The proposed Republican
2001-2003 budget is a record $5.1 billion. Unless you
attended a modern public school, you can probably tell which number --
5.1 or 4.6 -- is the greater.
(NOTE: The special
session called by Kitzhaber since this was written has changed some of
the numbers above. I have altered the text from the original, but
it is still a statement about changing numbers. The latest figures
I have indicate that the basic premise is the same. In spite of all
the talk about "cuts," we will still be spending more in the next biennium
than we spent in the last one.)
The Oregon Left (mainstream media reporters and editors,
liberal Democrat and Rockefeller Republican politicians, public service
unions and teacher's organizations, lots of lawyers, almost all college
students and every minority in sight with the probable exception of Asians)
are calling a $700 million increase a cut.
They're calling it a cut because it's less than they wanted,
not less than the previous budget.
Is it any wonder that your kids can't answer simple math
|This time Tillamook schools
get milked by David Sarasohn
Randy Schild has a very specific view of Oregon's
school funding crisis.
"We read about Portland, and their problems, and how they have to
close a couple of schools," says the first-year superintendent of Tillamook
"Percentagewise, what we face is truly monumental."
What Tillamook faces for next year is a funding cut of almost
10 percent, a cut of about 40 positions out of 300, a rise in 4th,
5th and 6th grade class sizes from 22 to 29, and closing one of its four
elementary schools. The district is closing Wilson School, not because
it's the oldest, but because the classrooms, built in 1929, can't possibly
hold the number of kids in classes today. -- from an April 07, 2002
column in The Oregonian
On May 06, a damn good Oregon state senator by the name
of George said publicly that the numbers he has indicate that the Republican
educational budget amount is actually larger than the amount we've given
you at the top of this article. As a result, some people say Tillamook
will be receiving more money from the state, not less. For the purposes
of this essay, however, we'll use the numbers Schild sent. ($14,400,000
in the previous budget. $14,200,000 in the next.)
The district, we know, has a declining enrollment.
That would be the reason for a reduction in funds from the state if there
is one. . (An unnaturally logical thing for a government agency to do.)
Why, then, are the Wilson school classrooms too small?
Usually, "decline" means fewer, but perhaps this is a
New English to go with the New Math. Our guess is that psychology
is haunting all this. The Wilson school, built early in the last
century, looks like a school. It has the appearance of a place
where children once learned how to read, write and do their ciphers.
Here, you can feel the ghosts of the ancient educators who taught politically
incorrect history -- that is to say, what actually happened.
Places like that give some modern teachers the willies.
|Some districts, such as Portland and many rural schools, are in
trouble -- in part -- because they are losing enrollment. State allocations
to schools are based largely on enrollment, and declining enrollment means
less money from Salem. -- Stephen Carter, The Oregonian
The Wilson school is being closed because the classrooms
are too small. Tillamook's remaining classrooms will have too many
kids even though there are fewer kids attending Tillamook schools.
What a world.
|More from Stephen Carter of The Oregonian
Although the property tax revolt kicked off in 1990 by
Measure 5 has slowed the growth in school spending,
Oregon remains above the national average in the money it spends
to educate each child, according to federal figures. It remains well above
Washington and California.
In 1990, Oregon spent $5,195 a year per student, according to the
National Center for Education Statistics, $293 above the national average.
Ten years later Oregon spent $7,357 per student, according to the center's
estimate, still $278 above the national average.
Those figures include money from state, local and federal sources.
Spending not included in this figure is money spent on construction, equipment
and interest on debt.
(OMED: construction has traditionally been funded via local property
A record high Republican budget. More dollars for
education than ever before in state history. Because of enrollment
advances or declines, funds to districts go up or down. That's a system
based on a ratio. Schools that get a hundred bucks for ten students
are receiving the same treatment as those which get fifty bucks for five.
Again from Mr. Carter's pen:
|House Majority Leader Karen Minnis, R-Gresham, is frustrated that
the money the Legislature provides schools -- up nearly 20 percent since
1997 -- isn't enough. She wonders where it's going.
"It's very hard to examine from Salem how each school board allocates
its money," she said. "We are going to take a long-term look at this issue.
Why is it when we give generous increases each session, it never seems
to meet the perceived need?"
Good question. The same as yours. And, if Miss
Minnis thinks it's hard to figure out from Salem, where they have government
money to investigate the issue, she ought to try it from my cabin, with
nothing but a telephone and an internet connection.
But, we have an advantage over Miss Minnis. Ironically,
it's something we don't have. We don't have a flock of Oregon Education
Association lobbyists littering our desk with a blizzard of biased reports
and data sheets. (And we can unplug the TV)
So, hip waders pulled up high just to clear the tidal
bore of BS, we shall splork forward in our quest to find the pearls of
wisdom in this Oregon educational oyster bed of misinformation and misdirection.
staff costs more than the building.
Here, yet again from Mr. Carter's Oregonian pen, may be
one of the keys:
|At least 80 percent of the money spent on schools is for personnel.
In Oregon, school costs were driven up by rising teacher salaries during
a decade when revenue from property taxes was restricted by voter-approved
limits. Oregon teachers started the 1990s with an average salary below
the United States as a whole, but raced about 7 percent above the national
average late in the decade, according to the National Education Association.
Since then, however, Oregon educators have slipped
below the average. That's because many of the state's senior,
higher-earning educators were lured into
retirement by high returns on their retirement accounts, leaving
less experienced, lower-paid teachers in the classrooms.
All those retired teachers have pension checks that must be paid
for, and Oregon has a more expensive school employee benefit system
than most other states. In 1999, average benefits for Oregon school
employees added 34 percent of their salary to their compensation package
vs. 25 percent as a national average, federal figures show.
"By and large, the money here in Oregon is going toward salary and
benefits," said Nick Weller, education policy analyst for the Cascade Policy
Institute, a free-market think tank in Portland. "We have made
the choice to have fewer school employees at higher cost."
If the ratio of dollars to students remains the same, the
enrollment drop equals one or two classrooms and none of the schools wash
into the bay, then you only have to lay off one or two teachers. Why would
Tillamook be laying off forty?
Most of you have heard about PERS (the Public Employee
Retirement System). Most of you know that it allows retirement so
early that some government workers are able to start a second career and
work at it long enough to get a second pension from the new job.
(And, whether it is in the contract or not, all retirement pay levels are
related to time on the job and earnings. Thus getting those
salaries up as high as possible, as early as possible, is a good idea.)
The opportunity to double dip discourages experienced
teachers from remaining in the schools. If you could get a fat setup
like this, you'd do the same thing, yourself.
One last item. If you invested some of your retirement
money in the stock market a few years ago, or are a member of a company
or private sector union plan that did, your golden years nestegg
probably took a beating. You don't know the half of it. PERS,
we hear, made similar investments, but according to recent media reports,
Oregon's taxpayers will have to shell out millions to cover a substantial
portion of the loss.
Can you say "sweetheart deal?"
People whose job is to open minds
often have closed ones.
Now, the complaints from Tillamook's educational establishment
are easy to discern from published reports. Two such stories, of
coastal origin, were so favorable to the establishment position that they
have been posted on the Oregon Education Association website. David
Sarasohn's column, segments of which are reproduced above, was in part
based on those two articles.
But, not everything here is about increasing numbers..
One version of why the Wilson school is being closed has
it that the nature of the declining enrollment is such that an imbalance
in age groups will result. Just as a speculative example, the second,
third and fourth grades may have half the usual number and the fifth and
sixth grades a few more students.
This means that some classrooms in that school will be
half empty. Others will be stacked to the ceilings with kids.
Our first reaction is this.
Why can't the ages be mixed in some classrooms? When
it was normal to have mixed age groups in a classroom (the legendary one-room
schoolhouse), the only driveby shootings we got were by Jesse James.
And the presidents we got were Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln
(who also once taught in one).
Other noteworthy figures who attended elementary schools
with mixed-age classrooms (either in a dedicated educational structure
or within a private home) include Albert Einstein, Julius Caesar, Pythagoras,
Isaac Newton, Robert Fulton, Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, Thurgood Marshall,
Henry Clay, Harry Truman, Betsy Ross, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Walt Whitman
and Thomas Paine.
Mixed-age classrooms foster greater socialization.
Lack of socialization is the prime argument teacher organizations offer
against home-schooling, isn't it?
Our second reaction is this.
Generals sacrifice privates, almost always survive the
war, make a lot more money and have nice retirement plans..
This is the first hint I've given you about the theme of
this essay. In a simple phrase, it's "when you're up to your ass
in alligators, it's hard to remember that you were originally working on
a way to drain the swamp."
I think this discussion needs to deconstructed.
There's too much here about too much.
The new math: a Master's
in international marketing is equal to a Master's in elementary education.
According to one of our sources 37 Tillamook area teachers
bit the dust in recent weeks. Oregon job fairs for teachers are all
but empty for the first time in decades and most teachers are heading for
Arizona or California or leaving the profession.
This source calls the claim of a statewide average teachers
salary of $56,000 "crap," and says that most teachers there earn only a
little more than half that. (The actual figures are in the third
Nick Weller of the Cascade Policy Institute has studied
this subject, and says, "In the Metro area, a 1st year teacher with a Master's
degree starts at over $30K/year, and that doesn't include benefits. Benefits
are worth about another 33%, raising that number to around $40K/year."
KUIK conservative radio commentator, Jayne Carroll, who
is so interested in the subject that she watches cable presentations of
school board meetings, reports that top teacher salaries in Portland push
the $60,000 bracket. With 33% benefits added, that's ninety grand..
Tillamook's base pay for teachers is $26,047. Their
highest payscale is $49,908, which pushes fifty grand. To find the
actual compensation, add a third more in benefits.
We decided to see what kind of a life a thousand dollars
less than the minimum, $25,000 a year, would buy for a brand new, beginning
teacher in Tillamook. The Headlight Herald's classified section was
On April 15th, you could get a 2000 SF, 2 bdrm apt.
for $600 mo ($250 cleaning dep.) There are many smaller
places listed in the Tillamook Headlight Herald that go for half that.
The young teacher needs a car?
|1998 Honda Civic DX Hatchback. Black, 75,000 miles. Runs
great and is in great shape. Well cared for by responsible owners. Great
gas mileage. Modern wheels, Sony CD player. As economical as it is sporty-a
great car for the money. Attention parents: this would make a first-rate
graduation gift! $8,500.
The teacher's credit union would charge the young teacher
$375 a month after a thousand dollar down payment, on a two year contract.
Honda makes a fine, practical car. They regularly go for 150,000
miles before they need any serious work. This one would last the
young teacher for three or four years beyond its payoff date.
At $25,000 per year, after taxes, that leaves the new teacher
roughly $625 a month for groceries ($200/mo), car insurance ($150/mo),
utilities ($130/mo) and misc. expenses ($150/mo) like catching a movie,
a couple of tanks of gas, four pairs of sox and a professional pizza.
To have a savings acount, he would need one less bedroom in his apartment
or a car that is two years older.
If the teacher is married, and his wife has a job (even
as a teacher) the family will have two nearly new Hondas, vacations in
Hawaii and a very substantial savings account.
Having once been young, myself, and (at a coastal daily
newspaper) in the company of equally young people who had recently graduated
from college, I know for a fact that the lifestyle described above is more
The very idea that a salary of $25,000 a year, even these
days, is a pittance in that coastal community dismisses the intelligence
of the hearer. Half the workers in Tillamook would be getting a good
raise with a paycheck that size. Only someone in education could
say something as stupidly arrogant as that twenty five grand is an insult.
They do, though, usually making comparisons with the salaries of people
with the same level degrees in other professions.
. If the highest pay level is someone's goal, and they
have a college-sized intellect, they should be able to figure out which
professions pay best, and train for them.
Let's look at some strange staff numbers.
As we outlined at the top, Randy Schild, the Administrator
of the Tillamook school district told us that the current budget (excluding
grant money) is $14.4 million, and the proposed Republican budget cuts
them back to (again excluding income they'll have from grants) $14.2 million.
hundred thousand dollars less.
Up above, you learned that Oregon Magazine was told that 37 teachers
have suffered layoff, recently. At the top of this article, Randy
Schild is quoted as having said that 40 of 300 positions will have to be
Here's what Schild's assistant, Jack Crippen, sent.
|We have officially laid off 20 certified (teachers) and 19 classified
(mostly aides) positions for school year 2002-2003. About half of the
certified have retired or have chosen to move on. I'm not sure all
of them were planning to retire or move on this year. There have also been
a few positions that have been down sized. and a large number of positions
that have been reduced by one to 4 hours.
Why would some teachers go for early retirement when that
obviously means a drop in their income? Because, with PERS,
that's not always how it works out. The husband of a Portland area
school administration assistant told us that under this system, some
teachers who retire get a bigger check.
You read that right. They make more money for not
teaching than they do for teaching.
Anyway, Jack's numbers break things down by position better,
so he's our man. We'll ignore the downsized people and those who have had
their employment hours cut back, and just do the numbers for the teachers,
the uncertified aides and one undesignated additional worker, the latter
two at half the cost of the teachers. Here we go.
20 times the base Tillamook teacher's salary and benefit
package ($26,047 + 33%, or $34,642) equals $692,840. Plus half that
amount for aides and the unidentified worker laid off ($346,420) comes
to more than $1,000,000
It's fair to ask why a district with a budget decrease
of two hundred thousand dollars is getting rid of more than
one million dollars worth of employees. No wonder the classes are
Forget the media estimates of a 14% budget cut, and columnist
Sarasohn's "nearly 10%" reduction. The income decline from the last
state contribution to the new one, using Schild's own numbers, is less
than 1.4%. Do the math yourself on a calculator. Multiply
1.4% times $14,400,000. (1.4%, not 1.4)
Compare the number you get to the $200,000 budget decrease. If Schild's
draconian actions are to be justified, that means $800,000 in additional
expenses have to be found. In an exchange with Superintendent Schild,
we received the following information about cost increases.
|"Our insurance increase, if the same plan is funded next year, will
be approximately $430,000 for the year. We are currently negotiating
with our certified union. We will continue to see increases in utilities,
building care and special programs."
The student population is dropping, there are twenty fewer
teachers, at least twenty additional non-certified employees are gone,
one school is being closed and their insurance costs are going up
by over four hundred thousand dollars? Find another insurance company,
Mr. Schild. Your current one is trying to rape you, your neighbors
and the taxpayers of Oregon.
If Schild actually meant that with the projected increase,
the new insurance package would now cost $430,000 instead of last year's
lower number, whatever that was, he's in even more trouble. Besides
having less of an increase to complain about, he needs to attend a good
class in the construction of English sentences.
Next, the district, he says, is currently negotiating with
the certified (read: teacher's) union. For what? Shorter hours?
Higher salaries? More benefits? They actually expect to get more
during the Kitzhaber Depression, when unemployment is in the neighborhood
of seven percent?
Perhaps, under the circumstances, since their primary
loyalty is to the children, they should be negotiating for a pay cut.
|ABC's news division, with an annual budget of about $500 million,
has been under strict cost restrictions in the last year, eliminating 125
positions, letting some high-profile correspondents such as Sheila MacVicar
and Morton Dean leave, and asking many senior employees to take pay cuts
of as much as 25%.-- Elizabeth Jensen, L.A. Times
Rehire the young ones you just laid off and get rid of
the greedy ones, Randy. You can get two young teachers for
the price of one of those old sharks. If their contract says you
can't do that, break the contract. Any contract that forces the schools
into the condition yours is in deserves to be broken. If the people
of Tillamook won't support you, quit and get a job pumping gas.
Between the insurance company, PERS and the teacher's union,
your neighbors are being ripped off.
Or do you support what's happening?
With two hundred grand less than the last budget
(what, a million less than you wanted?), the only way for your friends
to get a raise is to throw away people who the kids need?
Who did you get rid of? The ones with the least tenure
or those who decided to retire? Both? Then, you discarded (A)
the ones who cost the district the least, and (B) the ones whose pay will
reflect a double loss to the district -- money spent for a teacher who
isn't there. And, if some of those who retired are, like others in the
PERS system, going to make more money than when they were teaching, you've
actually increased expenses by sending them off.
All to finance a salary or benefits increase for those
More money for fewer teachers and larger class sizes,
That's quite a managerial accomplisment.
If this process is developed to its natural conclusion,
the day will come when Tillamook has one retired teacher who receives all
the money, one classroom with two thousand students jammed into it and
an empty desk up by the blackboard. Not an adult in sight to give
the kids their lessons.
No doubt, test scores will go up.
Who are you, Randy Schild? One will always find some
people who complain, but in general we have heard good reports about your
character. Nobody, at least, has told us that you're an incompetent
administrator who has made a mess of things. Or, a smooth talking
con artist riding the storm because you like the action and see the chance
of picking up some serious bucks. Most of what we've heard
has it that you are a good man caught in a trap not of your own making.
Is that possible? Do school district administrators
have so little power that they can do nothing to keep their schools afloat?
Is the only answer ever-increasing funding from the state? Will the
final bill for schools be every dime taxpayers have?
Some interesting student numbers.
There are 2300 K-12 students in the system.
At the $14.2 million budget figure, that's $6,174 each.
We'll ignore the number of U.S. states that would love to have that much
per student. Just consider this: If someone gave you eighteen thousand
dollars to give your three kids lunch and teach them to read, write and
do simple math problems for nine months, could you manage?
And, we are told that warehousing them in giant centralized
facilities is the most cost-efficient way to do the job?
It is a flat fact that since the Republican educational
budget increase is $700 million, and there are 1200 K-12 public schools
in Oregon, the average increase per school if school roster declines were
ignored and the funds equally distributed would be more than one-half million
Per school. One-half million dollars, plus.
(Which according to my sources, based on present operating practices, would
run the Tillamook school district for ten days.)
It boils down to this. While computers
went down in price by a thousand percent, the cost of public education
shot up like a rocket If there's anybody out there who
thinks this system is efficient, he works for Disney. .
Well, that's it. You've seen reports from journalists,
comments from educators and numbers (both income and expense estimates)
from people on both sides. The example we've used here is Tillamook,
but it could have been any one of dozens of such districts all across the
state in both urban and rural areas. From Astoria to Pendleton, from
Portland to Ashland, with few exceptions the story is the same.
Tillamook's administrator, whose own figures tell
us he is facing a budget decline of 1.4%, claims that rising insurance,
maintenance, energy, janitorial and special education costs will
force his district to close facilities and lay off 14% of its employees
to keep the remaining doors open.
We think the true story is otherwise, but If he is dead
on correct, and not just trying to manipulate the public on behalf of ever
fatter salaries and benefits for the top dogs in his district, then the
concept of public schooling as it is presently designed has hit the wall
in that lovely, green land. It's time the people of Tillamook began
to look for some other way to educate their children.
Although some Oregonians are unhappy with the performance
of our system of public schools, particularly with respect to the ideology
teachers promote in their classes, a great many more question the ever-growing
levels of expenditures these institutions devour. Measure 5
would not have passed without a serious undercurrent of public concern
There are limits to how much more people will take before
they begin to seriously cast about for other options. Those limits,
at present, are made out of dollars.
A number of years back, a Catholic Cardinal in New York
(O'Conner?) offered to take over the city's school system and produce kids
who get higher test scores for 50% fewer dollars. (And claimed he
could make a profit even then!)
Unless there's a major alteration in the way both rural
and urban education is managed and delivered, trouble is on the way.
The day will come when the parents of Oregon set aside their abiding love
of political correctness, school visits by witches, homosexual silence
days, multicultural extremism, the trashing of our founding fathers as
racist, sexist pigs, new math and teacher-diagnosed behavioral disorders
requiring amphetamine-based medication -- and decide they like
the idea of getting twice the national test results for half the cost even
if their kids are exposed to hazardous levels of God.
Related commentary: School
cuts spur strike talk
Postscript: After publishing
the above, we ran across a George Will column from late April that
contains observations relevant to the discussion here. Portions of it follow.
|PHOENIX -- Two lawsuits filed here, each responding to the same
problem, neatly illustrate contrasting liberal and conservative responses
to failing elementary and secondary schools. The liberal suit asserts
the rights of the failing party -- the government -- to more money, in
the hope that it will produce satisfactory education, someday.
The conservative suit asserts the rights of those the government
has failed -- students and their parents -- to immediately choose from
a range of ready remedies.
It is unnecessary for at-risk students to suffer additional injury
to their life chances while the state struggles to find extra money and
devise ways to make that money improve the derelict school districts.
Satisfactory instruction can be had right now at numerous private schools.
Arizona has a voucher program to empower special education (mentally handicapped)
students to meet their needs in private schools. At-risk students should
be allowed to make their share of public education funds portable -- to
take it to private schools.
Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice says, "Education is the
most important product that does not come with a money-back guarantee."
What a concept. A conservative one.
© 2002 Oregon Magazine