Mike Hughes: Trim fat, give teachers a raise

Nov. 16, 2013 @ 07:46 PM

Public school teachers and the Republicans in Raleigh have been in the news a lot lately, but there are a few other groups of people who should be included in the conversation. Two of these groups, while being highly relevant to the issues at hand, are unfortunately the most likely to be overlooked in any discussion about schools. One group is routinely ignored while the other is routinely given a pass.
The first group should be obvious. Taxpayers are routinely ignored in the vast majority of mainstream news coverage of public schools. Without taxpayers, there would be no public schools, not to mention public school teachers. Most taxpayers, including myself, have a lot of respect for teachers. We understand the value of public schools. We want all schools to be successful. We want all teachers to be successful. But our tax bills are too high – way too high. And the main message we hear from the tax spenders is “we want more.” It’s always more.
Most of us don’t even know where our tax money goes. Don’t blame lazy taxpayers for this, blame the self-perpetuating bureaucracy. It’s not in the bureaucracy’s interest for you to know what they do with your money. You may think that every tax dollar spent on education is actually used on education, but for almost every public school teacher in the state, there’s a non-teaching employee on the schools payroll. Of all public school employees, only around 53 percent are teachers. Therein lies the bloated bureaucracy, and therein lies the group that always gets a pass in the news coverage: school administrators.
The main issues in the headlines are teacher pay and funding for education. Teacher troubles make for great headlines, and it’s apparently easy for reporters to claim that education spending has been cut by Republicans, but the Republicans actually increased education spending by $400 million. They’ve also added over 7,800 teaching jobs over the past few years.
While the General Assembly sets the base pay for public school teachers, actual teacher pay is set by local governments. So why is the media so focused on the Republicans in Raleigh instead of the local governments that could also give teachers a raise? Maybe the media is making such a fuss about all of this not so much because they care about teacher pay, but because they want to help Democrats regain power in Raleigh.
The “walk-in” day that’s received so much praise was a brilliant idea, but the original not-so-brilliant idea was a walkout and it was orchestrated by the same people who orchestrated the so-called Moral Monday protests. It’s good to see that most N.C. teachers are smarter than the Moral Monday crowd.
It’s unfortunate that teachers are caught in the middle of this. Overburdened taxpayers won’t take kindly to local governments asking for more money. And it’s hard to fault Republicans for trying to be fiscally responsible. But what about the school administrators?
We employ over 10,000 secretaries, but fewer than 4,000 guidance counselors. We spend around $650 million per year just on salaries and benefits for school principals, assistant principals, treasurers and clerical staff. This is indicative of a bureaucracy that values itself over the needs of students and teachers.
We should give deserving teachers a raise. But first let’s find out which ones are deserving and which ones aren’t. We don’t need to raise taxes. There’s plenty of fat in the bureaucracy that can be trimmed. The more we trim, the more raises we can give. That’s best for students, best for teachers, and best for taxpayers.

Mike Hughes is a Navy veteran who lives in High Point. His column appears here every other Sunday. To comment, visit www.hpe.com and click on opinion. E-mail  him at mrmike27282@gmail.com. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.