We live in strange times. People are getting hit with serious inflation; they are feeling the pain at the diner and the supermarket. But, at the same time, people are resigning from their jobs in droves. Yet, you would think that if people needed more money to buy milk and gas for their cars, they would hold on to their jobs. My guess is that those jobs were so terrible that they really had no impact on their family’s bottom line, so losing that income doesn’t matter.
Right now, schools are getting slammed by both forces at the same time. Any school board member will tell you that there is very, very little fat on a school budget. Three-quarters of the budget goes towards teachers’ salaries and benefits. The rest has to cover everything from heating bills to band uniforms. So, this double hit of resignation and inflation could bust public education permanently.
The Great Resignation impacts schools in an unexpected way. Teachers aren’t resigning, but substitute teachers, lunch aides, special education aides, and bus drivers are. Those jobs have traditionally been done by mothers, who have been forced to take those jobs, because they need flexible jobs that conform to the school year. What other job can you get if you need to be home over the summer and be back by 3:00? None. Schools have taken advantage of women for years to do this grunt work. They paid them minimum wage and as part time employees, so they didn’t have to provide benefits.
Schools are also saving on labor costs by hiring therapists and special ed professionals from outside agencies, so they don’t have to pay them benefits and deal with a tenured bad-egg. This is the adjunctification of public education, but that’s a topic for another day.
For years, moms, who put themselves on the substitute list, have sat around waiting for a call from the school district at 6am. If they get a call, they have to dash out, take abuse from teenagers, and get a $100 paycheck. If they don’t get a call, they put away their work clothes and don’t get paid. Surprisingly, women aren’t willing to do that anymore. They stopped doing it during the pandemic, and are finding that they don’t miss the money or the grief. So, schools have to hire permanent staff with higher salaries and benefits.
And then inflation is hitting schools, too. Heating bills are going to go up. School books are going to cost more. Everything from printer paper to toilet paper are going to cost more. Taxpayers, who are feeling a crunch, will vote down any tax increases.
Government just gave schools fat checks to deal with the problems with remote education. How are schools spending that money? Are they spending on tutoring and summer school to help kids struggling with learning lag? Or are they using that money to deal with the coming budget crisis. Is the money going to be used to keep the lights on in the buildings? And what’s going to happen when the money dries up in two years?
Of course, I want the federal COVID money to go to the kids. They’ve been through hell and need help. Kids first. But the school budget crisis can’t be avoided and will involve some seriously unpopular cuts.