Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Equity and Adequacy for Whom?

Dear Letters Editor:

In his January 21, 2006 letter to the editor (Education overhaul is needed in Ohio), William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, contends that the legislature has failed to correct the state's system of funding public education. He is both wrong and right on this account.

Wrong because studies show, and actual numbers prove, that recent budgets have sent an influx of state funds to lower-wealth school districts. An example: Trimble Local in Athens County, the state's poorest school district, has greater per-pupil revenue and expenditures than wealthy districts such as mine, Olentangy Local in Delaware County. In addition, billions of state funds have built quality buildings in poor districts state-wide.

Phillis is correct when you realize that he is simply fighting for more money. Funding will not cure the ills of a sluggish education system. Adding an additional 10%, 20%, even 50% will not result in achievement gains. How do I know? Because the greater increases have not resulted in improvements over the last 40 years.

Look at my district: We pay counselors and librarians up to $96,000 for a 203 day work year. In addition, these employees get great health care coverage, 15 sick days, 4 personal days and a generous retirement. Providing our district with additional funds will only serve to increase salaries, it will not ensure a better outcome. An additional 10% will result in those same employees making almost $106,000, and nothing else. These salaries are much, much higher than corresponding salaries in the private sector.

I'm using these two job classifications as examples only. All district employees make salaries that are much higher than private sector -- private school -- equivalents.

Under the Phillis education funding ideal, more state funds always leads to the need for more state funds. Once any increase is given away in salaries and benefits, residents will be asked to cough up more. After agreeing to take on additional local property tax mills to support such increases, the education system will cry that the state is not living up to its end of the bargain.

In his world, Phillis is correct that the legislature is not funding his ideal system, nor should it.

As long as the average school employee receives a yearly salary/benefits increase of 6% or so -- far outpacing the private sector -- money will always be in short supply.

Jim Fedako

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