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Commentary: Time to spend money improving education

Recently we’ve seen a lot of bad news for K-12 education.  Academic performance, by every objective measure, is miserable.  State test results reported recent data showing less than half our kids statewide are proficient in English and math.  

A financial disaster is ahead. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office recently revised its deficit prediction to project a $73 billion dollar shortfall in revenue. Their latest recommendations urge the legislature to reject the proposed cost of living adjustment to K12 funding because “the current Proposition 98 funding level cannot even support the cost of existing programs”

Educational performance is poor, the funding may be at best flat.  The cavalry is not on the horizon.  If education is going to improve, our school districts are going to have to make it a priority and figure something out themselves.  

In Oceanside the problem is particularly acute. While state academic achievement is bad, Oceanside Unified is worse.  Oceanside’s pre-pandemic performance was not good, post-pandemic they’re a crisis.  

English performance shows only 41% of our kids proficient. Math performance is worse, with barely over 29% meeting state standards. Parents are taking their kids out for other options; enrollment has been declining for some time and is projected to continue dropping about 400 per year for the next few years.

After being on the state’s watchlist for financial distress almost continuously since 2017, a combination of extra pandemic funding plus booming tax revenues has temporarily lifted them out of that.  Reserves are good for the first time in over a decade.

Given the crises in education and with funding uncertainties ahead, one might think their priority for spending would be improving academic performance. Spend money now on what parents want for their kids and help slow the enrollment losses. 

Makes sense, right?  Not to our district, our board and our unions.  

In Oceanside, the median pay of a certificated employee in the last decade has gone up at a rate of 3.58% per year (20% higher than inflation), reaching $95,845 in 2022. And the union is now demanding more.  

Despite an urgent need to improve education, the latest union proposals focus almost completely on demands for a bonus raise for adults. A raise that would be layered on top of normal scheduled increases.  

Teachers deserve to be paid fairly paid, and are. In Oceanside, according to public pay data available on Transparent California and the US Census Bureau, certificated employees’ compensation (including contributions to retirement) is, almost $18,000/year more than comparably educated private employees.  I’m very happy we can do this for them.

Now that we’ve reached the point of “fair pay,” perhaps it’s time to spend education dollars on improving the education of kids rather than improving the paychecks of adults?  

Decreasing class sizes is always high on the wish lists of both parents and teachers. Disruptive behavior is increasing, teachers’ hands are ever more tied in dealing with it.  

Smaller classes would give teachers more time to deal with disruptions and focus on those who need more help.   

In Oceanside, the dollars they’re about to put into adult pay could instead reduce class size by over 4 kids per class. Why isn’t that a priority?

What about starting teacher pay?  Median teacher pay is higher than comparably educated private workers, but starting pay is still too low. An across-the-board percentage bonus raise gives the majority of dollars to higher-paid employees.  

Just a few percent of Oceanside’s bonus raise dollars could be focused on starting pay and provide an increase of almost $5,000/year. Why isn’t that a priority?

And why do we expect teachers to buy classroom supplies? A few more percent of Oceanside’s raise money allocated to classroom supplies could give each teacher $350 a year to spend on books, bulletin boards and blunt-nosed scissors.  Why isn’t that a priority?

In Oceanside (and many other districts), these are not priorities because improving the education of our kids is not their priority.  Improving the pay of adults is.

And our school boards, charged with protecting the interests of our kids, are absent. In Oceanside we see nothing but unanimous votes on every proposal that benefits adults. The question “how will this improve education” is never asked.  

Are parents and our community OK with that?  

Todd Maddison is the director of research for Transparent California, and a founding member of the Parent Association and San Diego Schools advocacy groups.

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