To the Editor:
In his Commentary “Common-Sense Ways to Improve Education Without a Tax Increase” (Sept. 17, 2008), newly elected school board member Kenneth E. Hartman proceeds from the premise that because “states and the federal government are broke,” school boards should simply learn to make do with the funds they now receive. But his six suggestions for bringing about change without spending more money are, for the most part, unlikely to generate significant savings. And none promises to improve student achievement.
Moreover, his recommendation to cap or cut teacher benefits, likely to generate the biggest savings, would not only exacerbate the present teacher shortage, but also would penalize the most valued, yet most underpaid, workers in our society.
For 13 years, I have served on the Fairfax County, Va., school board, which is responsible for overseeing the education of 170,000 children. Our district ranks fifth in the Washington metro area in per-pupil spending, and we spend $280 million per year (12 percent of our budget) to pay for the unfunded portions of state and federal mandates. Our state and federal elected officials expect us to implement programs to educate all children, and to show positive results. But they do not pay for these programs.
I reject Mr. Hartman’s suggestion that school boards like mine simply concede the appropriateness of our state’s and the federal government’s holding schools accountable, when they refuse to provide the funding that should accompany their mandates.
The Code of Virginia requires school boards to adopt annual budgets that reflect the needs of the children, and not artificial limitations on funding. Other states have similar requirements. We abdicate our responsibilities to the children and families we serve if we simply throw up our hands, as Mr. Hartman suggests, and slash our budgets to meet available funds.
Stuart D. Gibson
A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2008 edition of Education Week as Boards’ First Duty Is Not Slashing School Budgets