I understand that North Carolina school systems will have to make some potentially hard decisions if state lawmakers don’t give them wiggle room on class-size caps in grades K-3. But it seems to me the schools’ default response to unfunded state mandates is the worst-case scenario, and I have to wonder if it’s true that the only response is always the worst case.
Across North Carolina, school leaders appear increasingly worried that legislators won’t let them exceed caps on class size in the lowest grades. And as if reading from the same script, school leaders from the mountains to the coast are saying they will have to cut art, music and PE teachers if state lawmakers don’t offer money along with their mandate.
Perhaps that’s true, perhaps the schools would have no other alternative. But I’ve been around long enough to know that, politically, threatened cuts to classroom positions engender the greatest sympathy, the greatest parent ire, the greatest media attention. So I shouldn’t be surprised when schools offer those cuts first and, usually, exclusively.
But the Johnston County schools, for example. have a budget approaching $250 million, and I have to think the schools here could pay for lower class sizes in at least a few schools without cutting their art, music and physical education teachers. Is there really zero room for cuts in, say, the school system’s central administration, where one salary is often enough to pay for two classroom teachers?
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Maybe so, but I’m skeptical, and I think elected school leaders across North Carolina should be too.
I’m sure Johnston Superintendent Ross Renfrow and his counterparts across North Carolina believe they need all of the central office help they employ. Educating schoolchildren is an increasingly complicated task, subject to oversight, even meddling, by federal bureaucrats, accrediting agencies, even the courts. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t occur to superintendents to look first to their staffs when mulling cuts.
But I am surprised that it never occurs to school boards to look outside the classroom when they have to make spending cuts. Then again, in my experience, most school boards rely too heavily on the hired help, the administrators, for guidance. In a way, I understand that. Again, education is complicated, and many school board members have day jobs that leave them little time to study every issue in detail.
But it would be a mistake for any school board member to believe that the interests of a school system’s administrators are always aligned with those of children and taxpayers. I don’t know that any administrator would be willing to sacrifice his job to spare a classroom teacher. And I don’t know if any administrators would be willing to return to the classroom to save teaching positions. Self-preservation is human nature, so I’m not being critical; I’m just underscoring the point that the interests of administrators and schoolchildren aren’t always the same.
But if I were chairman Mike Wooten and his fellow Johnston school board members, I would have the superintendent offer a convincing defense of every non-classroom position in the schools before I cut the first art, music or PE teacher.
Our children deserve that much