Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Wrong Solution to This Problem

Most people in the Metroplex have read about the recent revelation that the Dallas Independent School District--yes, the same one that decided to lower its standards a month ago--has found itself with a $64 million shortfall from last year's budget. The district had to tap into its reserve funds to cover that shortfall, and now, on the front page of this morning's paper, the district has told employees to prepare for possible layoffs:
Dallas school employees should brace for layoffs.

School trustees will meet Friday to consider declaring a financial emergency to allow the district to begin cutting staff.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa met with principals and directors Monday and laid out a plan to fix the budget woes. Campus leaders were told to start preparing staff lists to look for excess positions.

The need to cut jobs arose after the Dallas Independent School District used nearly half its reserve fund to cover a $64 million shortfall in the 2007-08 budget. Dr. Hinojosa disclosed the budget hole last week.

Several teachers expressed anger Tuesday over possibly losing their jobs because of the budget problems.
As well they should. Let me come out and make a bold statement here: Not a single teacher should lose his or her job because of this shortfall. The cuts should come from elsewhere; specifically from among the administration.

Why? Here are two good reasons:
  • The teachers didn't cause this mess; the administration did. They should be forced to pay for their own mistakes. It's accountability, plain and simple. Even if a teacher somehow went over budget on something, there are people who oversee those things in the central office, and the buck ultimately stops with them.

  • Teachers are more important to the school district than administrators. Why do schools exist? For teaching. Who's involved with teaching? Teachers (duhh). What should anyone else employed by a school district be doing? Making it easier for teachers to teach and then getting out of their way while they do so. Who is the least important person in the process? The one whose job keeps him or her the greatest distance away from where actual teaching is taking place. And where is that place in most districts? The administration building.
Let's be brutally honest here: If the Associate Vice Superintendent for Curriculum Development in the Northwest Quadrant lost his or her job, nobody would notice besides some family members and maybe the guy down the hall. (And lest you think I'm stating a ridiculous example, the administration of the DISD was profiled a few years ago, and it's pretty much that bad.) On the other hand, if a teacher lost his or her job, a whole bunch of people would notice, especially the students whom the district is supposed to be serving.

And that's the problem here: The upper levels of many school districts suffer from a failure to serve. By and large, people don't do well with power; they lose sight of why they are where they are in the first place and make it all about them. If administrators remained active teachers upon assuming their new duties, there would be less of a chance that their servants' hearts would diminish, as is so often the case now.

If a district is in over its head, financially speaking, it's certainly time to trim the fat. But before a single teacher is let go, they need to make sure that 3700 Ross Avenue (that's the district's headquarters, of course) is 100% fat-free.

Anyone want to bet that this actually happens?

(Yeah, I didn't think so.)

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