I am a teacher in one of the Arkansas school districts now under state control. On the job, over several years, I have seen first-hand that centralized state control simply does not work. My wife and I are also taxpayers and voters in the state-run school district where I teach, and our children are students of that same school district, as well.
The C.A.P. Education Reform Proposal: Save America's Schools -- By Cutting Administrators' Pay, with Federal Legislation.
Schools across America are in trouble, and this has been the case, and getting worse, for decades. Many educational reform proposals have come and gone, but none have fixed the problems plaguing our schools. It is time for a completely new approach. We propose a simple, elegant solution: cut administrators’ pay, nationwide. How would this help American education? In school districts across America, teachers have difficulty effectively teaching students, because of the problem of teacher abuse, by overpaid administrators, many of whom are motivated by two things, above all else: greed, and the desire to control other people, especially the teachers whom they should merely supervise and assist, but too often mistreat, instead. Teachers know the horror stories, in every state, and they are the people to talk to, in order to learn the details of this abusive behavior, which is the true cause of most problems afflicting America’s schools. There is clear evidence that other factors, which previous educational reform proposals attempted to address (all much more complicated), were not the correct factors to address to get real school improvement, which everyone should want. This evidence is the current condition of America’s schools. If previous attempts had worked, schools would be better that this, but they are not. It is time for an entirely new approach. The reality is that most administrators harm educational quality, rather than help it. This is easy to verify: simply ask a decent-sized sampling of teachers, anywhere in America, if they know of serious problems caused by incompetent, abusive, and/or overpaid administrators. They know the truth, and will share it with you, in vivid detail, once they know you will not report what they tell you to their administrators, for acts of retaliation against teachers who speak out against abusive acts are quite common, sadly, all across America. America’s teachers are under siege, and this is the true reason for problems in our schools, more than any other single factor – and other factors can be addressed, once this siege is broken. The details vary from place to place, of course, but the disturbing, and true, story has the same basic plot everywhere: bullies are lured in to administrative positions by obscenely high salaries, grow intoxicated with the power they can wield over those who must report to them, and begin ruling as petty dictators, using threats, intimidation, and unethical, often illegal acts to, in some cases, simply terrorize teachers. There is no better word for what really happens in too many of America’s schools. Teachers in such situations are left with no option but to unionize, for they are stronger united, and better able to resist this all-too-common mistreatment, than they possibly could be, individually. There are people who do not like unions of teachers, but the simple truth is that teachers’ unions are formed in response to serious administrative misdeeds. Teachers end up with no choice but to unionize, for self-protection, seeking, and finding, strength in unity – and then these abusive administrators target teacher unions as scapegoats. Remove the abuse, and this problem evaporates, for teachers’ unions can then concentrate on delivering professional development programs to their members, as opposed to devoting all their time to protection of their members from administrative abuse. In the school district where this idea originated, in Arkansas, the Superintendent collects a salary of $215,000 per year, with additional costs, such as Social Security/FICA and Arkansas Teacher Retirement, raising the cost to taxpayers of his personal employment to well over one-quarter of a million dollars per year. He reports to the State Department of Education Commissioner, who collects a contracted salary that is even higher, at $219,999 per year. That person is now serving in the role of our one-man, unelected school board, following a state takeover of the our school district, on grounds of fiscal distress, during the Summer of 2011, creating a classic “taxation without representation” problem: the voters of our school district have been disenfranchised since June 20, 2011. Given that the Superintendent is one of 57 district personnel (none of whom are teachers) who cost the taxpayers over $100,000 per year to employ, it is not hard to discern the true reasons for this fiscal distress here – obscenely bloated administrative costs – and one form of teacher abuse happening here is the ongoing effort to destroy our unions and contracts (they already refuse to recognize them), despite the fact that Arkansas state law only permits actions to be taken in this situation which directly affect the budget of a school district, and most items in our negotiated contracts are simply protections for the right of teachers, and have no impact on our budget at all. Additional fiscal distress is being caused by legal expenses related to the attempted defense of these illegal actions, which are, of course, being challenged in court. Taxpayers pay for the District's lawyers, who charge as much as $400 per hour. The lawyers defending teacher and support staff unions, on the other hand, are not funded through taxes. We pay union dues for a reason. Our situation is far from unique, which is why we are proposing that this problem be solved at the federal level, through federal legislation. Our Superintendent is not the highest-paid superintendent in America. However, his contracted salary of $215,000 is a useful for illustrating this problem, which is even worse in other parts of our nation. There are two people in the Executive Branch of the federal government who earn more than $215,000 per year: President Barack Obama, and Vice-President Joe Biden. No one questions that the responsibilities of the Oval Office are immense, and the Vice-President must be ready to assume that office at any time, in an emergency situation no one should ever want to see again. We do not begrudge these two men their salaries – it must be admitted, by all reasonable people, that they work hard, whether or not one agrees with their policies. The responsibilities of being a top-level cabinet official are also immense, but every single member of the president’s cabinet, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, earns less than $215,000 per year – and she coordinates foreign policy for the most powerful nation on earth. In the Legislative Branch, there is only one person in Congress – Speaker of the House John Boehner – who earns more than $215,000 per year – and he is third in the line of succession to the Presidency. We do not question that he earns his salary, either. No one in the entire U.S. Senate earns a salary greater that $215,000 per year. In the Judicial Branch of the federal government, only one person, Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court, has a salary which exceeds $215,000 per year – all Supreme Court Associate Justices earn lower salaries, and other federal judges, of course, earn less. Clearly, this is absurd, on the face of it. No school administrator does work that is comparable in difficulty or importance to the work of these four people – the only people in the entire federal government with salaries exceeding those of a single superintendent, in Arkansas. In reality, the work of teachers is far more important than that of administrators. Administrators do not teach the children of America -- teachers do. Despite this obvious fact, though, teacher salaries, all across the country, are paltry, compared to those of administrators, most of whom simply cause problems for teachers, making it more difficult for them to effectively teach the youth of America. This is a national scandal, and deserves federal intervention. Please remember: there are other superintendents with even more bloated salaries. For example, there is at least one Superintendent in New York state who costs taxpayers over half a million dollars per year -- yes, even more than President Obama's salary. No one seems to be able to explain why this is the case, but it can be quickly verified with a Google-search. We do need some administrators in our schools, but we need far fewer than we now have. Our District certainly has too many, and we are far from alone. With substantial cuts to administrative salaries, only the few good administrators, the ones who are truly dedicated to improving education, will remain in their positions, and these rare administrators cause no harm, for they are not abusive. The rest of America’s harmful "army" of overpaid administrators can simply seek another profession, and America’s students, their education, and the teachers who teach them will all be better off, as a result. Republicans everywhere should support this plan because it cuts government spending, and may even permit decreases in taxes. Republicans are well-known for supporting cuts in government spending and taxes, and for good reasons. Democrats are generally supportive of organized labor, especially in education, and should support this reform proposal because it is consistent with the ideal of the Democratic Party. Moreover, even those who do not like teachers’ unions, of whatever political persuasion, should support a reform proposal which improves public education. Taxpayers should support anything which can lower their taxes, and this can. Another word for taxpayers, of course, is “voters.” Members of Congress, in both houses, and both parties, should be appalled that administrators in public schools, who neither draft nor debate legislation, nor have to answer to voters to stay in office, have salaries which exceed their own. This can therefore be a bipartisan proposal, easy to justify to everyone. It simply makes good sense. There is a Constitutional issue here, but it has a solution. Education is a responsibility of state governments, not federal governments. However, school districts all across America receive federal education funding. We therefore propose that the same thing be done which the federal government has done many times before: leave it up to each individual state whether or not to cooperate, and impose a salary cap on administrators, but only disburse federal education funding to those states which comply with the stated goal of this legislative proposal. The federal government is not required to send such funding to state governments, for state governments have the authority to raise their own taxes to fund education, and do so. The idea of losing the federal portion of their funding, though, is quite likely to persuade all fifty state governments that cooperation, with what we hope becomes the C.A.P. Act, makes good political sense – in addition to being the right thing to do, of course. There is also the issue of the amount of the salary cap. A simple dollar figure does not account for difference in economic reality from state to state, nor would it deal with the problem of inflation. This problem also has a simple solution, though: tie the salary cap, at either the state or school district level, to the average teacher salary. Administrative salaries could have a maximum amount which is a small multiple of average teacher pay – or, even better, simply establish parity: pay administrators no more than the average teacher in their areas are paid, in recognition of the fact that the work done by administrators is not more important than that of classroom teachers. If administrators want higher salaries, then, they will have every incentive to push for higher teacher salaries, especially for beginning teachers, who often are paid so little that it is hard for them to simply pay their bills. Raise their salaries to a reasonable level, average teacher pay increases, and administrators can then be paid more. Simply maintaining this system would automatically adjust for inflation, for it enables administrative salaries to move in whatever direction, and to whatever degree, average teacher salaries move. The exact language of this legislation, of course, will require Congressional discussion and debate, but everyone should be able to agree that this idea makes sense. It will save taxpayers money, improve working conditions for teachers, and those teachers will then be able to do a better job teaching their students. It has the advantage of simplicity, unlike many previous educational reform efforts from the federal level. The details of how to run schools, as is proper, can be left to the states. Teachers know how to teach their students – they simply need to be free from intimidation and bullying, in order to be able to do so effectively. Our schools are in crisis, and we need federal intervention, through simply cutting administrators’ pay, to solve these problems which have plagued our nation’s schools for decades.