School Superintendents, Public Education Advocates Oblivious To Fiscal Reality

In the Advocate today is a story describing how public school superintendents are red-hot about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to freeze state spending on public K-12 education in the coming year’s budget rather than put through a 2.75 percent increase as custom – they think -should dictate.

The state of Louisiana spends $3.3 billion per year in state aid to elementary and secondary education for some 657,000 students. That comes to around $5,022 per student in state funding, which doesn’t count local school funding from property taxes. Overall, Louisiana spends better than $10,000 per student per year through state and local sources.

Per capita income isn’t going up in Louisiana. Neither is employment. The state is in a  recession, though its economic performance is better than a lot of others around the country. So people in the private sector aren’t expecting raises and they’re doing everything they can to slim down their household budgets.

This mentality hasn’t taken hold on school boards and in superintendents’ offices, though.

However, the governor’s stance is triggering questions and anger among public school leaders.

Gary Jones, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said that, without being disrespectful to Jindal, his view is that superintendents want the Legislature to debate a 2.75 percent hike.

“And then they would understand what happens in the budget process,” Jones said.

“It ought to at least be in the discussion,” he added.

A 2.75 percent boost would cost the state about $60 million.

Other quotes from the story…

Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central Community School District, said he is leaning toward urging BESE to ask lawmakers for a 2.75 percent increase.

“BESE’s responsibility is to submit a formula that they feel meets equity and provides the minimum programs of education,” Faulk said.

“The Legislature’s task is to accept or reject the formula,” he said.

Several superintendents noted that, when the state board endorsed a standstill budget last year, it did so with the pledge it would seek an increase of at least 2.75 percent this time.

“We felt like a promise was made last year, that it would be restored this year,” Jones said.

Caldwell Parish Schools Superintendent John R. Sartin said in a letter to BESE members that local districts face higher costs for teacher retirement, health insurance, transportation and utilities.

Sartin asked the board to “do the right thing” and ask lawmakers for a 2.75 percent increase.

“Do the right thing,” indeed. Turns out that the school boards around the state are sitting on $577 million in federal aid they can draw from and have $1 billion in reserves. With that much cash on hand given the state’s fiscal woes, they’re lucky to be getting what they got last year instead of having the governor and the leges ransacking their bank accounts for spare cash to fill holes in the budget. And if they want to whine about their 2.75 percent increase going by the boards this year, one sincerely hopes they don’t expect to have it reinstituted next year, when the state’s budget will be even tighter than it is now.

This is another example of the public-sector mentality which believes it has a higher claim to your bank account than you do. The state’s economy isn’t growing and the revenues to the treasury are down, so you’d expect it would be time for public-sector folks to embark on austerity and efficiency measures to cut costs and provide the same quality of service at an improved price – but no. Instead we hear screaming and crying not about budget cuts but freezes.

On a similar subject, Jindal’s budget also shifts the cost of a $5,000 annual stipend to teachers who earn national certification to local school boards – a shift which is meant to be taken in tandem with his previous move to give those locals more freedom from state mandates (so if they can’t afford the stipend they can get a waiver from having to pay it), and also shifts the cost of transporting private and religious school students to their schools. The response by Louisiana Federation of Teachers president Steve Monaghan, predictable though it is, brings the public-sector mentality to full flower:

“The truth is that in the past few years, our governor and legislature indulged in an orgy of tax cuts and rebates that left Louisiana unable to address the needs of its citizens,” Monaghan said. “Now we are facing the results of those bad choices, and the people of the state will suffer as a result.”

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