economics, politics, rant

Against Full-Day Kindergarten

The Common Core State Standards website asks,

Q: Why do we need educational standards?

A: We need standards to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce.

Let’s assume for a moment that that is the goal of primary and secondary education. (Let’s also ignore the missing hyphen between post and secondary.) Will full-day Kindergarten help in achieving this goal?

No.

Why not?

Because extreme differences in academic ability collapse by the fourth grade. All of us, including children, learn at different rates. In general, those differences disappear on average by the time we are about ten years old, or fourth grade. I understand the difficulty of scientific experiments on humans, but we do what we can; and what we can do shows that there’s no evidence that learning a subject earlier makes a difference.

So, what exactly is the point of full-day Kindergarten?

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economics, politics

On the Arlington Central School District Budget (2012-2013)

Arlington Central School District budget planning for FY 2012-2013 has resulted in a fairly good budget. I particularly like the appendices that are included for the first time in this year’s budget book.

Budget creation is a bit of a balancing act. This year our district has done well in limiting the increase in costs — unlike the adjacent Wappingers Central School District which has chosen to add a potential long-term increase in costs in order to secure a one-time grant — so I will vote to approve the spending plan.

Late last year the Poughkeepsie Journal relayed the news that the district wanted public input prior to planning the 2012-2013 budget. I e-mailed the following:

By the time the budget discussions arrive, the costs are fixed in contracts, so staff reductions are the only option. It’s during contract negotiations that the board needs to consider the effect on the budget. If the budget is capped at a 2% annual increase, then don’t agree to contracts that will result in a 4.29% increase.

I should have written the costs the district controls are fixed in contracts. There are other costs imposed by the United States and New York State which can change the budget numbers significantly. These include, among other things, required administrative reporting changes, curriculum changes, and, most predictably, contributions to the pension funds. The U.S. and New York typically pass these costs on to the localities. It is reasonable for localities to support the cost of public education, but not when they have not been party to the decisions that have increased those costs.

But, as in previous years, Arlington has not yet confronted the need to project long-term budget impacts during contract negotiations, and will, once again, need to discover $4,000,000 in reserve funds, operating cost reductions, and a tax increase to cover an increase in labor costs. The district’s costs are primarily labor-related, so any persistent reduction in cost must consider labor. And if the district cannot reduce labor costs caused by Washington and Albany, then it must address those it can.

More information on the Arlington budget can be found at the district’s web site.

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economics, politics

Comments on the Arlington Central School District Budget (2010-2011)

The Board of Education of the Arlington Central School District has made the difficult decision to close an elementary school in order to reduce the district’s budget.There are obviously consequences to this decision other than the money involved. Some are logistical, such as the effect on bus routes and the dispersion of the population to other buildings. Some are emotional; the school to be closed, Lagrange Elementary School, has been an integral part of that community since 1966.

My comments are not on those subjects, which made the decision difficult, but on the choices the Board has made in the overall budget, and particularly with regard to the closing of the school building.

A review of the school budget process in New York is in order. The Superintendent proposes a budget. The Board adopts the budget and submits it to the voters in the school district for approval. If the budget is not approved by the voters, then the Board may submit the same budget or a revised budget for a second vote, or adopt a contingency budget. If the budget is not approved in the second vote, then the Board must adopt the contingency budget. The contingency budget allows for certain expenditures, but not others, and will increase costs over last year’s budget. More details on the nature of contingency budgets are available from the New York State Department of Education.

Because of this need for voter approval, the Board finds it necessary to sell the budget to the voters, and is somewhat more circumspect than blunt when describing the decisions being made. In their brief description of the benefit of closing Lagrange Elementary School, the Board says this.

This reduces the budget by $1,109,160, bringing the budget to budget increase down to 1.7%.

That number is interesting because it comes directly from the Superintendent’s school closing report, page 5.

The elementary school model yielded the following estimates of cost savings for closing:

  1. Building not used and 0 regular teaching positions are eliminated: $1,292,160
  2. Building not used and 8 regular teaching positions are eliminated: 1,885,760
  3. Building used for other District purposes and 0 regular teaching
    positions are eliminated: 1,109,160
    [emphasis mine]
  4. Building used for other District purposes and 8 regular teaching positions are eliminated: 1,702,760

See Exhibit 3 on page 11 of the report. This shows how the cost savings is determined: by eliminating 26.8 positions associated exclusively with the school. Of particular interest is the decision not to eliminate any teaching positions as a result of closing the school. Not only are the students being re-assigned to other schools, but so are the teachers. This is perhaps kind to the students: if they are left back, then they might encounter a familiar teacher in the new school. However, if the eight average teaching positions used in the estimate were eliminated, the district would see an additional $600,000 in savings.

The Board has already made the tough decision to close a school. What happens if the voters think that small sacrifice isn’t enough, and require a contingency budget?

If the budget is defeated again, the District must adopt a “contingency budget.” This will require a further reduction of $1.6 million. In addition to the 25 positions eliminated by closing a school, the contingency budget would require that an additional 18.5 teachers lose their jobs. [emphasis mine]

But what, specifically, does the Board say would be cut?

The superintendent has recommended several cuts to core instructional programs. These include:

  • Reducing selected high school electives and AP courses
  • Eliminating fourth grade band and orchestra
  • Reducing the middle school and high school band, orchestra, and choral programs
  • Decreasing teaming for 6th grade students, which will significantly raise class size at this grade level.
  • Cutting high school sports
  • Eliminating all middle school competitive sports

This is where it gets really interesting, at least from a political or marketing perspective.

The District has been very helpful in posting which line items might be cut, and their descriptions so we can see for ourselves the numbers underlying the summary description of the cuts. Notice which of these particular line items, which I have helpfully marked in red, have been selected for inclusion in the summary.

Reference Number Item Description Est. Value Positions
58 Eliminate 0.5 credits art in either grades 7 or 8 100,170 1.5
59 Eliminate accelerated art in grade 8 29,702 0.4
60 Grade 6 teacher reconfiguration – reduce team from 5 teachers to 4 teachers 467,459 7.0
61 Increase elementary class sizes up to 29, 30 and 31 per ATA contract 1,703,060 25.5
62 Eliminate teaming Grades 7 & 8 all middle schools 534,240 8.0
64 Close one elementary school 1,109,160
65 Close one middle school 1,875,000 32.0
66 Reduce electives & advanced placement at AHS 267,120 4.0
68 This line intentionally left blank
70 Eliminate computer instruction classes in middle schools 238,000 4.6
71 Eliminate computer trainer 55,767 1.0
72 Eliminate instrumental instruction Grade 4 students or increase groups sizes 200,340 3.0
73 Reduce instrumental small group lessons in middle School to alternate weeks 267,120 4.0
74 Reduce small group instrumental lessons in high school to alternate weeks 200,340 3.0
75 Eliminate all instrumental lessons or band groups to alternate days gr. 6-8 267,120 4.0
76 Chorus to meet on alternate days in middle schools instead of daily 100,170 1.5
77 Reduce middle school hall monitors 42,745 1.5
79 Eliminate all sports program at middle schools 157,810
80 Eliminate all intramural program at middle schools 30,000
81 Reduce sports and co – curricular activities at high school 56,236
82 Reduce AHS house assistant principal work year from 12 to 10 months 65,582 partials
83 Eliminate two AHS house assistant principals 157,800 2.0
86 Eliminate one district supervisor 111,919 1.0
87 Teaching assistants Tier Three Gr. K-12 1,167,388 47.0
88 Eliminate all remaining busses after school grades 6-12 94,298 hours
New Equipment (required by State law) 107,754

This budget is being sold to the voters by targeting those items the voters actually care about: sports and music. NONE of the sports line items result in a staff reduction. These are stipends being paid to the teachers and coaches for their time. The coaches will still be employed. The music teachers on the other hand, will not be. A couple of years ago, the Mahopac School District was in a similar situation, and a second defeat at the polls resulted in cutting the sports programs. The Mahopac Sports Association picked up the cost. In the detailed description of the line item, the District notes:

The following criteria were used to establish these potential cuts …. Activities that have significant financial parental support which might be available to assist in funding recovery.

But of even more interest is that none of these cuts resulted in a reduction of administrative staff or salary.

The bulk of the cost of running a school is labor, primarily teachers but also administrative staff, cooks, mechanics, drivers, and custodians. The bulk of the cost is not textbooks. It is not sports equipment. It is not heating and cooling. It is salaries and benefits.

And the District, in comparison to others in New York, does fairly well at keeping those costs down. The challenge is in slowing or halting the rate of increase, and in doing so to find a way to avoid increasing taxes. Without understanding where the costs are, and without facing those costs head on, we will — as we have been for each year in recent memory — be faced once again with the same difficult choices year after year.

This year’s budget does not directly address these costs in a systematic fashion. It eliminates staff positions instead. That adjustment changes future budget projections, but only because those staff are no longer employed. The factors which caused this year’s budget to increase by $5 million are still there. Next year’s will as well.

To quote again from the Superintendent’s report,

The credibility and trustworthiness of the Superintendent of Schools and the Board of Education will hang in the balance and will impact the School District long into the future.


p.s. The district consistently uses the alternate spelling of buses, which drives me nuts.

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communication

Parrots

The differences between American media and the BBC World Service in treatment of the financial situation with the automotive industry, or anything really, are just striking. I’ve been listening to WNYC on my drive to the office, so hear NPR‘s Morning Edition, followed by Marketplace Morning Report and then the BBC World Service Newshour. I noticed earlier in the year — after NPR had a short discussion with Barney Frank where they asked him no questions, and he told them no lies — that the interviews on the BBC had more of the nature of a debate. Two guests of presumed opposing viewpoints are invited to discuss the issue of the day, and the host engages with them in a somewhat antagonistic fashion. If a claim is made, he asks for support of the claim.

This tool of the British government is less like a brain-dead parrot than our ostensibly independent media. What purpose does it serve for the media to regurgitate the latest press release?

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economics

Electronic Medical Records

On Marketplace this morning, they mentioned that Obama wants electronic medical records.

  1. Why is it any of Obama’s damn business?
  2. I haven’t noticed a reduction in paperwork as a result of computing.
  3. There are normal computing issues magnified by the sensitivity of the data.

Earlier some doctor interviewed on another NPR program said he would love medical records, and that they would save him money — and that the government should pay for them because the tools are too expensive.

Excuse me?

If they are too expensive for you to buy in order to reduce your costs then they are not saving you money. The only way the cost-benefit analysis comes out in your favor is if you don’t have to pay for it.

And so I view this, like many other things, as simply yet another power grab.

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liberty, politics

What, Me Worry? I’ve Done Nothing Wrong.

One thing I’ve never quite understood is how advocates for expansive government power never quite seem able to imagine themselves as being on the unpleasant receiving end of that power.

Take, for example, Michelle Malkin, who has been a vocal and enthusiastic proponent of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act but is now, finally, concerned that her liberty might be at risk. I’m not alone in seeing the irony in this.

It would, however, be a crying shame if the people whose party was until recently the token opposition conveniently forgot their defense of liberty now that they are in power.

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economics, politics

A Little Less Help, Please

For those of you not paying attention, fuel costs are up. This change in circumstances changes the calculation of which mode of operation is optimal. In the case of transportation, the cost of long-haul packet shipping over railroads has dropped below that of trucks.

Commenting on this drop, Matthew Yglesias remarks,

Clearly trucks have a massive inherent advantage as a method of doing the last-mile of shipping, but for long-haul stuff a more rational federal policy environment in terms of carbon pricing and road/rail funding balance would give further momentum to this boom.

I think anyone who has bought wheat recently might suggest that Federal subsidies perturb the market substantially, frequently with severe unintended consequences. I highly doubt that Congress expected the price of pizza to rise because they were throwing buckets of money at corn ethanol. In light of the all-too-frequent confirmation that government intervention is a crude implement, perhaps a rational Federal policy environment would stop poking the economy with that stick. Perhaps we might remove subsidies for both highways and railroads, instead of increasing funding for the latter.

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economics, transportation

Lesser of Two Evils

We live about five miles, 11 minutes, by car from the Kindergarten, but the Big Sister rides the bus for 30 minutes or more.

Last night residents in the Mahopac Central School District voted on a bond proposition. The question before the people was whether the district could raise funds to purchase six new buses by issuing a five-year bond not to exceed $500,000. The proposition was approved, by 502 to 309. The rest of the population abstained, and accepts the majority decision.

The Journal News asked a couple of voters what they thought.

Kevin Dunn, however, voted against the plan because he feels the cost of running the district has grown out of control.

“They need to cut, not increase spending,” said Dunn, a business analyst, whose three elder children graduated and whose youngest is a second-grader at Lakeview Elementary School. “I want to see cuts. They can do plenty on the administrative side, I’m sure.”

I voted for the proposition because it was the lesser of two evils. Were the bond to be denied, the district would have leased the same number of buses, and the tax burden would have been higher. We could not tell the district administration to find the money elsewhere, but only how much they could remove from our pockets. I expect the district to retire the oldest buses, those with less efficient engines and which generate more pollutants, and replace them with the new equipment. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t.

If the citizens do not want to support a large fleet of buses, then school buildings need to be built near the students, and the towns must be laid out so that the children can safely walk to school.

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politics, transportation

Spare the Belt, and Spoil the Child

The Big Sister goes to kindergarten in the Fall. On Tuesday, I went to an orientation session about the school buses, where I learned an interesting thing. The buses have seatbelts. The drivers may “suggest” that the children wear the seatbelts, but the children are not required to wear them. At this tender age the children may exercise their discretion in this matter of personal safety, but we adults may not.

I recall in 1980-something when Virginia proposed and passed a bill requiring the occupants of a car’s front seat to wear safety belts. We — that is, the consensus in Highland County — were aghast that the State’s interest in preserving the life of its citizens extended so far as to curtail the risks one willingly undertook to drive a vehicle. We, or at least I, could understand the negligence of a driver in not asking his passengers to wear their safety belts, but to penalize a consenting adult for actions that would harm only him? Such a thing could happen only in a Nanny State like New York.

Now I live in New York, and find that safety belts and seats are required in private passenger vehicles, not in public buses; that the State’s actions in the public sphere are inconsistent with those in the private; and I have to laugh because it so absurd. The State, to which we entrust our children, acting in loco parentis, deems it unnecessary for our children to wear the same belts they fine us for not wearing.

Ha!

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