With the new school year beginning shortly, it’s a good time to review what we have learned since the spring about schoolyard bullies. You know the kind: they usually spend their days in the administration building. We were reminded during the legislative session that the way to defeat a bully is to stand up to them, call their bluff, and even punch back.
First, bullies threaten those who they think won’t fight back.
Administrative bullies went so far as to cancel teachers’ contracts to force them — and rightfully worried parents — into towing the line. Specifically, the administrators wanted state legislators to continue the unaccountable funding increases of the last two decades.
Since 2000, per-pupil spending has doubled in Texas — far exceeding inflation. Administrators grew the non-classroom bureaucracy by leaps and bounds, with teachers hired only at a rate to barely keep up with enrollment growth. The ranks of non-teachers is now at a one-to-one ratio with classroom teachers.
Remember: the legislature did still spend more on public education than ever before — with public-ed receiving a record-breaking 60 percent of that state’s available tax money. Administrators never took time to thank the Texas taxpayers, because wanted even more money to grow their personal fiefdoms.
Those same administrators fought tooth and nail against new accountability measures, even convincing legislators to forgo new transparency tools so taxpayers can track how education dollars are spent. How to effectively spend a new dollar is less important (if at all) to the bully-class, than the taking a new dollar.
We’ve now seen the bullies’ teacher-bluff begin to unravel. After all, there are legal and practical limits to just how big a classroom can be, so school administrators are hiring back the teachers.
For example, the Austin Independent School District has not only re-hired for the positions they “fired” during their political-statement-making of the spring, they have actually increased the number of teaching positions now available in the district.
Second, administrative bullies like to shake us down for our milk money.
When parents and legislators pushed against the “fire teachers” threat, administrators decided to threaten property owners with local tax hikes. Apparently they thought voters would be so scared of the specter of a local tax increase, they’d fall in line with the irresponsible bully agenda at the Capitol.
Too bad for them, the taxpayers didn’t take kindly to the threat.
The bullies at Keller Independent School District made the tactical mistake of being first in line to push the threat onto the ballot box. The administrators irrationally picked a fight with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, saying the tax hike was necessary or teachers would get the axe – blaming the legislature.
Voters wouldn’t be pushed around, and resoundingly sent the tax hike down in flames. Their bluff called, the Keller bullies were forced to admit no teachers would be fired. It’s simply not acceptable to use classrooms as hostage for grow-government programs.
Seeing the Keller incident, other schools bullies who had threatened tax hikes have mostly backed down. Few administrators are even uttering the “t” word in public for fear of how badly they would fall. (A notable exception is Leander ISD, near Austin, which the Austin American Statesman is reporting plans to hike taxes and cut per-pupil spending. Apparently the Leander superintendent has said he will cut a total of $20,000 from his own salary and benefits package. His base salary is currently at $190,800; no word on the value of his benefits package.)
When all else fails, bullies resort to their last tactic: blustering about their own importance and independence. This is more dangerous than the administrators realize. Such braggadocio can lead to undesirable places: like being jobless.
The Luling ISD superintendent is on currently on administrative leave, following an audit that found unnamed administrators had been using the school district credit card for personal uses. The El Paso ISD superintendent was arrested by the FBI two weeks ago on corruption charges.
In school district after school district, administrators bill taxpayers for luxury cars, expensive vaca-conferences, high-dollar meals, club memberships, retirement packages and other perks that serve to broadcast their importance. It paints an accurate picture of selfish, self-righteous leadership.
Texans understand that spending half of the public education dollar outside the classroom isn’t an effective ratio. Blustering administrative bullies, with their legions of sycophants, aides, associations and lobbyists, are a prime place to start cutting in the much-needed effort to protect the classroom and Texas’ economy.