Teachers' union to blame for drop in student numbers?
I wasn't surprised to learn Duluth's traditional public schools have fewer students in the school year that just started. There's no doubt the infamous Red Plan, which wasted a lot of taxpayer dollars on expensive changes to the district's school...
I wasn't surprised to learn Duluth's traditional public schools have fewer students in the school year that just started.
There's no doubt the infamous Red Plan, which wasted a lot of taxpayer dollars on expensive changes to the district's school buildings, is part of the problem. Many local people resented being denied a vote on that plan and its high cost.
Superintendent Keith Dixon mentioned smaller class sizes as one thing that may attract students to private and charter schools. There's no doubt of that. The smaller total numbers of students in such schools is also a draw.
But there are a lot of other problems with the traditional public schools, and that has driven parents to move students to charter and private schools all across the nation. A big part of that are the high costs imposed on taxpayers by the teachers' unions, which are a single entity in Minnesota but two unions in most states.
Not only are the teacher unions the biggest impediment to meaningful reform around the country, the generous contracts they have negotiated with school boards result in way too much of the money that is nominally spent for classroom teachers going instead to fringe-benefit costs for early retired teachers who don't teach anyone anything.
Teaching is hard and crucially important work, and most teachers do the job well.
But, despite the propaganda put out by teacher unions, it is not a low-paying profession. If you doubt me, ask school officials what an average teacher makes -- or what top-scale ones do. It's not as high as doctors, lawyers or CPAs, but it's a really nice chunk of change for an entry-level position.
Of course, the primary blame for unaffordable fringe-benefit costs should go to the school boards that negotiate these contracts, but the unions push hard to make it happen. Anytime the head of the teachers' union and school administrators say nice things about each other -- as has happened recently in Duluth -- taxpayers should check their wallets because too much money is going into paychecks and perks, which don't assure that better education takes place in the classrooms.
It is interesting to note that many students who've left traditional public schools don't turn up in private schools but rather in public schools that operate free of some strictures imposed by union contracts.
Though I once had to argue the point with a Duluth School Board candidate -- who was elected -- charter schools are public schools. And so are the many online schools that have also taken students out of the Duluth district in recent years.
An Aug. 31 News Tribune story provided information about the flow of students out of the Duluth School District and into charter and private schools. It was interesting to read a story directly beneath that it about a Duluth girl who was just named the 2010 Minnesota fiddle champion. She said her win was possible because of the long hours of practice that were made possible because of her enrollment in an online school.
I wonder how many Duluth students would be lost by the traditional public schools if the Catholic Diocese suddenly reverted to the large number of schools they used to have. During my time in school, Duluth had three Catholic high schools in Duluth; now there are none.
Before Hurricane Katrina, the public schools in New Orleans could only be described as pitiful.
One of the few good things to come out of the chaos of that storm has been a total revamp of that city's school system.
About 60 percent of the students now attend charter schools with non-union teachers.
While these schools still have a long way to go, test results for this revamped system have shown significant improvement.
There was a time when, unless you were a Catholic parent, there was no question where your kids would go to school.
There are lots of questions today, and the traditional public schools have to make sure they're ready to compete in this new marketplace.
Otherwise their districts may come to resemble New Orleans -- though in Duluth the smaller student body would have lots of new buildings to attend thanks to the Red Plan.
Budgeteer opinion columnist Virgil Swing has been writing about Duluth for many years. Contact him at email@example.com .