Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Open Enrollment: A win for free market society

I know that President Obama spoke last night (my children were upset as they were looking forward to Charlie Brown) about troop escalation in Afghanistan, Tiger Woods overhyped situation, and the shooting of police officers to the commuting of a 16 year-old racist are all viable topics for today. BUT I must acknowledge the hailed school reform established 20 years ago; open enrollment. The Star Tribune ran an article on the front page yesterday called "Big school districts lose big as students leave." According to the article 12,000 students fled the Minneapolis Public school system resulting in a loss of $154 million of funding for the system. The focus of the article is on the "downward spiral" of school budgets due to student losses and state government budget cuts. Why? I understand that as students go so does the budget for the district.

The focus on the dollar aspect is what drives bad companies out of business and appears to be driving poorly run districts out as well. Yesterday the school district that I reside in held a referendum to approve a bond sale, see "ISD 108 Superintendant Corlett visits Hamburg to discuss $10.2 M bond referendum" post November 18th for more information, to excavate the elementary school and update the middle/high school ventilation, heating and cooling systems. All major expense items that do not get consideration for earmarks within the original budget process for school districts. Per the Star Tribune article the reported budget for the Minneapolis public school system is $500 million.

Now if one had an annual budget for $500 million and did not have to worry for about capital expenditures, can someone help me understand how difficult it would be to retain business? The trouble with budget cuts, and other tough decisions, made by School Boards and Superintendant's is the teacher's union noose they find themselves in. Many of the cuts to personnel in the school system are made on a Last In, First Out process which keeps higher, longer tenured staff on the dole instead of trimming the fat of under-performing staff members. In order for districts, like Minneapolis, that is seeing a decline in enrollment it is time to take a systematic quality approach to stem the tide.

Yesterday I did take a moment to send in similar comment to the Star Tribune and they were published in today's paper or you can see them online at My comments start at the bottom of the webpage and extend to the next page. Open enrollment is a win/win situation for parents, students, and schools as it demands that educational pursuits are at the forefront of all school board decisions. If that means that not every sport or after school activity is offered in all school districts then so be it. Where my children go they do not have hockey or lacrosse and if my children decide they will want to participate in such activities I will find a place for them to do that; not demand the school develop a program. The focus of schools need to be on education; starting with providing educators worth their salt and not tenured fat cats. Am I alone in this thought?