An Emblematic Decision Between Security and Salaries

Purely for the sake of keeping track of news hits and responses to things I’ve written (I swear!), I have an RSS feed that notifies me when my name appears in some article somewhere.  As one might expect in our well-populated society, this often results in notifications about the activities of other Justin Katzes, with the president of the Palm Beach County (Florida) teachers union prominent among them.

He and I seem likely to have divergent responses to each other’s activities, as exemplified by an article in the Palm Beech Post today.  For his part, Justin is outraged at the underfunding of education.  For my part, the story illustrates very well how union contracts eat away at the services that our education system can offer.  Consider:

Palm Beach County’s public school administrators are ruling out raises for teachers and other employees this year after state lawmakers required that nearly all new education money be spent on beefing up school security and mental health services.

In an unusual move, leaders of the school district said this week that they could not set aside any money for employee raises in their tentative spending plan for the new school year, arguing that rising costs and a dearth of new money make substantial pay hikes virtually impossible. Teachers have received a 3.2 percent average increase in the current year.

Heightened security and psychological services in the state that set off a national firestorm after the latest mass school shooting comes at a cost, and the nuggets in this article are manifold:

  • The school district is the largest employer in the county.
  • The county has made a practice of claiming to have no money only to have more wrung out of it during negotiations.
  • When there really isn’t any money, giving raises means some people lose their jobs.
  • The low per-student costs of this Florida county might make a Rhode Islander faint, at $7,817.

“While educators supported the call for more school security, the decision to pay for it with money intended for classrooms angered school leaders across the state.”  See, this stuff is supposed to come at somebody else’s expense.

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And so it may.  As Mr. Katz suggests, “We anticipate trying to identify existing spending that could be cut in order to provide some funds for employee raises.”  Yup.  That’s how it must be, although it’s a shame that only taxpayers and voters looking for more value for their tax dollar are vilified.

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