Les Miserables in Hanover or “Bobonomics” Strikes Again

Oak Knoll Middle School, Hanover County

January brings to Virginia the opening of the General Assembly  and the annual fight over local school budgets. Four years after the beginning of the Great Recession, one of its greatest impacts has been in funding local K-12 education. With tax bases funded primarily by real estate levies, the education sector seems to be lagging the overall economy in recovering.  Hanover County  seems to be struggling even more than most.

Hanover has become increasingly suburban over the past few decades but retains an agricultural political bent. It is what some political scientists call a “low tax/low service”entity. Proposed changes to the way its schools operate demonstrate why this tag is appropriate.

Hanover’s proposed budget for the next school year expands the teacher work day, at the high school level, from seven to eight periods without expanding the total time in the instructional day.  This means that teachers will be dealing with less scholastic time with their charges.  In a system that emphasizes standardized test scores, Hanover teachers will be at a distinct disadvantage. Less interaction with students means lower test scores.

Additionally teachers will be expected to add an additional class period to their instructional load,  increasing their responsibilities from five to six periods. In effect, Hanover county is cutting teacher salaries by 20%. Please note that teacher salaries have decreased in real terms over the past several years as they have remained unchanged in nominal terms, but have suffered in buying power by the rise in the general price level and they have been hit by rising  health insurance costs compounding in excess of 7%, as well as higher mandated contributions to the Virginia Retirement System. Teaching has gone from a financial joke to a financial disaster.

I suggest that Hanover go back to the “good old days” and adopt the monitorial system the was used in some schools in 19th century England. Under this plan a “clever” student would be instructed by a teacher and then the student would be charged with transmitting the subject matter to his peers. This system would allow Hanover to dismiss most of its instructional staff and keep its taxes really low, creating more jobs in gas stations and burger joints along I-95 .

A recent article in the London-based “Economist” magazine dealing with education made the following point concerning successful instructional systems: “They tend to hire excellent teachers and keep them motivated, monitoring their work and intervening when they falter.” I guess the Hanovarians have taken their conclusions regarding economics from Governor Bob.  If we want less traffic -make it cheaper to drive so it would naturally follow that if more academic achievement is desired pay less to those who make it happen.

– Les Schreiber

5 Responses to Les Miserables in Hanover or “Bobonomics” Strikes Again

  1. I’m about as pro-school as one can get but the difference between us and Europe and Japan when it comes to achievement is that they focus on core academic subjects and leave the sports and amenity courses to the parents and kids to pursue through means other than tax-funded schools.

    In this country, and in Virginia, you’ll find that many Virginia localities provide far more that the state standards require. In one county that I am familiar with, taxpayers provide 70 million dollars MORE in funding than the state requires on things that are beyond the scope of the basic SOQs.

    What happens is the advocacy for the “extras” does compete with and squeeze the core academic SOL subjects.

    when we talk about putting pressures on teachers of SOLS keep in mind this is not all teachers either.

    Our schools should focus on core academics FIRST and FOREMOST and things beyond that should be the legitimate cost of the parents and at best a shared cost between parents and taxpayers with some free/reduced lunch type help for kids whose parents cannot afford the extra, non SOL courses.

    Our problem, over and over, is we always want more than we can afford. At the individual level we end up with many making the tough choices while others get themselves into debt and trouble with credit cards.

    But at the public level – we collectively push our institutions to provide more and more with less and less and the problem is with schools – the “more and more” competes with and endangers the core academic curricula.

    The Europeans and Japanese clean our clocks academically because they focus on academics and let parents buy the extras… We need to start thinking of that in education when money gets tight. Instead of squeezing SOL teachers – we need to insure they are not only protected but empowered to perform their vital work.

    A good start would be to pay teachers who teach SOL subjects a stipend – a significant stipend that makes clear to all those who would aspire to be a teacher – to recognize that the teaching of core academic subjects is the priority.

    We HAVE to discriminate AND prioritize our resources so that we are fiscally responsible and stop this foolishness about having to fund everything and anything that we “want”.

  2. Les, you make reasonable points overall. But I would quibble with this statement: ” In effect, Hanover county is cutting teacher salaries by 20%.”

    No, Hanover isn’t cutting teacher salaries by 20%, it’s asking teachers to work 20% harder. That’s pretty much the story across the entire economy. Talk to anyone in the private sector. Everyone is working harder…. except those without jobs. And they aren’t working at all.

    The real problem, as you do point out, is that working longer hours does not necessarily lead to higher productivity. It could lead to lower quality.

  3. “It is what some political scientists call a “low tax/low service”entity.”.

    This is their prerogative.

    I am always amazed that some people don’t think localities should be able to be “low tax / low service” or “high tax / high service” or anything in between.

    Personally, I prefer to live in a “high tax / high service” locality – especially if the taxes are being used for infrastructure and education rather than entitlements. But that’s just me. Others have different preferences. To each their own.

  4. I’d like to see a school budget that shows the costs to comply with state and federal requirements; the additional programs, staffing, etc. the schools would like to provide; the additional costs and benefits associated therewith; and how the public can know whether the benefits were achieved.

  5. well.. how about a school budget that shows the positions necessary for SOQ funding – and the ones that are not?

    Most suburban school systems in Va spend far, far more than is required and it comes from local property taxes.

    In Spotsylvania, 70 million dollars is the amount that is locally funded over and above what the SOQ required match is.

    You won’t see this laid out in the school budgets. You have to look at the county budget itself to see the required local transfer and the rest of the local transfer.

    My point is that most of these school systems are funded willingly by the local taxpayers – over and above the minimum required to fund the SOQ/SOLs – which are core-academic-focused.

    But then we have this other narrative that schools spend way too much money for the mediocre results they get – those results being the core academics that are compared with other countries- reading, writing, science and math.

    so we’re funding MORE than the required state match but it’s NOT going for core academics but rather the ‘extras’ that parents and students want.

    I’m not arguing against or for this – only that we refuse to recognize what the reality is and the reality is we’re hammering on teaching in general for poor performance but we ourselves don’t actually push for more funding of core academics but rather the amenities.

    Europe and Japan – all top-down central-directed public school systems beat our top-down, central-directed schools systems – not because our teachers are bad but simply because we spend more but not on core academics.

    that’s the truth that I hardly see anyone really face up to. Instead, we tend to play this silly blame game on regulations and “bad” teachers, etc.

    I can guarantee you if we helicoptered in European and Japanese teacher the results would be exactly the same because it’s the way we are institutionally oriented.

    Charter schools basically attract the small minority of kids who ARE focused on academics… and many Charter and private schools really don’t have money EXCEPT for core academics.

    if you want sports and chess clubs and photo journalism, you gotta go to a regular public school.

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