Friday, February 2, 2007

Consolidate This!

By Chuck McKay

If anyone thinks the Baldacci Administration’s plan to consolidate school districts will actually save money in the long run, please insert the following information into your brain and press “liquefy.”

Sure, they predict a savings of $250 million or so right off. But it won’t take long for the savings to become extinct (or, as we say in the education business, “to go the way of the lottery-proceeds-for-schools idea”).

The consolidation plan assumes that reducing the number of superintendents to 26 will mean 125 or so former superintendents wandering around looking for other work, rather than continuing to be relatively highly paid educators.

Right. Can you imagine your local superintendent of schools, sitting on a bench downtown, playing a guitar in hopes of passers-by dropping spare change into his cap, temporarily boosting his otherwise crushed spirit? That would be fantastic! I am suddenly 100 per cent in favor of consolidation!

Except that’s not what will happen. Instead, current school administrators will assume new, re-named assistant positions making almost the same amount of money. You’ll have giant school districts full of Assistant Curricular Coordinating Directive Superintendents and Administrative Special Education Director Liaisons for Coordinating the Curriculum, each with at least one secretary.

In ten years, these 26 districts will have engorged themselves in a gluttonous fit of hiring that will make each of them larger and more powerful than the entire state government. Or they will, God forbid, go on an uncontrollable binge of spending on resources for the actual children.

What stops them from doing this now is the angry mob that shows up at annual town meetings, fueled by rumors started by guys with no teeth named Bob or Earl who walked into the school one day and counted a few too many suits or newfangled computers for their liking. These periodic, indiscriminate tax revolts, more common in the smaller towns of Eastern Maine, keep local school boards honest (read: petrified) and frugal.

But once school districts consolidate, suddenly the angry mob may have to travel a ways to have its voice heard. Who wants to carry a torch and a pitchfork 30 miles? Sure, each town may have a local representative, who will have to limp his or her burned and bruised body to a meeting in some other town, where his or her vote may be one of dozens.

Adding a buffer between citizen and government action reduces accountability. (Augusta ought to be proof enough of that; people pay about as much attention to Augusta as they do to the new season of Survivor.) Less accountability means less incentive to keep taxes down and more incentive to hire a personal masseuse and budget it under “central office supplies.”

Meanwhile, Baldacci claims to be targeting the fat cat administrators; he’s less vocal about the fact that his plan calls for reducing the number of teachers in Maine. He wants to increase the statewide average student-teacher ratio to the national average of about 17:1. So instead of Sandy Ervin performing on the park bench, you’ll have a chance to hear the acoustical stylings of Little Johnny’s Favorite Science Teacher and his Quartet of Ed-Techs.

Another reason to feel great about the future of public education in Maine.


1 comment:

Jodi Renshaw said...

Thank goodness for homeschooling! But still sad for public education ....

~ Isaac's Mommy