Tuesday, May 11, 2010

School Budgets - How to Avoid Cutting so Many Teachers

Over the past few years, one of the hottest topics on Long Island has been school district budgets. Between increased property taxes, budgets being voted down, and teachers being cut left-and-right, no wonder why there is so much controversy.

However, I'm not sure if anyone has taken a true step back to analyze the root problem here:

Too many teachers are being hired.

Now, before I go any further, I want to preface this post by stating that I am 100% pro-teacher. My wife is a teacher, my parents are both retired teachers, my sister-in-law is a teacher, my aunt is a teacher, many of my friends are teachers, and many of my clients are teachers. I know how hard-working teachers are and I wish there were more teaching positions out there so that there wouldn't be so many amazing teachers who find themselves unemployed or underemployed.

That being said, the root economic problem that these school districts are creating is that they are hiring too many teachers to begin with.

When you are able to cut 6, 8, 10, 18 teaching positions from a district (which usually amounts to .5 - 2 positions per school when you really analyze the numbers) and still operate business-as-usual without any noticeable changes, the question remains, "why did we need these extra 6, 8, 10, 18 teachers in the first place?"

Obviously, the answer is, "the taxpayers were willing to give us a bigger budget to play with, so we spent every penny and then hired additional teachers with the surplus funds." A more prudent solution would have been to only hire those teachers that were needed and to place those surplus funds into a reserve account that could be used in future years when the budget is tight.

Obviously, the districts like having as much manpower at their disposal as possible. However, when you hire 10 teachers in year one and then cut 8 of those teachers in year two, you just damaged the lives of 8 teachers. Had you not hired them in the first place, they would have been motivated to send out resumes and potentially gotten hired by a district that needed them and that planned to offer them a long-term position. Instead, they spent the year happily employed and felt secure in their new position, only to have the rug pulled out from under them just 10 short months later. I would estimate that 2-3 out of those 8 teachers also bought their first house during their first year of employment, locking themselves into a 30-year mortgage with $3k-$4k monthly mortgage payments only to now find themselves at the end of the school year with no job and no foreseeable way of making those monthly mortgage payments.

Teachers don't want to lose their jobs.
Taxpayers don't want to be responsible for teachers losing their jobs.
Taxpayers don't want to pay unnecessary taxes.

School districts need to stop this revolving door policy of 1-year and 2-year teaching careers, stop cutting 6, 8, 10, 18 teaching positions during tight-budget years, and start running their districts more like a business.

Solution - In years when money is flowing freely, hire only those teachers that you need and put any excess funds into a reserve account. In years when money is tight, use those reserve funds to save the jobs of the teachers that you need.

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