Unworkable "solutions"

This letter is in response to a Dispatch Op-Ed column published Wednesday, January 25th.

Dear Ms. Smith,

Your January 25 Dispatch column starts by lamenting “More and more money, a lot of tinkering, constant reforms and so little change,” and worrying because “The recession and state budget woes set off alarms, warning that many education needs can’t be met if we keep this up.” But then your suggestions are in large part old suggestions, unworkable, or expensive.

Year-round school, four-day school weeks, education via technology, state-leveraged purchases (buses, etc.), “best practices”/reports, and prefab buildings (“trailers”) have all been around for a while. And who will pay for the air conditioning needed for year-round school? How much expensive investment will techno-ed require if it is broadly applied in all schools? And many schools already temporarily use prefab classrooms to address population fluctuations.

You mention exempting prevailing wage. So, is it a new idea to pay for tax cuts by taking it out of working people’s income? You complain about “More and more money,” but apparently money taken from workers doesn’t count. Your suggestions don’t really seem to be against spending money. How will orphanages be paid for? Don’t you think that eliminating grade levels would require greater expenditures on personnel, software, and planning/ oversight? Do you agree with the governor that this could all be paid for by effectively eliminating collective bargaining for educational employees?

Statewide collective bargaining for salary or salary and fringes would be interesting. Do you actually think the well-to-do suburban schools would reduce their present levels to some overall average? Would the state raise all poor schools to the level of Upper Arlington, or even to a state-average level? We already have a ridiculously low minimum salary schedule.

Moreover, collective bargaining involves many more IMPORTANT aspects beyond salary, such as working conditions, fair and professional treatment, due process in discipline, sensible educational policy, and more. How would a state-level bargaining entity deal with such questions coming from over six hundred districts? Either the local boards would have to deal with this – eating up much of the “savings” – or you intend that such matters would no longer be considered. If the latter, then you would diminish the profession.

Without these options teachers have no way to demand respect, no real way to help mold policy, no way to counteract prejudice, nepotism, vendettas, foolish board policy, and other matters that harm teachers, students, and the educational process.

You end with: “Ohio can either greatly increase systemwide productivity or continue to rely on more local taxes, more district cuts and doing less with less.” Are those the only options? Why are you willing to frame the options as increase local taxes and make district cuts versus taking needed funds out of workers’ standard of living (I know: part of it – you think – would come from “productivity”)– but you don’t even mention calling for higher, progressive taxes to “stop the cuts in important areas such as preschool, the arts and foreign languages”? Is this any different from Tea Party types who MUST balance the budget by cutting the safety net but won’t touch taxing millionaires?

Finally, I am shocked by your asking a Republican governor and legislature, which supposedly hates “big government,” “Tzars,” and the federal Department of Education, to set up a “a board, which would have authority over early childhood, elementary, secondary and higher education, and could make the system function more cohesively.” What happened to “local control”? And even if local boards continue to exist in some form, isn’t this super board, as conservatives like to say, “just another level of worthless, expensive bureaucracy”?

All in all, I don’t think Einstein would be pleased with your column. It doesn’t seem that different from the same old easy (to say) fixes and politically oriented silver bullets. Much of it is entirely impossible to implement - for political and economic reasons; some cannot be universally or properly implemented; some is destructive of a valuable profession.

And your selection of types to serve on the “expert panel” is astounding: “certified public accountants, economists, futurists and technologists and perhaps be chaired by Ohio’s state auditor.” These are the “experts” – not one of them is connected to education in any way. None of them is qualified to understand education! Clearly, you are looking at money, not the education of kids. Would you make the same recommendation regarding a medical practice “expert panel” and keep everyone connected to medicine off the panel? Maybe, if you worked for a health insurance company.

Education doesn’t change because the power structure won’t deal with the real problems and people who have a public platform make proposals like yours that serve the power structure.

Yours - Tom Harker
Retired School Teacher.