Flagg: Issue 1 isn’t for our kidsWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
This is the fourth in a series about the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) levy. The first, “Tough choices,” was published July 26. The second, “TPS’ pig in a poke,” was published Oct. 19. The third, “Student outcomes first,” was published Oct. 26.
Toledo Public Schools officials are promising a continuation of the momentum with the passage of Issue 1, a levy that will siphon $66.5 million from the poorest sections of Toledo (two school districts operate in Toledo, TPS and Washington Local Schools).
According to TPS, continuing the momentum — mostly resulting from a change to K-8 elementary schools — requires restoring bus transportation to pre-2010 levels ($30 million), increasing employee salaries for competitive purposes ($27.5 million), purchasing 2,000 computers in each of the next five years ($7.5 million) and building maintenance ($1.5 million).
Transportation of students has no documented impact on student outcomes except where it might increase attendance. Yet TPS has had a steady attendance rate of around 94 percent, both before and after transportation was cut back in 2010. No research exists to support higher student outcomes from such services and TPS has not made a compelling argument.
TPS makes a case for increased salaries by offering mostly anecdotal stories such as principals lost to other districts for $20,000 more a year. Yet we’re not told that TPS is the only district in the state where principals are unionized. The contract restricts TPS’ ability to compete salary-wise and changes in contract language should be the prescription. TPS’ proposed solution won’t keep talented principals when other districts can offer what the market will bear. TPS says teachers are underpaid. Yet again the district presents its case relying upon sketchy data from a few local and urban districts at two salary grades out of 182 grades on the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT) salary schedule. Total compensation, which includes a list of TPS fringe benefits versus other districts, has not been reviewed. Union contracts and political influence on local boards of education are the real barriers to retaining experienced teachers. There is no competition for experienced teachers among districts.
Teacher recruitment could be a problem especially for teachers with specialty skills like math, science and special education. Starting teachers receive the same base pay for four years, which is likely a competitive disadvantage when recruiting the best college graduates.
While starting teacher salaries have been cannibalized and compressed in prior negotiations, every six months from years four to 13 and less frequently from years 13 to 30, teachers receive longevity step increases between 2 and 4 percent annually. For example, teachers with a bachelor’s degree see their salaries increase from year four through year 12 by 38 percent (at a 4.5 percent average annual increase).
Starting salaries require review but TPS isn’t planning a major overhaul even if the levy passes. TPS mostly hires teachers directly from colleges and invests heavily — although not always effectively — to improve each teacher’s capacity. It is critical in such situations to get the best candidates possible while providing high levels of support to improve teacher quality within TPS.
TPS just hasn’t done its homework. It has never looked at total compensation and issues such as starting salaries, incentives for hard-to-fill teaching specialties and the challenges of staffing low-performing, high-poverty schools with the best teachers.
In May, wages in the third year of the contract will be re-opened for negotiation. Based on past fact-finding reports resulting from negotiation impasses, the fact finder is likely to support the union’s request for a large portion of the new levy. Even the TPS treasurer has publicly acknowledged that state labor laws favor unions in negotiations, meaning large surpluses result in significant employee wage increases that create large future structural deficits necessitating future budget cuts, things like student transportation. In the end, just as it always has, the board will likely cave to the political pressure, approve the fact finder’s recommendations and TPS will be saddled with higher costs while maintaining the status quo. Students will once again come out on the short end — especially poor and minority students.
Integrating 2,000 computers a year into the classroom and curriculum is a daunting task. It requires a plan, support services and digital instruction materials. There isn’t a plan and there has been no mention of materials or access for poor students to home Internet connections.
If you look at the facts and want real improvement in student outcomes, this levy is not worthy of your vote. It’s not about the students — our kids and future — but about controlling the economic engine called TPS to benefit the few. More money unwisely spent on programs not directly impacting student achievement just raises long-term costs and makes it difficult to fund programs that will impact student outcomes.
The TPS Board of Education doesn’t deserve our support for their half-baked, politically motivated new levy request. There are simply better ways to spend money that can improve student outcomes.
Steven Flagg is a community activist with more than 20 years of experience in education advocacy. For more, visit tpsinfo.com or @sgflagg on Twitter.