Friday, June 26, 2009

Appointed Boards of Education?

This is going to be another of those long, seemingly rambling posts in which I (hopefully) tie together various education topics to make a larger, albeit familiar, point.

Back on 11 June, I caught the weekly Athens News Matters program on WUGA radio, our local NPR affiliate. The program, hosted by WUGA news director Mary Kay Mitchell, featured executive editor Jason Winders and editorial editor Jim Thompson of the Banner-Herald, and Flagpole editor Pete McCommons.

One of the duo from the daily newspaper – sorry, I do not recall which – noted that the per pupil spending for the Clarke County School District was “somewhere around $10,000.” Actually, the figure for FY 2008 was $11,180.05, which places the CCSD in about the 95th percentile of school systems statewide in terms of per pupil expenditures; this underestimate amounted to a not insignificant 11.8%. Folks from One Press Place should cite such figures correctly, as they routinely lift them from this humble blog.

Of course, the trio repeated without critical examination the shibboleth that the CCSD has had to increase its portion of the local property tax millage rate because of state budget cuts. Hardly. The problem here in Clarke County is that education spending has increased at a truly breathtaking pace over the past several years; it is true that the state’s contribution to the CCSD’s total budget has decreased in relative terms to that of local funds – but this is a function of local spending increasing to such a great degree irrespective of the sources of its funding. If state budget cuts necessarily resulted in increased millage rates on the part of local school districts, that phenomenon would have been apparent and consistent across the state for a long time. That, demonstrably, has not been the case.

Of more interest to me, however, was a idea put forth by Mr. McCommons, who suggested that members of the Clarke County Board of Education be appointed rather than elected. His position was that the current Board was “lacking in credibility” and needed to be changed due to not pursuing a local referendum so as to exceed the 20 mills limit imposed by the state Constitution in the absence of such a vote. In other words, elected Board members should be replaced with appointed members because the former are not spending enough money.

This assertion startled me. While I firmly believe that some members of the Board are in over their depth and need to be replaced, the idea that they should be sacked because they have not shown a willingness to spend money in a profligate manner is patently absurd.

An aside for the nerdy types out there. The current method of selecting Board members and school system superintendents, by election and appointment respectively, derives from a 1996 amendment to the state Constitution (Article VIII, Section V, Paragraphs II and III); for the legislative details see O.C.G.A. (Title 20, Chapter 2, Article 3, Sections 51 and 56).

The problem is that we have tried overspending for a long time . . . and it does not work worth a damn. As yet another proof of that, the CCSD’s CRCT scores for 2009 are out, the results of which were as predictably poor as those of its high school graduation tests released a few weeks ago.

Below are the CCSD’s "did not meet standard" scores for the three grade levels covered in the Banner-Herald article, followed by the corresponding figures for the state at large (as I recall, ELA stands for English/Language Arts):

Third grade
Reading 21.2% (state average 12.0%)
ELA 22.0% (state average 13.5%)
Math 30.4% (state average 22.1%)
Science 27.2% (state average 20.3%)
Social Studies 30.6% (state average 24.0%)

Fifth grade
Reading 22.5% (state average 12.1%)
ELA 17.0% (state average 8.7%)
Math 32.0% (state average 20.7%)
Science 32.4% (state average 24.0%)
Social Studies 47.1% (state average28.8%)

Eighth grade
Reading 13.3% (state average 7.3%)
ELA 16.4% (state average 8.2%)
Math 42.6% (state average 29.9%)
Science 54.8% (state average 35.6%)
Social Studies 48.2% (state average 37.4%)

So, even though the CCSD spends far more that the state average on education, its CRCT scores for the five areas measured in these three grades come in at an astounding 0 for 15 insofar as exceeding the state average is concerned – and we want to change the method of selecting Board members because they don’t waste enough money now?

Finally, see this commentary by Cal Thomas in the Washington Times. He observes that the concept of higher expenditures necessarily resulting in higher academic achievement is demonstrably false; though his examples concern specific situations where increased spending was the result of judicial mandates, the principle is applicable generally as well. Of course, I’ve been making this same point at the local level for some years now – to no avail whatsoever.

Here in self-consciously progressive Athens-Clarke County, the proposed solution to any given problem, be it real or perceived, is either more government or more money (or better yet, a combination thereof). The fact that we have years of experience that reveal this approach as sheer folly matters not a whit – actual results are irrelevant, ideology is all that matters. You know, kind of like what is happening up in D.C. these days.

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1 comment:

GES said...

Nice links to GA Constitution in re elected BOE ...
Apparently, this would mean local areas cannot appoint BOE members, but must elect them. Personally, I am a little frightened that the ACC BOE will INDEED seek a referendum to get around the 20 mil cap; no doubt many of our local voters would support anything for "the children," while ignoring the ineffectiveness of higher spending. In the long run, though, I'd imagine there will be a growing backlash against the property tax when you begin to see more and more homes sold-off to pay the tax bill. Sure, McCommons' represents the local intelligencia with all its liberal bells and whistles, and like a lot of similar advocates, his name is nowhere to be found, as far as I can see, on the property tax database.