Views from the High School, Part I: Conestoga Students Support Their Teachers During TESD Budget Discussion

Members of Conestoga High School editorial staff weighed in on the District’s 2010-11 budget deficit in a recent issue of The Spoke. There were a couple of editorials that I found of particular interest and will post them separately.  This Op/Ed piece indicates student support for their teachers; attributing their educational successes to the faculty.  Based on past TESD budget and teacher union commentary on this site, views from our high school students present another interesting angle.  Do you think that the views of these specific students are representative of the student body?  Do you think that the teachers influence the students; in hopes that the students will help influence their parents (the taxpayers)?  Comments, anyone?

With early dismissal of school today, maybe local teachers and students can offer their opinions.  I will provide Views from the High School, Part II in a separate post.

Printed originally on p. 7 of The Spoke’s Feb. 23, 2010 edition.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of The Spoke editorial board, and not necessarily those of the administration, student body, community or advertisers.

      Defining our education

The recent economic downturn is affecting all corners of the country, causing numerous financial problems and leading to the loss of millions of dollars and jobs, both at the national and the local level.

As evidenced by the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District’s budget proposal for next year, the school board is also experiencing economic pressures as it tries to overcome a $9.25 million deficit without sacrificing the quality of the district’s educational program.

Nevertheless, to the consternation of many students and parents, the school board is making an age-old mistake. When tackling budget issues, all businesses naturally target areas with large expenditures. For schools, this leads to the reduction of some very important individuals: the teachers.

In a draft of budget reduction proposals discussed on Feb. 8, the school board’s finance committee acknowledged that “change is particularly challenging in schools where success has become the norm.” While this may be true, the board must also recognize that any success of the students is directly attributable to the high caliber teaching staff we have in the district today.

Still, several proposals in the budget draft will undoubtedly affect some of the most commendable employees in the field. Part of the proposal states that 19 teachers, including those who plan to retire or resign, will no longer be part of the school district next year. An increase in the number of instructional periods for Conestoga teachers is also recommended in the draft.

If this latter suggestion becomes a mandate, high school teachers will have to bear the brunt of extra pressure. An integral part of the school community, teachers serve as accomplished role models for students both inside and outside the classroom. Always available during school, teachers nurture individual student growth and help create learned citizens of the world—all this in a day’s work.

In fairness to the board, we in T/E are facing trying times, and difficult decisions must be made. However, teachers are invaluable resources that cannot be removed simply to alleviate economic woes. They are the most important and influential members of the school community and sacrificing them—though it may offer temporary economic relief—will only have a detrimental effect on the overall growth of students.

The suggestions made in the budget draft are not set in stone, though, and any ideas presented in the proposal can be changed. We, the Conestoga student body, need to step up. If you don’t like certain aspects of the proposal, then make your voice heard. Instead of showing your displeasure through Facebook posts, go to a school board meeting and directly address those who are involved in the decision-making process. It is, after all, your education. It’s your future.

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8 Comments

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  1. I would be astonished to hear anything but support for the teachers from students for four reasons:

    1. The primary source of information on the subject is the teachers themselves, who not only have the most to gain or lose from budget discussions, but who also enjoy a bully pulpit with a captive audience of students for over 7 hours a day.

    2. Students themselves enjoy most of the benefits and bear little (if any) of the costs of the school budget. They would naturally prefer more money be spent to make the people and places they have to spend most of their time more enjoyable.

    3. Many of these adolescents have little concept about budgetary matters. I doubt many have any realistic notion as to prevailing wages, costs of living, or tax rates.

    4. If, in spite of the first three points, a student did not support the teachers’ position on the budget or contract he would almost certainly not announce it. After all, he is at the mercy of these teachers not only until he graduates, but also in terms of what options he can pursue after he graduates.

    As a corrollary to #4: Even if a student didn’t agree with the teachers’ positions he has an incentive to publicly support it in order to ingratiate himself to those who largely control his life and future.

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  2. “An integral part of the school community, teachers serve as accomplished role models for students both inside and outside the classroom.”

    What a terrific opportunity for teachers to act as those role models and to demonstrate their integration with the community.

    Suppose the union came to the table and agreed to defer the next rounds of their compensation increases and shoulder half of the increase in benefits cost?

    At a stroke, half of the budget deficit could be removed. Programs and jobs could be saved. Individual union members would see an impact at the margin, but nothing worse than the rest of the community is experiencing. Any agreed salary imbalances could be addressed over time as the economy allows.

    Our children would see that economies function best when they are flexible, and that the old “us versus them” mentality is just for their history classes.

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  3. The Spoke didn’t get the facts right. The Board cannot reduce teaching staff for economic reasons. The contract and school code prohibits it. They can only reduce teaching staff thru attrition (e.g. by not hiring when someone leaves or retires) or by changing a program structure and applying to the Dept of Education.

    We are all at the mercy of public employees unions, and the costs of their retirement and health care will bankrupt us. Here is a good article on the subject: http://reason.com/archives/2010/01/12/class-war/singlepage

    These students have every reason to support the teachers who control their grades and their futures. Heck..if I were a student, I’d be out there writing articles asking for more teacher money too. But union benefits are out of control. None of us get guaranteed raises, complete job security, gold-plated health benefits and generous pensions. And we’d all love to have the amount of vacation time and short days teachers have. Teachers complain about the need for prep-time because they don’t want to take work home with them. And they get it too! But regular workers work longer hours and take work home, and we’re not paid as well or given as much job security.

    I support the School Board. They are trying to keep our taxes low while making clear that things need to change with our union contracts in the future.

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  4. Why not accept that maybe, just maybe, the students really like and value their teachers? Is that hard to believe? They also take a look around at who will be cut, more than likely their favorite teachers.
    Why are the teachers the target for this discussion? Let’s look at other areas:
    Why aren’t administrative salaries looked at more closely? What have their raises been like? How did the economic “crisis” influence Waters’ recent contract negotiation?
    Why aren’t more changes being proposed to other “waste” that takes place in the district? What about consultants? What about guest speakers? What about transportation costs? What about workshop costs?
    LM school district has raised taxes 10% in two years, I think. They seem to have some the best, most high-paid teachers in the state, high test scores, great new facilities, and laptops to boot!

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    Mike in Berwyn Reply:

    Resident:

    Any objective analysis, quantitative or qualitative, would conclude that students in TE and Lower Merion get a very comparable education. According to the most recent data:

    Average spending per student:
    LM $23,131
    TE $14,222

    Frankly, our system is delivering the same “product” for 38% fewer dollars per student than LM! Kudos to the TE administration, staff, Board, community and students. If I’m in LM, I’m wondering what I’m getting for an additional almost $9000/year per student.

    BTW, my understanding is that the infamous LM computers were paid for by PA. Somebody remind me why the state is spending $2mm on laptops for students in the wealthiest school district in PA?

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  5. Oh yes — by all means let’s follow LMSD as a beacon district. Are you kidding? They are on their 3rd Superintendent in 7 years. They are currently the defendants in two class action lawsuits (those laptops and no idea what the laws were regarding them is one). Dr. Waters most recent renewal was without salary increase. It is to our benefit that he stays. He could make more almost anywhere if he wanted to put his name out there – as we have a higher ranked district, no class action law suits filed against us, and reasonable taxes. And as many have said here and at the board meetings, the TESD administration has a wage freeze this year, and is far more stable and capable than their numbers would suggest. With few exceptions, the TE administrators were highly regarded teachers in this district before moving into administration.
    And of course students admire and support their teachers — but at 16, who cares? How many of these same kids drive to school despite not being allowed to park in the high school property — it’s a generation that wants what they want when they want it. They have no clue about cost. And of course parents of kids in the schools think their taxes are fair — private education is upwards of $20K a year.
    Please read what Berwyn Dad explained….the SPOKE was wrong. And when you are willing to let your kids decide how to spend YOUR money, then your point might make sense. The adults in the community who have said enough are in the VAST majority — so it serves us all well to work with them, not against them. I assure you the unemployment rate of tenured teachers is a whole lot lower than that of any other segment of our society.

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  6. The Spoke is a student newspaper written by students. I think it is reasonable to listen to the students rather than imagine they are ONLY patting our teachers on their backs for their own benefit. Seems pretty pessimistic to me.
    LM is a great district. I have heard very few complaints aside from the superintendent switches. But who cares? They seem to be producing just fine.
    I would love to see the same scrutiny here over admin salary as teacher salary. So far I have yet to see it. I know some admins have had an increase in about 20,000 in two years. Dr. Waters’ contract is really nice too.

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  7. Administrators have MERIT pay. Teachers choose to be part of a collectively bargained contract where they may not be paid more than anyone else with the same education and seniority. By the way– there is more scrutiny of administrators as they get annual reviews that influence their pay — individually. A neighboring district just hired a new superintendent and are paying him $200,000 — to get him to take the job I guess — because he left another job mid-contract where he was making just over $100K. It’s called supply and demand I guess. And I’m not pessimistic about kids — just have raised several and I know how easy it is to be liberal with your parents’ money. Plus — it’s not like they can change schools if they don’t like the teachers…
    By the way– I think LMSD is a wonderful district, because i spend a lot of time learning about other places, but if you haven’t heard anything bad about them, you haven’t been listening anywhere. Watch their meetings, read local articles, read blogs about it…the class action lawsuit filed by 9 John Does for racial violations in redistricting has opened a very deep can of worms bringing out students and graduates and parents who all pound on how the district treats minorities and special ed. Maybe they have axes to grind — but the point is that using LMSD as an example — the most overtaxed district you can fathom — is not really apples and apples.
    This isn’t about defending the teachers — by the way — i think the TESD teachers are fabulous. But people choose to teach, and then they take jobs where they can get them. If they want to make more, they can either change careers, or change districts, or hope the leadership has points to make in bargaining. Otherwise, it’s like ALL of us that work — you know what you want, but you take what you can get.

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