Show Me The Money

show me the money

by Dr. Larry Murray…….

The late Illinois Republican senator, Everett McKinley Dirksen, used to say something like: “A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Such is the case with the Monroe County School District.

Not so long ago, the housing bubble burst, property taxes plunged and School District revenues took a dive. While layoffs were avoided, contractually agreed upon raises were not honored as the District struggled to pay its bills. The teachers’ union complained and went to court, but were unable to reverse the tide.

All of that is history today, forgotten as the School District is once again awash in money with property values reaching all-time highs. That being the case, there are teachers and administrators out there who are working assiduously to spend that newfound money, to make up for what was lost in the past. A case in point brought before the Board at its May 26 meeting is to spend $1,778,750 for a program to expand AP enrollment among economically disadvantaged and minority students. This would be the largest single non-construction expenditure in the history of the School District.

The program in question is sponsored by the National Math and Science Initiative College Readiness Program (NMSI). To date, the program has not been implemented in Florida. Monroe County, to quote Board member Andy Griffiths, would be the “guinea pig”. Phrased differently, the District is considering spending nearly $2 million for a pig in a poke. Will the program work? Who knows? Chairman John Dick assures the taxpayers that if the District is not satisfied with the program, it can bail after one year for a mere $90,000, chump change these days.

Much of the $1.8 million would go to paying program participants, teachers and students. For example, teachers would be given stipends of up to $500 to complete training in the National Math and Science Initiative College Readiness Program. Then, there are piecework bonuses of $100 paid to teachers for each student who achieves a score of 3 or better on the AP exam with an additional $1,000 if a predetermined comprehensive threshold is met. Bear in mind that the teachers would receive their regular salaries in addition to assorted bonuses. Students who pass an AP exam would receive $100 for each success as well as their instructors. In sum, it’s a financial win-win for everybody involved.

Paying students to achieve appears to be the wave of the future. For example, <Monroe/> COMPUTE$, which has been adopted by the Monroe County schools, encourages students to complete the Microsoft Office certification program by paying a reward. The first 50 students to achieve MOS certification will receive $500 and the next 200 will receive $400.

A major difference with the MOS student reward program is that the bonuses are being paid by John Padget, not the School District, to the tune of $105,000. Our former superintendent is certainly being very generous. Another major difference is that the MOS certification is tantamount to a license and will be a valuable adjunct when seeking employment.

It appears that “Ars gratia artis” has been replaced by “Show me the money”, that pursuits of the mind have been replaced by pursuits of the wallet. The idea of paying students to achieve is a sad commentary and I am not sure on whom the reflection is the poorest, teachers or students, or maybe it is our entire society. It certainly makes the dimes that my father gave me for “A’s” pale by comparison.

If the District’s objective is to increase participation and to improve scores in Advanced Placement classes by economically disadvantaged and minority students, laudatory goals which should be pursued, I should think that all options should be pursued before spending almost $2 million on an untested program. It may turn out that the NMSI program is the best route. Conversely, there may be other avenues that may be less expensive and equally, if not more, effective. My recommendation is that the District work with the administrators of the AP program, soliciting suggestions from them as to how best to proceed. Expending in the neighborhood of 3% of the District’s annual budget without comparison is to press forward blindly when caution should be paramount. Let us see what other options are available.

Since this article was written, the School Board has decided to go forward with the NMSI program and will be signing a 4-year contract with the company. Earlier reports had it that the District could opt out after one year for $90,000. Turns out that the actual opt out figure is $537,731! Let’s hope that the program works.

Board member Ed Davidson was the only person to vote against the contract. It was his opinion that there was insufficient discussion prior to adoption, that he had “serious misgivings” about the way it was handled. He thought that the Board should have been involved six months ago, not two or three weeks ago.

Time will tell whether or not this is a good investment by the District. One thing that I have learned in life is that the more I rush, the more I mistake.

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2 thoughts on “Show Me The Money

  1. Larry,

    Brilliant work. Well-written and put together. Thank you.

    The superintendent does not answer to the people. By design, he doesn’t answer to the parents, taxpayers nor students.

    He only answers to 3 school board members…..

    Blessings & Respect

  2. A good article.
    Actually, what Dirksen is purported to have said was “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Some dispute that he ever said anything like that.

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