In response to the 3/24/2011 post, “Texas School Finance Situation,” a reader writes: Cain, First, as to the your comment: “…and everything to do with poor leadership by the Governor and the legislature” The word “everything” leaves out a few people. Like, for example, the superintendents, principals, and board members who built a model of education centered around non-educational issues, hence Friday Night Lights and all other “extra” curricular activities that actually drive the public school process, by design. Texas public schools spend about 10% of their budgets on extracurricular activities, yet very few people have suggested cutting those. I am just saying we built a system on a house of cards that NEVER emphasized the main thing, and we were wrong for that. Second: “Bond money and operations money are different. They cannot be combined. Not one text book or teacher was sacrificed when we built this building.” You are a much smarter man than this. The truth is, few people have any concept of taxation, they only know how much money is in their paycheck. That is to say, there is only so much tax money, regardless of the purpose of the tax, which people will tolerate off of their bottom line before they say no more. If as leaders we lead people to spend those precious dollars on bond debt instead of making the main thing the main thing, we are disingenuous when we later scream, “but that money comes out of a different pile.” There is only one pile of money: our paychecks. As leaders how we convince people to spend that precious taxed money is on us. We have failed in too many instances to appropriately prioritize that expenditure of taxation. Wake up educators! SC Response Let me roll up my sleeves, this is starting to get fun… First, I was raised in a Brezina system. Effective and efficient is the iron rule. So I am not letting Boards, Superintendents and Principals off the hook. In fact, many of the districts we work with actually pay for our services with the money they save by becoming more efficient. And one reason why those who don’t like us, really don’t like us is that we don’t sidestep hypocrisy. We not only ask why the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, we point it out. We both agree that extra-curricular spending is an area ripe for pruning, but that will require a macro-level policy change. Until now, there is not a board or superintendent that could survive being the first to implement significant reforms. When I was working for Dr. Neeley, I suggested that the first sanction for an AU secondary campus should be the moving of all extra-curriculars outside the school day. The second sanction would be the suspension of all extra-curriculars, essentially “No Pass, No Play” for the whole campus. The consensus opinion (not mine) was that it would be actually be easier to close the school. Do know that my comment was purposeful. Regardless of your opinion of the efficiency of district and campus operations, the current budget shortfall is the result of a structural tax deficit created by the Governor and the legislature. The effect of this tax deficit would have been felt during the last biennium if not for the inappropriate use of the federal stimulus package (note for politicians: supplement is not a synonym for supplant). I would even have been OK with that, if the Governor would have worked to fix his poorly crafted tax policy. But as we have seen, leadership is not his strong suit, political opportunism is. So in this case, I assigned the blame squarely where it belongs. Second, you make my point for me. Tax policy is subtle and boring, yet very emotional. As school leaders, we have to understand that if we don’t educate our community on the importance of infrastructure investment, no one else will. Thus making them more susceptible to political demagoguery (see current political environment). Now for bond debt. Bond debt allows current and future generations to pay for facilities that current and future generations will use and benefit from. And the primary reasons why we have significant bond debt are due to aging infrastructure (old buildings) and an explosion in school construction, due to our rapidly growing student population. So when you move to a district that has a higher tax rate due to bond debt, it is because you are moving into a district that had to build new schools to serve the new student(s) you just showed up with. I’ll close with this, based on the education and funding models created and mandated by the state, there are some areas of budget inefficiencies. But I will submit that this inefficiency is less than the increase in student enrollment. Which means decreasing overall revenue available to schools is not a true “reform” solution. It is an anti-public school solution. Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn… Coming Soon! “The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction” Follow Sean Cain on Upcoming Presentation Schedule June 11 (TASB) – The Fundamental Five; Improve Now! June 15 (TASSP) – Improve Now! June 16 (TASSP) – Conference Breakfast, hosted by E. Don Brown (LYS travel tumblers for the first 1000 attendees, last year we ran out); Fundamental Five; Tech Tools for the 2.0 Principal June 17 (TASSP) – PowerWalks June 18 (TASB) – The Fundamental Five; Improve Now!