The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly


Now that State Question 779 has failed there is a lot of talk about a teacher pay raise being front and center in the upcoming legislative session.  That is a good thing but is also a real challenge in face of yet another looming revenue shortfall, a state constitution that requires a three-fourths majority in both houses to increase revenue (thanks to SQ 640 enacted as revenge for House Bill 1017; see my 9/5/2016 post “Once Upon A Time”), and a legislature populated with limited-thinkers who have systematically slashed our state’s tax base believing that would somehow fix all of our problems.  I wish the legislature success; we need to take care of our teachers.  It will take bold action and big ideas to get it done.  One place the legislature should NOT look to for big ideas to fund a teacher pay raise is the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.  In prior posts I have analyzed and critiqued three of their big ideas which I call the Glib, the Bad and the Ugly. 

The Glib is for the proposal by Dave Bond, CEO of OCPA Impact, whatever that may be, which I addressed over three posts:  8/31/2016 Waiting for Dave Bond, 9/3/2016 Something Special, and 10/4/2016 Done Waiting for Mr. Bond.  The applicable definition of “glib” is “said or done too easily or carelessly; showing little preparation or thought”.   In summary Dave Bond appeared on statewide television, KOTV’s two-hour special program “Educate Oklahoma” and told Scott Thompson and us that due to recent legislation $100 million in savings on employee health insurance would soon be available for teacher pay raises.  Upon examination of the legislation the $100 million he promised is available simply vanished into his own glibness and, I presume, his ignorance of state employee health insurance reality.  So forget about advice from limited-thinker Dave Bond who just makes stuff up.

The Bad is for the proposal by Steve Anderson, OCPA Research Fellow, in his post “Why Are School Districts Sitting On So Much Cash?”, which I addressed over two posts:  8/10/2016 Where to Begin? and 8/11/2016 Paradox of Thrift.  The applicable definition of “bad” is “of poor quality; inferior or defective”.  Mr. Anderson’s illuminating “research” consisted of spending a little time on the State Department of Education’s website and totaling up all the June 30 cash balances for Oklahoma school districts at $1.9 billion.  The clear message from Anderson to limited thinkers in the legislature is there is plenty of money already available for teacher pay raises or any other education priority so quit thinking about it and just do it.  As I point out in my posts if Mr. Anderson would do real research, instead of just reporting simple arithmetic, he would understand that on June 30 each year school districts are contractually obligated for most of their teachers’ salaries for the ensuing fiscal year but are not required to “encumber” those amounts due to a constitutional exemption and State Department of Education accounting standards.  If these amounts were encumbered on June 30 then I suspect all of the “unencumbered cash” Mr. Anderson reports is available would disappear from school districts’ general fund balances.  The “unencumbered cash” in other funds cannot lawfully be used for teacher salaries and, even if fund balances are available, using one-time funding for annually recurring expenditure increases is not smart budgeting (for example, just because you have $500 in the bank to cover the first month’s rent increase doesn’t mean you can upgrade to a new apartment where the monthly rent is $500 more than you currently pay).  So forget about advice from limited-thinker Steve Anderson whose “research” is so defective it does not provide useful information upon which to develop financial policy.

The Ugly is for the reports by Benjamin Scafidi referenced by OCPA Senior Vice President Brandon Dutcher in a couple of blog posts which I addressed in my posts on 9/5/2016 Once Upon A Time, 10/11/2016 A Dirge for a Surge and 10/25/2016 Purging the Surge.  The applicable definitions of “ugly” are “frightful, dire”; and “likely to cause inconvenience or discomfort”.   Mr. Scafidi’s research documents that the increase in public school district employees across the country over the past 50+ years has greatly outpaced the increase in the number of students.  Further it documents that the increase in the number of “Administrators and other Non-Teaching Staff” has outpaced the increase in the number of teachers.  This leads Scafidi and Dutcher to the conclusion, duh, that if school districts will simply lay off enough non-teaching personnel that will free up funding for a teacher pay raise.  Unlike Mr. Bond’s fictional $100 million and using Mr. Anderson’s exaggerated one-time cash fund for recurring expenditures, the Scafidi/Dutcher plan can actually work.  Of course their plan at the outset understates the numbers of “Administrators and other Non-Teaching Staff” that will need to be laid off and they have not shared what actual work that is done by these school employees that should be eliminated or shifted to other personnel (teachers, get ready to drive buses and clean your classrooms).  The clear implication by leading with “Administrators” is that the growth in “administration” is where the waste is.   My educated guess is real research would demonstrate that even if you eliminate every non-mandated certified administrative position (picture a 1000 student high school with no assistant principal) AND paid the remaining certified administrators off the teacher pay scale in Oklahoma, there still would not be adequate funding available for a $5,000 teacher pay raise.  So let’s see the legislature do the hard work to determine that students living within 3 miles of their school will no longer have bus transportation, that early childhood programs will have classes of 20+ students without any teacher assistants and that school classrooms will not be cleaned daily unless the teacher does it.  It can work but it will be dire, discomforting or inconvenient at best.

Lunch is on me if you are the first to identify the location of the photo above.