Return of the Surge

Nebraska Capitol in Lincoln; ID’d by Kenneth Cole

As summer draws to a close and with my grandkid Uber driver duties suspended unexpectedly while they are out of town a few days, I took a look to see what’s happening on the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs website—and it wasn’t pretty, but it does give me an opening to complete the San Diego trifecta before summer’s end.  I first wrote about the amazing Slomo in A Rise By Any Other Name.  We actually saw him again this July, for the first time in several visits to Pacific Beach, while we were watching the sunset, hoping for a green flash.  We did not see the flash which I wrote about in my post In A Flash and is the second of the trifecta.  The third happening in the trifecta is to see a grunion run.  More about them in a bit.

Hot off the press on the OCPA’s “Educational Freedom” blog is the title “Oklahoma’s (Missing) $8,872 Teacher Pay Raise”.  It is another iteration of the research done by Benjamin Scafidi about the scandalous fact that school districts nationwide have dared to hire adults to help educate, transport, feed and keep safe our nation’s children.  His newest report is titled “Back-to-the-Staffing-Surge-by-Ben-Scafidi”.  I have dealt with his work in earlier posts, namely a A Dirge for a Surge, Purging the Surge, The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly, and The Ugly Step-Thinker, but like a bad horror movie genre (think Return of Swamp Thing, Return of the Living Dead or Return of the Killer Tomatoes), he keeps “surging” back to remind us of the obvious, that school districts could afford to give Oklahoma’s teachers an $8,872 raise if they would just fire thousands of teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and, of course, administrators. 

But first let’s enjoy the beach.  Grunion are small (think double the size of minnows) ocean fish that return to Southern California beaches with the twice monthly highest tides (full moon and new moon) from spring through summer to spawn in the sand.  The eggs are laid and fertilized in a frenzy of activity on the beach as the grunion ride in with each wave during a “run”.  The eggs take about a half month to incubate in the sand and then the new little grunion can head out with the next lunar high tide.  It’s pretty cool to see and also reasonably predictable.  Linda and I saw them first in the early nineties while taking what we thought would be a quiet night time stroll on the summer sand—instead we found a grunion run in progress and lots of spectators and a couple of “fishermen” who were gathering them up by hand in buckets (this is allowed for some of the season’s runs).  Here’s this year’s schedule.

Here’s a couple of photos, not ours which I couldn’t locate, but similar to what we have seen a few times over the years. 


Here is a video of our most recent grunion run experience in June, 2016.

So you see the grunion “return” each year to do their thing.  You may have heard of another California based annual returning, namely the swallows of Mission San Juan Capistrano.  After driving past the exit many times on I-5 between Los Angeles and San Diego we finally made a brief visit to the Mission and were so impressed that we timed a spring vacation visit the next year to coincide with the March 19 festival when the birds would return to nest at the Mission.  Turns out they don’t.  The only nesting swallows we saw that year at a mission were at Dwight Mission in Oklahoma a few weeks later.  The swallows do return to San Juan Capistrano but they no longer nest at the old Mission building, preferring higher buildings and bridges instead.  Still the Mission festival and activities are lots of fun, including a lecture by a biology professor from the University of Tulsa who does field work studying cliff swallows in Nebraska.

Now we return to the surge.  The timing of Surge Scafidi’s post is ironic coming the same day the Oklahoma Supreme Court has nixed the legislature’s $1.50 per pack “fee” on cigarettes costing our already strapped state budget over $200 million in budgeted revenues.  So now our governor and the majority of our legislators who previously swallowed the supply side tax cutting myth peddled by the limited thinkers at the OCPA are learning that when you cut tax rates you generally will collect less revenue—duh.  But there is no easy correction because with the passage in 1992 of State Question 640, in direct response to the implementation of House Bill 1017, see Once Upon A Time and House Bill 1017 25th Anniversary, it takes a super majority three-fourths vote to raise state revenue.  Not to worry though because the Surge assures us there’s plenty of funding for teacher pay raises, just fire all the other excess school employees—exactly 6,221 of them.

As I pointed out in my earlier critiques of his work, his not so veiled effort to mislead his readers into believing that school administrators made up the bulk of the non-teacher hiring surge certainly diminishes his credibility as a “researcher” interested in presenting facts.  He has yielded somewhat to that criticism by now clearly stating up front that “all other staff” includes “teacher aides, counselors, social workers, reading and math coaches, janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, curriculum specialists, etc.” as well as school administrators.  He also acknowledges that from 1950 to 1992 perhaps additional staffing was justified “because during those decades public schools began welcoming students with special needs and were allowed to integrate by race or were integrated by government policies.”  Translated he’s thrown in the towel on holding up the state of public education in 1950 as being a lofty standard to which we should aspire.  Instead he harkens back to 1992 as the gold standard for school staffing.

For Oklahoma his data, which I have not vetted, shows that from 1992 to 2015 our student population went up 17% and the “all other staff” increased 36%.  By doing simple arithmetic, i.e. 36% – 17% = 19%, that is the percentage of excess “all other staff” schools have, being 6,221 positions, which at $60,000 each would free up over $373 million for teacher raises—did you notice the $60,000?  Now Surge Scafidi looks at national data first, and then does a state by state breakout so all the little echo tanks around the country, like the OCPA, can try to capture a newspaper or other media headline telling the public there’s plenty of funding for schools and teacher raises.  Fair enough if your objective is pushing a preconceived narrative, i.e. “public schools bad, school choice good” instead of doing real research and analysis.

What drives me crazy is that the limited thinkers at the OCPA, if they were true thinkers, should not regurgitate this data for Oklahoma consumption without a little localized vetting.  For example:

1.  If Surge Scafidi acknowledges that staffing levels for schools in 1950 that did not serve all students regardless of race or disability were less than what is justifiable and needed in 1992, then perhaps the passage of House Bill 1017 and subsequent legislation expanding early childhood education and mandating the use of teacher assistants in those programs explains some of the surge since 1992.  If the Surge’s pay raise plan for teachers comes at the expense of dismantling early childhood education programs in Oklahoma our policy makers need to know that—if facts mean anything to Limited Thinkers. 

2.  A quick glance at national school nutrition data ( ) shows that total meals served nationally went from 4,953,830,000 in 1992 to 7,339,690,000 in 2015 for an increase of 48.2% while student population increased only 20% according to the Surge’s table.  I suspect Oklahoma’s data would show a similar pattern.  More meals served per student likely means more staff, i.e. cafeteria workers, needed at a rate of increase greater than student growth.    If the Surge’s pay raise plan for teachers comes at the expense of cutting back on child nutrition programs in Oklahoma our policy makers need to know that—if facts mean anything to Limited Thinkers.  It’s also worth mentioning, Surge Scafidi, that any funding saved by reducing cafeteria staffing will lower the price of school meals and is not available for teacher raises.

3.  $60,000; yes, $60,000, tell that to Oklahoma’s teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.  That’s what Surge Scafidi, for his “thought experiment”, determined is a low side estimate of their average annual compensation and cost to their employer that, if laid off, could be used for teacher raises.  In my posts Miserables Love Company and Later, Sooner I show why The 1889 Institute’s Byron Schlomach, my Schlomo, is off by $10,000 when he claimed the average Oklahoma teacher costs $66,000.  So a real number for the cost of a teacher in 2015 is about $56,000; ask teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers if they are paid, in Oklahoma, as much as teachers.  $60,000 as an average cost saved for each of those 6,221 “all other staff” the Surge wants Oklahoma districts to lay off is an absurdly high number.  At most it is half that amount so double the number of “all other staff” the Surge wants us to fire so teachers can have a raise—if facts mean anything to Limited Thinkers.

I shouldn’t be doing this quick analysis.  If the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is going to print this stuff and pass it off as real research, the limited thinkers there should vet it themselves—if only they knew how.  But see facts don’t matter to them as long as the “research” conforms to their narrative that “public education bad, school choice good”.

As always lunch on me to the first to ID the lead photo.



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