“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” (John Adams – 2nd President of the United States)
How Do We Fix Our WCSD Schools? Part II of a Series
For over a decade, the Washoe County School District (and all Nevada public schools) have ranked last in the nation or almost-last in the nation in quality of education. WCSD superintendents and school boards have primarily blamed our failing schools on a lack of funding. That is probably false because 10 states fund their public schools equal-to or LOWER-than Nevada, and all 10 of those states outperform our schools.
But if the solution for improving our schools is NOT increasing the funding, then what is it?
Our failing schools result the following 4 main issues that need to be dealt with. Each issue will be explained in more detail in this column and in the three succeeding ones.
1) WASTE LESS MONEY on buildings and non-instructional support services
2) WASTE LESS TIME and MONEY on instructional-related employees
3) MORE ACCOUNTABILITY regarding WHAT is taught and HOW
4) BETTER DISCIPLINE and CONTROL of student behavior
How Do We Fix Our WCSD Schools?
1) Waste Less Money on Buildings and Non-Instructional Support Services
- PRIVATIZE MOST SCHOOL SUPPORT SERVICES
Amount that could be saved annually: $12-$20 million per year (20-35% savings from what is currently being spent)
Over half of the public school districts in the US privatize some or most of their non-instructional support services: hiring this work out to local private contractors. WCSD has approximately 10,000 employees, but only about 3500 of them are teachers with daily student contact. For every 1 employee who is actually teaching students, almost 2 more are considered “non-instructional support services.”
Who are the other 6500 non-teaching employees? Administrators of every imaginable kind, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, countless “specialists” (whom no one is quite sure WHAT they do), maintenance workers doing upkeep and repair in most construction trades, and an army of clerical workers, including payroll, accounting, insurance, attorneys, and more. After working over 40 years in 7 different public school districts in both teaching and administration at all levels, I can ASSURE you that the ranks of non-instructional support personnel are bloated, minimally, by 20-35% (more specifics about that in Part III of this series).
Over 60% of public school districts in the US privatize some or many of their non-instructional support services. I know firsthand that this works, because as the superintendent of a small charter school district, I privatized only the maintenance, food, and custodial services, and reduced our typical costs by 30% immediately (privatizing much of the clerical work would provide even greater savings). Not only did my district save money, but the condition of our buildings and grounds immediately improved 100%, and our food quality was better than it had ever been. Additionally, our district was not burdened with expensive, long-term financial obligations for health insurance, payroll costs, and pensions. The contractors we privately hired provided workers that were far more motivated than the district employees, who had allowed the guaranteed employment/no-pressure conditions of their work situations to greatly decrease their work ethic and productivity.
WHY IS WCSD NOT PRIVATIZING MUCH OF THEIR NON-INSTRUCTIONAL SUPPORT SERVICES?
- WASTE LESS MONEY BY TOTALLY RE-THINKING HOW WE BUILD NEW SCHOOLS
Hershey bars no longer cost a nickel and you can’t smoke on airplanes. You don’t have to get up every time you change the TV channel, and… school districts no longer need to keep throwing away hundreds of millions of dollars on traditional school buildings that don’t reflect the changes in our current world.
WCSD is just completing another new high school. The new Hug High has cost taxpayers over $250 million. That price could have been reduced – minimally – by 30-40% ($100 million!) if the following common-sense options had been implemented, (approximate price savings were quoted by 2 school architecture firms).
- Eliminate the football fields, gyms, tennis courts, weight rooms, and track, and all the attendant costs of extra land, maintenance, equipment, and personnel. Spending tens of millions of dollars for team-sport facilities that only 3-4% of the study body use, and THEN for only a few months each year, no longer makes sense. Student athletes would not lose anything. The best sports teams, for years, have been “club sports”: private teams that are rightfully funded by the parents of the students who choose to participate.
- Create better campus health for ALL students and staff by replacing the gym(s) with a MUCH lower-cost, multi-purpose room open floor that could easily fit 200+ students (and staff) at-a-time for mandatory, vigorous, daily calisthenics for 30 minutes that would greatly surpass the fitness results of the dying elective of “gym class.” Replacing standard PE with an activity like this would do far more to address the major health issue of obesity that afflicts 30% of our teens and 45% of our teachers. Having staff and students working out together every day would not only be a great bonding activity and increase campus health, but would greatly reduce WCSD’s insurance costs from obesity-related health claims by teachers.
- Eliminate the shower rooms and lockers. The construction savings would be great, but greater still would be avoiding the infinite possibility of costly lawsuits due to questions of inappropriate behavior and which sexes use which locker rooms and showers.
- Design schools with no hallways. Any architect will tell you that hallways within-and-between buildings take up 15-20% of the total space/cost of new construction
The savings realized by these 2 common sense, cost-reduction measures would enable WCSD to significantly lower class size, operate the district at a surplus instead of a $40+ million deficit, and focus resources on our schools’ primary job: ensuring that all students acquire the provable academic skills necessary for a successful future.
Feedback is welcomed. Contact Paul White at firstname.lastname@example.org