Friday the Allegheny Institute participated in a hearing on school district mergers and consolidations to examine whether PA should downsize the total district count of 500 to something smaller and if such a downsizing would save money without affecting academic performance. The administration likes the number 100, but offered no real explanation as to why that number was selected. The bulk of the work on this matter would fall to an appointed commission to weigh the costs and benefits and determine a course of action.
A good place to start is to look at what other states with independent school districts (defined by the Census as districts with independently elected officials and not subordinate to some other governing body) have done with district counts in recent years, 1992-2002. Of the 45 states with independent districts, 9 saw an increase in the number of districts, 12 made no change in the time frame, and 24 reduced the number of districts, with four of those states (NE, MT, MA, and OR) making reductions that amounted in the neighborhood of 30% or so.
Naturally, questions arise: why did some states increase the district count? How did they do it? In states with reductions, were they voluntary, mandatory, or both? What did the changes do for non-instructional personnel counts and costs? Was there any effect on school performance or other aspects of education, such as travel, community pride, or advanced programs?
School districts across Pennsylvania are struggling to raise the revenue necessary to cover expenses and it promises to get even worse as the recession lingers. Many are hoping their teacher unions will agree to make contract concessions to cut expenses and stave off tax increases that will be ruinous in the current economic environment.
The response of James Testerman, president of the PSEA? Quoted in a Tribune Review article he said; "We expect contracts that are in place to be honored." How contemptuous of the plight of taxpayers. Testerman knows full well that school districts cannot furlough teachers unless there is a substantial drop in enrollment and even then it is difficult. So, while his union has the luxury of facing no layoffs, he can insist also that the pay or benefits be raised as the current contract provides.
Is there any wonder Pennsylvania is one of the slowest growing states in the nation? The attitude of the teacher unions and other public sector unions is completely out of touch with economic reality. They have the political clout to insulate themselves from market forces private sector employees must take into account.
But beyond the arrogance that comes from their control over the Legislature from whence their power derives, the attitude of the teacher union president is one of breathtaking coldness toward the public and taxpayers. The folks who pay their salaries are apparently viewed as adversaries for whom no respect is allowed.
And students must learn from these union teachers? What messages honor and decency are they receiving?