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Guest opinion: Voters Should Flunk Measure C
Original post made
on Apr 17, 2009
Despite widespread layoffs, foreclosures and broken retirement nest-eggs, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District wants a 60 percent, seven-year parcel-tax increase, from $90 to $144 annually - another taxpayer-funded bailout for another spendthrift public agency.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Friday, April 17, 2009, 12:00 AM
Posted by Michael Arata,
a resident of Danville
on Apr 24, 2009 at 1:10 am
I appreciate Danville Weekly's publication of "Voters Should Flunk Measure C." My thanks as well now to "Worker Bee," "Susan," "Free to Choose," "Dawn", Jake Farsh, "Jack," "Raymond, and "Barbara" for sensible comments and for "NO" votes on Measure C. The Public Choice Theory commentary by Free to Choose was literally right on the money!
And yes, Worker Bee, a senior exemption does indeed represent SRVUSD's cynical attempt to buy votes. Fair-minded seniors will recognize the inequity in supporting taxes they needn't pay themselves. So please continue to spread the word about Measure C, and please refer voters to www.NOonC.info.
Meanwhile, the all too eponymic "Teacherman," apparently a would-be beneficiary of the new series of retroactive raises which Measure C would enable (on top of existing step-and-column increases, and without regard to merit or lack thereof), doesn't know quite what to make of having "been branded a liberal." But he considers Measure C an absolute entitlement.
And the innumeracy and illogic he exhibits here are certainly among the common antecedents and/or symptoms of liberalism. Basing notions about public-agency spending upon feelings rather than facts is another co-factor, indeed a hallmark, of the liberal condition.
Specifically, Teacherman finds dollar figures ("number ramblings") which gainsay his enthusiasm for Measure C "too confusing," or that [allegedly] they "don't add up" oh, and that they're "misleading as well." So after all his "researching and reading," no argument against Measure C holds merit for him.
He can admit, though, that "We all know that public education costs a lot of money." The more perceptive among us recognize that whatever that amount is now (in this district, presently $8,221 in general-fund spending per student, or over $205,000 per 25-student classroom in operational dollars alone), it keeps rising in constant-dollar (inflation-adjusted) terms, and that so far as the public-sector spending lobby is concerned, it's never been and will never be enough (as Susan observes in these postings).
So even if SRVUSD per-student spending is a more than a third higher in constant dollars now than when the district failed to pass a parcel tax in 1991-92, then the [Teacherman-alleged] end, "consistent results of high student achievement," supposedly justifies the means however costly.
Naturally, thereby, the Teacherman-postulated "need right now is met by passing Measure C" i.e., a 60% increase in the existing parcel tax!
Even if SRVUSD were to experience actual budget cuts (not just reductions in planned increases), the district would have to lose nearly $60 Million from its current $215 Million budget to regain parity with the effects of inflation and enrollment increases since 1991-92.
Teacherman does eventually try his hand with some numbers. He claims, for example, that the "district approved a budget that laid off or released 500 teachers, librarians, counselors, and psychologists. It cancelled music programs, coaches stipends, and drastically cut physical education programs… because the state has cut 16 million from the district budget."
But the 9-month-employment salary and benefit cost of 500 certificated district employees, were they to be laid off (which they have not been and will not be) would be on the order of $40 Million, not $16 Million.
Meanwhile, asserting "high student achievement" begs the question. In fact, as my article observed: AMONG SIMILAR SCHOOLS, SRVUSD's Academic Performance Index ratings average just 6.9 out of 10. And as in most districts, SRVUSD high school juniors perform poorly in State testing of college readiness averaging only 43% proficiency in English, for example. SRVUSD's performance deficiencies are featured in "Not As Good As You Think," published by the Pacific Research Institute.
[And the CSU system, which administers the college readiness tests, still laments the fact that about 50% of matriculating students require remedial English -- and that about a third of CSU freshmen need remedial help in math.]
More talk about numbers, I realize inconvenient, distasteful, and "confusing" to Teacherman. They underscore the fact that dollarwise, taxpaying citizens long ago "did our duty to reach the needs of our students." But it is unionized teachers, often more focused on indoctrination than instruction, who've failed to "maintain educational excellence."
All too frequently, they've displaced facts with feelings (a substitution "Teacherman" advocates presently as a voter response to Measure C) and teachers of knowledge and skills with propaganda shills. "Values"? A classic illustration of teacher-union values is the booklet "Guidelines for Academic Freedom in the Public Schools," published by the California Teachers Association in 1984: "Who dares take on religion, free enterprise, patriotism, and motherhood? We do and we must!" (p. 32)
But to Dan Parnas, it's adopting a "NO on C" position which is "morally corrupt"! And to Mr. Parnas, it's evidently OK for "Teacherman," "Schoolmom," "Terry W.," et al. to maintain anonymity (and that's fine with me, by the way), but not for opponents to Measure C. Furthermore, nine other individuals signed the public ballot arguments opposing Measure C, realizing they could face the scorn of determined tax promoters.
As for common sense, that's what voters demonstrate when they realize that SRVUSD spending represents a local microcosm of public-agency spending in general in both cases, spending which far exceeds the combined and compounded rates of enrollment growth (or population increases) and inflation over time.
For such voters, it's thereby also common sense to begin calling a halt where they can in this case, to a 60% parcel-tax increase while much of America is suffering layoffs, foreclosures, bankruptcies, huge investment losses, and retirement delays.
One or more homeroom mother(s) at Greenbrook School (where Mr. Parnas is a parent) has/have again been using privileged classroom e-mail addresses to promote Measure C and that's illegal, as is the use of other public resources in urging "yes" votes on C.
Janet Orgill apparently opposes any use of 2008-09 budget-year reserves ($6.9 Million set aside for "economic uncertainties"), unencumbered reserves ($5.6 Million, likely set aside to fund the first new retroactive raises sometime next year), or $1 Million more in discretionary "carryover" funds.
Last year's 1% increase was the fourth of four raises since passage of the current parcel tax in 2004 (when both the superintendent and SRVUSD's public relations chief said Measure A was unconnected to raises, while we opponents predicted the raises which have occurred). Cumulatively, the raises have amounted to 20% again, on top of existing step and column increases.
And a few other facts, also "just for fun":
1. The general-fund spending I've documented does not pertain to capital improvements. Indeed, that category of the budget is entirely separate, involving additional taxpayer expenditures over and above the $8,221 per student this year, or $205,525 per 25-student classroom.
2. In my world (and from the perspective of a 20-year classroom and coaching veteran), that's plenty enough to go around. The title of one article I wrote while I was still a full-time teacher identified then what's needed now: "Better Schools, Not More Taxes." Having worked directly for and with children (students and athletes) and parents in high-achieving private and public schools and swim clubs, I know first hand that more and more money isn't necessary for improving performance.
3. Predicting enrollment numbers from new construction and other demographic factors isn't so difficult. And as Ernie Scherer demonstrated in 2006, SRVUSD's 2004 vastly understated enrollment-increase projections at the time of that earlier parcel-tax campaign were an exercise either in terrible incompetence or rank dishonesty, leading to a fictitious funding deficiency, just in time for misleading parcel-tax promotions. We're seeing a replay of that tactic now.
4. 225 pink slips (notices of potential layoff) were issued in 2004. Ultimately, nobody was laid off and nobody would have been laid off had Measure A failed. Instead, the measure brought in $3.8 Million in its first year, and the District then implemented $3.8 Million in the first of four retroactive raises. As part of 2009's tactical replay, 228 teachers have received pink slips this year.
Janet Orgill is correct about some of my essential arguments: indeed, "the district is wasting money, [some] teachers are [hugely] overpaid [relative to what they accomplish], and the education in SRVUSD just isn't that good." And the facts do support those arguments.
Regarding (increasingly test-experience-boosted) API scores and parcel tax amounts, or school spending in general: as Jake Farsh points out, and as Eric Hanushek and other researchers have demonstrated, correlations between school spending, per se, and achievement are questionable, ranging to poor or even negative. Far more important correlates of achievement, at least in the U.S., are the professionalism and dedication of teachers and the socioeconomic situations of families with kids in school.
Finally: "Farmer Dave" wants "to see a notation on each comment against Measure C stating whether the individual has children that attend school in the district (private school doesn't count). If you can read this comment, thank a teacher."
Parcel owners generally pay large real-estate taxes now, and Measure C would cumulatively increase those taxes by another $1,008 over the next seven years. Many parents pay not only the taxes which fund public schools, but additional sums for tutors and in many cases, large tuitions for private schools so their kids can escape the problems of public schools; or in some cases they invest personal time in homeschooling their children.
Farmer Dave's invidious demand for marginalizing the comments of such taxpayers is unfortunately a common one, and one that is at least implied by some other commentators in this forum in so many words: sit down, shut up, and pay more new taxes now, whether you think the purpose is legitimate or not.
And Farmer Dave's citation of a teacher-union-favorite bumper sticker reminds me of another: "If you thing education is expensive, try ignorance." Unfortunately, we're trying both. We're already paying a great deal of money, for an unsatisfactory educational product.
Again, readers should look to www.NOonC.info for additional information.
Posted by Michael Arata,
a resident of Danville
on Apr 27, 2009 at 12:37 am
Thanks now for insightful comments by Dawn, cardfarc, and Shelby.
There are substantial problems with Greg Marvel's numbers:
1. He compares SRVUSD's state revenue limit (actual amount presently = $5,660 per student this year) with all-sources funding in other places. The comparable SRVUSD number is at least $8,221 per student.
2. And then, so what if Oakland USD, LAUSD, the NYC Department of Education, or some other districts elsewhere spend "over $11,500 per student," "about $10,500," "over$17,000," or "easily average over $20,000 per student" respectively (as quoted by Mr. Marvel, though I lack time at the moment to check his figures)?
All those numbers do is to validate what I said earlier: correlations between school spending per se and achievement are questionable, ranging to poor or even negative. OUSD, LAUSD, and NYCDOE are hardly models of academic achievement.
Spending more money on education two to three times more, in inflation-adjusted terms, over the last five decades has not improved the result in any proportionate way, if at all. Far more important correlates of achievement, at least in the U.S., are the professionalism and dedication of teachers and the socioeconomic situations of families with kids in school.
3. In constant dollars, SRVUSD spends a third more annually now per student than the district did in 1991-92, when the district first tried and failed to pass a parcel tax. The present $205,525 spent here per 25-student classroom (operational dollars alone) already provides more than enough to compensate teachers fairly for a 186-day employment year, and for students to achieve at high levels.
4. But like other public agencies, SRVUSD plays a continuous game of compensation leapfrog, funded royally by taxpayers. The result is a public-sector salary and benefit spiral that has gotten out of control with resultant fiscal crises being proclaimed at all levels of government.
5. The present macroscopic economic problems highlight the microscopic. School-district demands for a further acceleration of the taxpayer-funded spending spiral, escalating even more quickly at rates beyond the combined effects of inflation and enrollment growth, are comparable to Citibank demanding a taxpayer bailout because AIG got one or Chrysler shouting for more taxpayer funds because GM received its own billions.
(And whatever the sequence in which bailouts have occurred, the underlying problem was one of irresponsible application of existing, already generous resources, with taxpayers now supplying many more dollars to fix a problem they didn't create.)
5. As I said before, SRVUSD always considers itself in financial distress until it's time for the next retroactive pay raise. We opponents of the 2004 parcel tax predicted that it would simply enable a teacher pay raise, without regard to merit.
In fact, there have been four retroactive raises since SRVUSD passed its 2004 parcel tax. And this year's Measure C would simply facilitate the next series of unmerited cross-the-board raises.
Some additional matters of importance:
6. As always, I encourage independent research into the facts cited here and elsewhere in regard to Measure C. When digging into political, social, and moral controversies, I never rely myself on a series of he said / she said reports, ballot arguments, or proclamations by public agencies and their tax-promotion allies.
Posting website information, with relevant links where available (and with ballot arguments from both sides), is intended merely as a convenience to busy, already overstressed taxpayers many of whom, like Dawn, already see 50% of their next-dollar income consumed by taxes even before cashing their paychecks.
7. SRVUSD would have to cut nearly $60 Million from its current real-dollar operational budget, not just the claimed $16 Million, to regain parity with the effects of inflation an enrollment growth since failing to pass the 1991-92 parcel tax. The relevant dollar facts and enrollment figures are found in SRVUSD's budget booklets from 1991-92 to the present. The needed Bay Area inflation rates are posted by ABAG: Web Link
SRVUSD's being "ranked No. 1 in districts of its size" in California is more an indication of the dismal state of California education at large than of absolute or relative achievement by SRVUSD. Being the best of the worst in a subset of the worst is not necessarily an indication of great or even satisfactory performance.
It's not especially surprising if most SRVUSD schools rank 10 out of 10 in stanine comparisons to all schools and districts statewide. What's of interest is SRVUSD's dodging of similar school rankings which aren't so favorable to their template.
9. SRVUSD's poor performance in the Early Assessment Program (of college readiness) can be reviewed from starting page Web Link .
10. Mr. Marvel candidly admitted in our March 31 debate that the SRVEA teacher union holds far too much sway in the district, after I raised the issue. And from the perspective of someone who taught and coached for 20 years in private and public schools, and who became an educational activist while observing the juvenile, counterproductive behavior of striking "colleagues" (not having gone on strike myself), the SRVEA union has indeed exerted far too much influence, fiscally and curricularly, over the district since installing a SRVEA-friendly board in 1990.
11. Genuinely responsible fiscal and curricular SRVUSD behavior, with union control minimized, could readily draw an interest in volunteer activity. SRVUSD has a very long way to go in all three areas of preliminary improvement.
12. Several times since 1990, responsible individuals with excellent credentials including fiscal and curricular common sense and relevant professional backgrounds have run for the school board. But they've been targeted by the local and state CTA teacher unions with thousands of dollars and hundreds of dedicated union foot soldiers, and they weren't elected.
Speaking of curriculum, there was an antecedent which Mr. Parnas fails to cite when complaining now about my "throwing out comments like '... Mr. Parnas can place obscene material before his own children at home, I suppose but he could thereby draw the attention of Child Protective Services.' "
The predicate develops from the discussion above:
"wondering": (and after a separate question about my contributions to local education) "I'm curious why you left teaching. Was it the money? Or the grief?"
Arata: "I've exposed perniciously inappropriate programs, salacious classroom and library materials, and some of the unprofessional and / or malfeasant teachers who put such garbage in front of kids and have seen some of the junk removed and some of the offending teachers move on…."
"…My departure from teaching, after what became 20 years of highly successful results, was motivated by accelerating administrative dereliction, increasing numbers of non-academic interruptions of the instructional day, the frequent substitution of R-rated indoctrination in place of instruction, the suffocating mediocrity induced by union strangleholds on American education, and the prospect of happier circumstances in other realms of endeavor."
Parnas: "When I start to hear comments like "R rated" and "salicious", I see the slippery slope you are on and I want no part of it. The religious right has no place in politics and it frightens me to hear that kind of thing pop up in my community. Yet another reason I live in Northern California is to stay away from bible belt politics, biases and bigotry and to keep my children away from that as well.
Arata: "R-rated" is not my own designation. It's an assignment affixed by the Motion Picture Association of America to indicate that material contains 'adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.'
"I don't want my tax dollars sponsoring the exhibition of such material in SRVUSD classrooms nor do other sensible taxpayers. An example: the showing of "Last Temptation of Christ," a blasphemous and obscene insult to Christianity, shown during Holy Week several years ago, in a Monte Vista English class.
"Other examples of inappropriate SRVUSD matter presented to students over the years under the union-sponsored banner of "academic freedom" are too numerous to catalog here. Mr. Parnas can place obscene material before his own children at home, I suppose but he could thereby draw the attention of Child Protective Services...."
"…Mr. Parnas asserts that 'the religious right has no place in politics.' We can't be sure, but apparently 'the religious right' is to be understood as those who espouse 'bible belt politics' and undefined 'biases and bigotry.'
"So one wonders: are we meanwhile to lay out the scarlet carpet to welcome the licentious left into the political discussion?"
Meanwhile: rejecting Measure C is no gamble, as became obvious when voters rejected 1991's Measure C.
Also meanwhile: an ever accelerating upward spiral of public agency spending, far in excess of the natural escalators (inflation and population or enrollment growth) isn't just a gamble.
It's additionally a prescription for more government-induced financial disasters of the sort we're already seeing now. What we subsidize, we promote.
To "Teacherman": I congratulate you on your enthusiasm for teaching. But I suggest you not raise issues and then keep raising them unless you anticipate substantive responses.
Whether I'm a "rambler" or not, and whether or not my arguments get "lost in a sea of variables," are matters of subjective opinion. Others disagree with you, in this forum and elsewhere.
The facts relevant to Measure C, which you studiously avoid once again, are what they are, and in my researched and professionally backgrounded opinion they argue for the rejection of Measure C.
District spending, with or without Measure C or its predecessor parcel-tax measures, has spiraled many millions of dollars ahead of the combined effect of inflation and enrollment growth. And "excellence in education" here is to some significant extent a Potemkin construct.
What I said about indicators of liberalism was that "the innumeracy and illogic [Teacherman] exhibits here are among the common antecedents and/or symptoms of liberalism. Basing notions about public-agency spending upon feelings rather than facts is another co-factor, indeed a hallmark, of liberalism."
I wish I had more time to listen to and/or watch Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity but only for audiovisual pointers to news which is surgically altered or spiked altogether in the three newspapers I read daily and from network TV.
I sometimes wind up citing something that appeared on a conservative website or on a conservative radio/TV station but only after I've checked other independent sources, especially liberal ones.
Indeed, individual freedom under Declaration and Constitutional principles is a key, and public agencies (government) encroaches daily upon essential liberties. For me and for other like minded individuals, facts and reason drive ideology, not the other way around.
I'm glad to see again that you support merit pay for teachers. I recommend that for now, you minimize your teacher-union dues at the lowest possible agency-fee (financial core) levels, while you connect with the Pacific Justice Institute and its www.choosecharity.org program to see about getting all your union-dues money donated to charity instead. You'll need to act soon to control where your dues money goes next year.
I neither entered nor left the teaching profession because of money ($5,400 my first year, $36,000 my last). My students were three times team state champions in subject-area tests of scholastic achievement, three times runners up. My swimmers (as head coach) were three times state team champions, and included 35 All Americans. I wrote the successful competitive grant application for our school's Science Club to spend several days interacting with scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratories. I averaged 80 100 hours a week as chemistry / math instructor, swim coach, and aquatics director etc., etc., etc.
Meanwhile, the physics teacher next door was named NSTA's national science teacher of the year. None of that added anything to our respective salaries as I knew it never would so long as the teacher unions controlled the agenda.
As you recognize, apparently, your own income is limited by a CTA-generated and enforced philosophy and practice which requires a single salary schedule for all certificated teachers, with increases based only on how long you stay around and how many (typically worthless) course hours you accumulate atop your BA or BS degree.
So I hope you'll begin pushing for structural change in a public way, as I did nearly 30 years ago. Providing more money (in huge excess compared to inflation and enrollment growth) to so inefficient and out-of-control a spending behemoth as public education only fuels more inefficiency, incompetence, unaccountability, and a continuation of public-agency compensation plans which are deliberately detached from performance.
Again: what we subsidize, we promote.