This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Funding for public education is a precious and increasingly scarce – especially in Tacoma, whose school system faces an estimated $13 million shortfall next year.
That’s why everything the school district spends money on must be questioned, including programs embedded in union contracts – especially teacher training.
As The News Tribune’s Debbie Cafazzo reported Sunday, Tacoma Public Schools expects to spend $7.3 million on professional development in its 2011-2012 budget, $6 million of it for teachers.
Most of that money would be spent compensating teachers – at 1.25 times their normal pay – for seven days worth of training offered outside school hours. These “optional days” are provided by the district as part of its agreement with the Tacoma Educators Association.
In a year that may see entire schools closed and 50 staff positions eliminated for lack of funds, $7.3 million is a lot to keep off limits; $3,000 of training per teacher seems excessive under the circumstances. The TEA, as well as the district’s smaller unions, should put some of it back on the table.
This isn’t a question of all or nothing. Teachers – like all professionals – must keep updating their knowledge and techniques. The questions are, how much, what kind and at what cost?
Looking at professional development strictly from a teacher’s point of view, there may be better ways to spend some of the money – such as retaining co-workers or preserving programs that may be of more value than seven full days of training for everyone.
The money might be spent more selectively. Does a 20-year veteran need as much as a newcomer to the profession? Are experienced teachers getting taught the basics too many times?
Some teachers question the quality of some of the training sessions they are offered. With money this tight, the district can’t afford a dime for courses that don’t translate into better professional skills.
As things stand, the district is looking to close that $13 million shortfall with a barrage of proposed cuts. These would include the loss of readiness-to-learn programs, $500,000 worth of textbooks, instructional coaching, special education and kindergarten staffing, a science and math program – plus the closure of three elementary schools.
Eliminating just one optional training day would buy back those textbooks. Eliminating a second would save a slew of other programs.
Are those seven training days are so important that not one of them should be touched while so much else is sacrificed? No; they’re just barreling down the tracks because past bargaining agreements set them in motion. The Tacoma school district can’t afford runaway locomotives.