Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mixed Messages on Amendment: Getting it Right might mean getting it later.

At the same time that I'm feeling the push for a signature campaign on the proposed Education Amendment, others are getting the impression that backers want to throw in the towel for 2007. Reasons, in my opinion, to wait for '08:

1) I don't think they're going to get enough signatures.
2) Even if they do get enough signatures, I don't think it'll pass in November.
3) Changing plans now looks like strategy. Changing plans in August looks like failure.
4) Me personally, I'd like to see a rewrite.

There are some pretty cynical takes on this amendment, and I've endorsed some of them myself. Local blogger (and frequent BB commenter) Paul believes that the amendment is an attempt by unions to preserve perpetual salary increases in the face of budget constraints. In his argument, staff salaries act like entitlement programs do at the federal level, creating mandated expenditure increases that dwarf any possible discretionary cuts elsewhere. I'm not really doing his argument justice (so you should let him lay it out for you), but that's partially because I don't completely buy it. If the unions are doing that, they had better think carefully about assigning the role of determining the costs of the individual components of a high quality education to a state level commission with which they have no apparent legal authority to bargain directly. On the other hand, I don't doubt that doubling per-pupil revenue in some districts will give the union a much better bargaining position. As always, feel free to straighten me out in the comments when I'm just plain wrong.

The other cynical take on the amendment, which I've put out there in conversations, either has some basis or has blossomed independently elsewhere, as it was mentioned by a panelist at the forum last week. That one contends that the goal was not necessarily to pass the amendment, but to scare the bejesus out of the Republican legislature with the thought that it might pass, forcing them to actually work with Strickland on a compromise comprehensive funding reform package.

In order for that to work, you have to actually scare the bejesus out of the legislature. I'm not sensing any real fear. That's where my reasons, 1-4, are coming from. I hope they do walk it back for now.

1 comment:

Paul said...


Once again, thanks for the citation. While I understand your comments re my position on the amendment, you've shaded it a little differently that I might.

Like you, I live in one of the more affluent school districts. Unlike yours, the school district I live in is growing rapidly, and that difference is significant. The existing funding mechanisms in districts like ours aren't working because incremental houses bring much more incremental cost than incremental revenue. This is exacerbated by the State of Ohio choosing to cap its contribution to our funding. We really need impact fees to fix this, but the developers' lobby squashed the bill sponsored by our state rep (Larry Wolpert) in the last General Assy. So the only choice we have is to continue passing local levies. Our next one is apt to huge -- increasing our taxes on the order of 40%.

So part of my position comes from the selfish perspective that the current state funding mechanism is providing less and less to us, and I'm relatively sure the new one will be even worse. I am critical of my own district leadership because they have endorsed the amendment, thinking it will do better. I think this is a foolish conclusion.

Secondly, the amendment takes away local control from the voters in a school district. As long as our schools perform at or above state standards, it should be up to us locally to decide how much we want to spend above and beyond the minimum required to sustain that level of performance. Under the amendment, a state-level commission will get to decide how much we and every other district spends (understanding that we can augment it with local levies), and since 85% or more of the spending is salaries, that commission will be effectively setting staffing levels and salary levels.

In every post and comment on this amendment, I make the point of saying that there are school systems in this state which are truly underfunded and that I have no problem sending more tax dollars to fix that.

But there are also school systems which are a train wreck, and more money won't help. Columbus Public is a primary example. The problems in the urban core schools are something completely different, brought about by the purposeful resegratation of our cities in the 1980s.

I think they way we turn around the urban school districts is with a for-real voucher system (which is NOT what we currently have in Ohio), although consolidating to a metro/county school system with open enrollment (any kid can attend any school) is almost the same thing. I prefer vouchers because I don't think a bigger bureaucracy is necessarily the right most efficient way to attack this problem, but it may be the less painful political choice.

As far as the amendment and teachers' unions, a recent Dispatch Article noted that the Ohio Education Association has committed $2.7 million to support the amendment, and is relying on "district officials and teachers' unions to gather signatures."

'nuff said.