kitchen table math, the sequel: cranberry on public school choice

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

cranberry on public school choice

cranberry wrote:
Which of the town's employees or elected officials have a long term interest in keeping town finances in check? In controlling school spending? In our town, the superintendent sets the budget. The school committee presents the budget to the town. They can give the superintendent guidance as to what they wish to see preserved, but they aren't making decisions about hiring and firing staff. They can fire a superintendent who doesn't follow their desires, but that's a very blunt instrument. There's no guarantee that the next superintendent will choose to anger all the other pressure groups in the school system for the good of the students and town budget.

The average superintendent's time in office lies between 2.4 and 6 years. So, a newly hired superintendent arrives in a district, and discovers how this district functions. He fires or transfers the people he can't work with, and transfers or hires people he can work with. They propose changes to the system. For the changes to work, the teachers must agree with them and implement them. By the time the changes are being implemented, he may very well be interviewing for his next job. The structure of the system works against long-term planning.

Parents support larger school budgets because one avoids the need to decide between competing interest groups within the system. By filling all buckets, a little of the overflow might improve things for the average students, the kids who do not have defenders within the system, other than the teachers. The typical kids are often shunted into as many study halls as possible, because that's the only way the budget will balance.

Allowing funding to follow the student would give the parents of typical kids more negotiating power with schools. "If I like your program, your budget expands by $6,000. By the way, I have 8 friends who like the thought of foreign language classes in elementary school. Hmm, study halls instead? Well, I could drive 25 minutes in the opposite direction. That principal offers Latin and Saxon math."

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