Where is the district leadership on budget cutting and keeping teachers? UPDATE

Posted on May 8, 2011

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I see and hear a lot of district leaders and district leader organizations supporting HB 400 which does the following:

1)      Raising the 22-1 class size cap for grades K-4 to 25-1.

2)      Eliminating the requirement that districts cannot pay teachers less next year than they earned this year. It also would eliminate the state minimum salary schedule, letting school districts set their own compensation systems with their own rules.

3)      Allowing school boards to furlough teachers and reduce their salaries accordingly.

4)      Changing the date for notice of non-renewal of a teacher’s contract from the current 45th day before the end of instruction to the last day of instruction.

5)      Allowing a district to declare a financial emergency at any time for purposes of doing a reduction in force and permanently delete seniority as one of the factors used in determining who is terminated if a RIF is implemented.

6)      Eliminating the use of a neutral hearing officer for mid-year terminations and replace that with a hearing before the school board.

What I do not see and hear very often is a district leader stating that she/he would support her or his district first supporting the furlough and reduction in pay of central office staff in order to keep teacher layoffs to the minimum. Maybe I am not reading the right articles or attending the right meetings, but there just does not seem to be a lot of talk around that issue.

One shining counter-example is Dr. Jesus Chavez of Round Rock ISD who will voluntarily donate $21,000 of his own salary to fund teachers (http://www.kvue.com/news/local/Round-Rock-superintendent-to-donate-own-money-for-teacher-120242879.html). Admittedly this amount will not even fund one-half of the average teacher salary in Round Rock ISD, but his actions are incredibly important symbolically for a number of reasons. First, his actions show he is willing to share the pain. Second, and related to the first point, his symbolic actions bridge the gap between administration and teachers. Much of the rhetoric this session has pitted teachers versus administrators (and I believe this is partially a purposeful strategy to divide and conquer on the part of some policymakers), but Dr. Chavez’s actions attempt to bridge that gap.

As Dr. Nancy Folbre argues, this is important because people are more willing to trust others that they perceive as similar to themselves (http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/in-equality-we-trust/?ref=business). One important point of a simulation conducted as part of research on trust is that:

“(economic) inequality among players had a corrosive effect on trusting behaviors, particularly when players had specific knowledge of one another’s endowments.”

Teachers know the salaries of district leaders and central office staff and when they see district leaders not sharing the pain of budget cuts, then research would suggest that the propensity of teachers to trust district leaders would decrease. Stated differently, if teachers do NOT see district leaders sacrificing and sharing the pain of budget cuts, then research suggests teachers will reduce their trust in district leadership.

Why is this important? Because trust has been repeatedly shown to be the grease that enhances communication, cooperation, and collaboration–the very foundation of effective organizations.

Thus, superintendents who do NOT sacrifice and share in the pain of these budget cuts do so at their own peril. Such superintendents will likely encounter greater difficulty in enacting reform efforts and getting teachers to commit to the district in these tough times. Many superintendents will never even realize the underlying dynamics that caused the increased friction between themselves and teachers in their district. They may blame teachers or the legislature (and they would be partially correct in blaming the legislature), but some simple symbolic actions taken by superintendents could go a long way towards ensuring the best possible recovery in these very tough times. And that is one very critical component of TRUE leadership–attending to the symbolic and motivational actions that can be very powerful in ensuring everyone feels as if they are on a TEAM together rather than members of an organization fighting each other.

I would like to see every superintendent follow Dr. Chavez’s lead and voluntarily donate salary to pay for a portion of a teacher’s salary or offer to cut central office salaries, furlough central office staff, or offer some other sacrifice so that teachers see that the highest paid employees are willing to sacrifice along with them.

If every superintendent of non-charter districts committed to cutting 10 percent of the total base salaries of central office leaders, other central staff, and support personnel, at least 8,300 teaching positions could be saved. This might only be 5% or 10% of all those who are laid off, but the number is not insignificant and the symbolic power of such a commitment would be monumental. Just the largest 25 districts adopting this measure would save over 3,000 teaching positions.

Let’s see some TRUE leadership and start the sacrifice of budget cutting at the very top!!!

UPDATE:

Some leadership organizations and superintendents have argued that HB 400 MUST be passed for districts to balance their budgets. And that many superintendents have pledged to cut their pay. Yet, I see no list of superintendents who have signed theior name to such a pledge. And, Terry Grier, Superintendent of HISDS, refuses to take a pay cut even though he earns between $300,000 and $400,000 per year. He states that the public does not remember such sacrifices made by superintendents. Yet, he ois forgetting about the most important educators–TEACHERS. I guarantee that teachers will long remember the selfish act of a superintendent cutting teacher pay and laying off teachers while not sacrificing his own pay or that of very, very highly paid central office staff. This is the attitude that brought us the Wall Street fiasco.

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