Elementary School Math

There’s a neighborhood K-5 public school in the middle class suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. This school employs 18 teachers and 3 full time teacher’s assistants. It also has a staff of 2 full time special education teachers to help integrate special needs children with everything from autism to Down’s Syndrome into classes. So the 300 students who attend the school will be taught by 20 full time teachers and 3 teachers assistants.

This school also employs a librarian, a social worker, a guidance counselor, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist,  an assistant principal and a principal. I have ties that I still wear that are older than the principal who makes $130k a year, and the assistant principal probably makes $20k less.

Assume for a minute that all the teachers make the same, ignoring that there is some variation due to experience, skill-set and gender, but the teacher’s assistants make only minimum wage so we’ll ignore them for now. Let’s make the teacher salary a unit called “teacher“.

With some variation the librarian, a social worker, guidance counselor, occupational therapist, and speech therapist all make the same; assume each makes the same as a teacher, so that’s 5 teachers. The principal’s salary is the equivalent of more than two teachers salaries but the assistant principal’s salary equals less than two teachers salaries, so they balance out to two teachers each, making 4 teachers.

There are also four child psychologists based at this school. These psychologists do spend time at other schools, but those schools also have their own psychologists, some of whom visit this neighborhood K-5 public school. These psychologists are all Ph. Ds with each earning about 1.5 teachers  for a total of 6 teachers.

I’m sure non-teaching professionals provide some value to students, but it’s impossible to determine exactly what since there is no external pressure on these jobs. When budget cuts threaten, the principal doesn’t lose her job the music teacher does. One might think the vaunted teachers’ union that is such the bugaboo of the Right would protect the teachers from such cuts, but they don’t because the union leadership swaps out with school administrators in the district, so they don’t rock the boat because they don’t want to lose these positions when they come open. And although I personally love libraries, I recognize I love the idea of libraries. I devour books the way anacondas devour unlucky villagers, but I haven’t bought a book printed on paper in several years. More importantly, I haven’t used a library as a general reference resource in over a generation. Don’t get me wrong, as a genealogist libraries are crucial, but  few K-5 kids are pouring over baptismal records on microfilm from 150 years ago. If the school employs a librarian, does it also employ a blacksmith and cooper? If not, why not?

So we have 20 teachers that actually teach, and 15 teachers who don’t. Out of the 35 teachers the taxpayers of this community pays for it only receives 20 teachers, a loss of more than 42%. And that doesn’t even count the overhead of the school district, a vast sprawling enterprise that consumes a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayer revenue each year serving 22,000 students.

That’s $11,364 per student. The school also has a teacher-student ratio of 1:15, yet no teacher earns the $170k that ratio would suggest but the superintendent earns much more than that himself. In terms of actual pay the teacher-student ratio should be 1:5. Why is it three times higher?

While the school’s teacher-student ratio is publicized, what is the school administrator-teacher ratio? I understand that some support personnel are needed for teachers and students, but what keeps this school district from hiring too many, and if the system becomes top heavy with administrators, how does the district rebalance this teacher-administrator balance? What prevents a school district from demanding hire property taxes then using that money to hire a “self-esteem co-ordinator“, another school psychologist or perhaps a pay raise for the superintendent?

In the private sector when a company’s middle management gets too big it is reorganized and people are fired. This pressure comes from shareholders who vote with their money; when the firm is doing well it is assumed to be well run and the stock rises. When a firm does poorly shareholders assume it’s not well run and drive the price down resulting in restructuring and layoffs. When a firm is poorly managed it usually becomes a takeover target the way a wounded seal becomes a meal for a shark.

There is no pressure like this in public education (or medicine – which is a future topic), so how can the taxpayers make a school run efficiently, guaranteeing that their money is used to educate children instead of paying for Caribbean vacations for principals and their spouses?

One of the elite private K-6 elementary schools in St. Louis costs $15,822. That’s less than a $4,500 difference with much better results and a teacher-student ratio of only 1:7. Part of this difference could be made up by disbanding the US Department of Education and applying it’s $70 billion yearly budget to students in the form of a voucher. More savings could come from disbanding Missouri’s educational department. It’s difficult to calculate what that savings would be because some of the State’s money helps fund individual school districts, but for argument’s sake let’s assume that the savings cut the $4,500 difference down to $3,000.  Would it be too much to ask parents to come up with $3k a year to pay for their own child’s education?

$3,000 is $250 a month. That’s a lot in some households, but somehow these same households manage to have cell phone service, cable, high speed internet, and various tattoos and piercings some of which cost thousands of dollars each. “That which is free is abused,” is one of Life’s great truisms, and forcing parents to pay for their children’s education, in the same way that Obamacare compels people to spend money on health insurance, makes them take a personal stake in their child’s education, one of the great problems all teachers face today. As for parents who have more than one child, most private schools offer discounts for multiple enrollments, and besides, why should the rest of Society pay for someone’s personal choice to have a large family? I own a large plot of land by choice, and I pay for that through higher property taxes and a bigger mortgage. I do not expect any type of relief from Society even though I am protecting the land from development and providing a sanctuary for wildlife on an important watershed in America’s Southeast. Now that I think of it, perhaps I should…

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17 Comments

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