Our School's Problem Isn't Lack Of Funds- And Response

Thursday, October 3, 2013
Dear Mr. Smith,

I seem to recall that back in July the school board increased your yearly pay to $190,000 per year. Lets see, $190,000 minus $165,000 equals a healthy pay increase of $25,000 per year. Not too shabby.  At $165,000 you were already one of the highest paid persons dipping into the pockets of the Hamilton County taxpayers. Yes I know, I know, persons in your position in some other Tennessee counties get paid more.  So what is your focus? Best for the students? Or best for Mr. Smith? Frankly as you can see I am a disgruntled taxpayer.

After a hefty pay raise such as you received it takes a lot of guts to say "We have not had the kind of financial support that I think our kids deserve," and "Teachers are having to take money out of their own pockets to buy school materials." It is a crying shame that the school administrators scrape off the cream and leave the remains to run the school system.

The school system already has the largest budget in Hamilton County government. The Hamilton County taxpayer does not have bottomless pockets.

Tom Wheatley

Soddy Daisy 

* * * 

Mr. Smith, your call for increased taxes is offensive, unjust, and short-sighted. 

I can’t speak for all taxpayers, but I imagine I speak for a lot of them when I say I think we pay enough already.  With per pupil expenditure in Hamilton County at $9,009 or thereabouts, one has to wonder where all the money is going. After looking at the standardized performance metrics for academic achievement system-wide, there is little doubt the money isn't being spent wisely. 

An “ideal classroom” of 15 students produces $135,135 in revenue, and a “crowded” classroom of 20 even more revenue at $180,180. Believe me, I understand business costs, and there must be a certain amount of overhead for every direct dollar spent in producing services in addition to ancillary expense, but this amount seems more than sufficient to adequately compensate hardworking teachers. 

The real answer to this question is the one that is logical and most apparent to most observers: there are systemic problems with our local public schools that prevent well-meaning, passionate teachers from producing the kind of results the children deserve. 

Compensation – The best and brightest teachers are rewarded similarly to the very worst. 

Discipline – Teachers run a tremendous risk when they do the right thing and disciple students appropriately and communicate the truth to parents. 

Low Expectations – I have taught graduates of the Hamilton County School system who could not write a complete sentence, assemble a paragraph, or complete the kind of math problems necessary for making informed personal finance decisions. If you want to become aflame with indignant injustice, Mr. Smith, how about beginning a quest to end the issuance of rubber-stamped diplomas that produce functionally illiterate graduates and handicap individuals for life. 

Heavy Administrative Overhead – If the money per pupil is adequate, and it must be when you observe the tuition of local private schools that are lower yet are performing adequately and orderly, then the money must be evaporating into overhead that does not improve the quality of the student’s educational experience. 

Presently, for my tax dollars, because of my address, I can’t send my child to a local public school where I feel she would be safe or that the graduation rate would top 40 percent. There are countless taxpaying parents all over this county who “donate” to your organization every year with their tax dollars with no hope of a return on their investment for their children. Perhaps a little more gratitude for this set would be well placed. 

Regarding tax increases, there is a concept called proportionality. This means that as the county grows and the citizens have an improvement in their lot, your organization too will receive increased funding – proportionally and fairly.  But, the very idea that you feel justified in asking working families to reduce their incomes so you might put meaningless patches on a broken system is insulting and betrays a lack of compassion and appreciation. 

Mr. Smith, leadership requires making tough decisions and tackling problems that might make you unpopular in your professional peer group.  If you really want to make a difference in the lives of students in Hamilton County, be a logical reformer and abandon the easy yet misinformed approach of throwing good money after bad. 

That is how you will leave a legacy you can be proud of. That is how you will change the lives of local children and improve our community in earnest. 

Brandon Lewis

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