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