Plum School Board Caves

After a May vote to hold the line on taxes and spending that would have led to 23 staff layoffs, the Plum School Board made a sharp U turn and approved a budget June 26th that raises taxes and uses nearly a million dollars of its reserves in order to save most of the jobs previously slated for elimination. All this with no concessions from the union. Remember the principal causes of the budget crisis are the additional million dollars or so required for teacher pensions and the cost of living increases for teachers.

The board has done what governing bodies have done for years: kick the can down the road. Assuming the pension payment is about the same next year and teacher cost of living increases are about the same, the budget shortfall will be back. Only next year the reserves will be too low to allow another million dollars to be tapped to close the shortfall. Than will mean going to the state for an exception to the allowable tax rate hike or a referendum to ask for permission to boost taxes for a second straight year. Alternatively, but highly unlikely, they might decide it is time to make the staff reductions needed to prevent more tax hikes.

One thing is for sure: as long as they are taking guidance from the union and the students who do not have to pay the bills, the board will keep making bad decisions that will come back to haunt them later. Leaving the May vote in place would have accomplished two important things. It would have dealt fairly with taxpayers and precluded next year’s budget angst. Secondly, it would have sent a strong signal to the union that the board will be very hardnosed at the next round of contract talks.

One thing we have learned in recent years is that school boards operate by and large on the dictates of the teacher unions. This episode proves once gain how powerful the union is and how little taxpayers are considered when spending and taxing decisions are made.

Plum taxpayers (and others across the state) will now begin to learn the reality of the underfunded pension mess as it appears the state is in no mood to make the serious reforms that will reduce the unfunded liabilities.

Pittsburgh School Board Election

In the school board election there have been many of the same old, same old nostrums offered up by the candidates. We need more money, let’s go after the non-profits. This in a school district that spends well over $20,000 per student and has little to show for it in terms of academics. This in a school district with a "Promise program" that offers scholarship money to virtually everyone who graduates. Yet school enrollment keeps falling and preparation for college languishes at abysmal levels. If money were the answer, Pittsburgh schools would be among the best.

There was one comment from a candidate that has a lot of potential. The candidate suggests changing union contacts to remove the overweening influence of seniority on personnel decisions and presumably on pay-although that was not explicitly stated.

There is little question that for too long teachers and the so called educrats who have been in charge have neglected the wellbeing of students, their parents and taxpayers in favor of political correctness, liberal ideologies and self- preservation of the employees and bureaucrats. The citizens of Pittsburgh and the taxpayers from across Pennsylvania who cover about half the cost of the school system deserve better.

Bethel Park Superintendent Seems Confused About Responsibility

Lamenting the inability of the Bethel Park School District to get a contract with teachers for the last two and half years, the superintendent says she has been silent until now because she is in a " peculiar position of advising the Board and leading the staff."

Hold the phone. Does the Board not hire superintendents to manage the schools on behalf of the residents and taxpayers of the district? That being the case, the superintendent is honor bound to work for the board and taxpayers. Staff members do not pay her salary, they answer to her as the board’s appointed agent in charge.

Clearly, she has the obligation to advise the board on what it should do vis-à-vis the teachers’ contract but her obligation has to be first and foremost to the board. She can be an advocate for programs that improve education or management procedures that improve cost effectiveness. At the same time, she is not, and should never consider herself, to be a spokesperson for the union’s interests. The union has enough power on its side in the bargaining process including the right to strike and the state’s idiotic no layoffs for financial reasons provisions.

If the talks are at an impasse, and compensation costs cannot be lowered under the terms of the old contract, the superintendent should offer suggestions about programs to cut-one of two criteria the state permits for reducing staff. Alternatively, if teachers will not agree to slight increases in class size to save their jobs, then the onus must be on their union for staff that lose their jobs because of intransigence.

The Bethel Park board should question whether the superintendent understands her role.

School Bored?

The advocacy group A+ Schools has produced its annual report card on how well the Pittsburgh Public Schools leadership-the nine member elected school board-handles itself. Overall, the board got a B-: on components of the grade they received a B- for conduct (down from a B last year), a C+ for clarity, B- for competency, and B+ for transparency. These last three grades were unchanged from last year.

Perhaps the most eye-opening grade was a C for time management, a downgrade from last year’s B- which was due partially to "The ‘excessively long" meetings’-some lasting more than four hours" according to the group’s director.

If the board was spending hours on end trying to figure out how to improve performance, encourage competitive options for parents seeking to better their child’s education, or how to reduce the massive per-pupil expenditures, then excessively long meetings might be in order.

Ultimately, the best barometer for the board’s performance could be tied to one indicator: enrollment in the District. And on that measure (enrollment has fallen from 32% since the start of the decade and significantly outpaces the overall decline in City population) there can be no above-average grade.