Last night, after we all shoveled some rotisserie chicken and boxed Mac n’ cheese in our mouths, I kissed my husband, who had I seen for approximately 20 minutes that day, and ran out to the local Board of Ed meeting.
I am a regular attendee of our town’s BOE meetings. At those meetings, I often get ideas for articles and even get the whispers of a coming story that puts me ahead of my competitors. I was one of the first to write about the opt-out testing movement, because I went to the meetings and watched parents up in arms.
But I also go, because it’s good fun. There’s always some drama.
I rarely speak up at the microphone during the open public sessions, except when the topic turns to special education, though I have to say that I really love public speaking. I’ve been asked to run for the BOE, so I could do this more regularly, but at this point, I’ve got enough on my plate with Ian’s education and my articles. I keep saying no.
Last night’s meeting was about the hotly contested school budget. The entire Village council was there last night, so I got a double dose of politics. I left the meeting after three hours at around 10:30. The meeting was still going on. Most people would think a budget meeting would be dreadfully dull, but I loved it. It gives the inside scoop on a whole bunch of education debates.
When the powerpoint slide turned to the pie chart showing where money was allocated, they showed a Pac Man shaped size wedge — nearly 80 percent — that was the allocation towards salaries and benefits. Nearly all of the money goes to the teachers. Teachers salaries and benefits are fixed costs. And with tenure, they are permanent fixed costs. That leaves about several on-a-diet wedges for things like capital improvements, clubs, new curriculum, and so on.
In the meantime, people from the town council and from the public got up to the mike to complain about local property taxes. which are the highest in the nation. They say they feel oppressed by local taxes and want the school district to shrink its $34 million budget.
There have been many stories about the low pay of teachers this year, but they’ve left out this part of the puzzle. Taxpayers don’t want to pay for it.
In the meantime, there’s growing pressure to do more with less. The only way to keep educating kids without raising taxes is to attack that Pac-man pie slice, teachers’ salaries.
So, what’s going to happen? It could be that the problem could just go away, as the school-aged population drops and teachers retire without replacement. The job of teaching could be outsourced to community colleges (it’s happening) or to a computer (that’s happening, too). Or grassroots movement against taxes will be strong enough to overcome union power.
I have no idea. But I’ll be in the back row of the administrative building watching it unfold.