The Richmond Register


September 23, 2012

How good are our schools?

RICHMOND — When economic times are tough, we focus more on penny-pinching, something we should do even in good times.

Even if they squander their own money, everyone wants government to be careful with the money taken from them in taxes. With education the most expensive service provided by state and local governments, it has become the target of government critics. Even the slightest increase in revenue, even without a tax increase, draws howls of protest.

In Pulaski County, the library board’s move to raise its property tax by 0.01 cent per $100 of assessed value to maintain the same level of revenue has generated organized opposition.

In Madison County, critics of the county schools like to hold up graphs showing steady decline in scores on basic skills tests to support their argument against extra revenue for education.

This past Monday, the Bluegrass Institute ranked Kentucky’s 169 school districts based on the ratio of their per-pupil spending to their students’ average ACT scores. Madison County came in 49th while Berea Independent came in 60.

If the formula used to rank the districts is valid, school officials could have taken some satisfaction in being near the top third of the state. In the region, Madison County was outranked only by Clark County, 27th, and Berea was outranked only by Clark and Jessamine County,  51st.

The was not school leaders’ reaction, however. As Superintendent Mike Hogg of Berea Independent told the Register, “easy metrics” probably aren’t the best way to evaluate a school district’s performance. Madison County Superintendent Tommy Floyd said school districts have to look at their own situations more than at their neighbors to judge themselves.

Berea could say it does a much better job than Fayette County because it spends $1,890 less per pupil, but their ACT scores are the same, 20.1. Could Madison County raise its average ACT score 1.1 points to equal Berea’s by spending $898 per pupil to match Berea’s spending? Or would it have to spend $1,988 to match Fayette County in both spending and test scores? Clark County spends $736 less per pupil than Madison, but its test scores were 1.1 points lower.

The Bluegrass Institute pointed to the independent districts in Barbourville and Harlan as proof that above-average achievement is possible, even with higher percentages of students from low income families and lower levels of public spending.

Barbourville Independent was ranked the fourth in efficiency. It got above-average test scores, 19.1, virtually the same as Madison County, while spending $8,238 per student, 60 percent of whom come from low-income families.

Local critics of the county school board say the district’s priorities are skewed. Too much is being spent on central-office administrators and facilities, especially sports facilities, they say.

Madison Central’s football team has begun playing and practicing in a new $4.6 million complex that will be the site of only four home games this year. The school’s band will host a competition Oct. 6. Even with daily practices in season by both the football and track teams, plus the band, most of the facility will sit idle for much of the year.

School board members noted that money for Central’s sports complex was saved from other construction projects. But, that money could have been saved and spent on the next new school the growing district will need.

Athletics involve only a relatively small number of students and do little to promote academic achievement, aside from the athletes who keep their grades up only to remain eligible to participate.

In Europe and Asia, where schools rarely are associated with athletic teams, America is sometimes mocked because of the emphasis on sports in our schools and its lack-luster academics.

No one in Europe or Asia was laughing, however, when U.S. Soldiers turned back German and Japanese forces in World War II. Just as the Duke of Wellington is quoted as saying the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, training for victory in World War II could be said to have started on the football fields of America.

Answers to complex problems are rarely simple, but the American habit of throwing money at problems should have been given up long ago. Now that there’s much less money to go around, spending more efficiently has become a necessity.

Higher teacher salaries won’t guarantee better teaching, but stagnant salaries won’t either. Still, performance should be a factor, along with level of training and length of service, in determining pay.

Even as an elementary student, I remember teachers openly expressing their resentment of higher-paid district administrators. At best they were ineffective, and at worst, they were a hindrance, the teachers didn’t mind saying. On top of that, those with the higher pay got their jobs through personal or political connections, complaining teachers would say.

This cynical joke is still told today. Ineffective teachers get promoted to principal, and ineffective principals get promoted to district administrator. That’s probably an unfair, cheap shot. But, government at all levels and in every endeavor must stretch every dollar and keep their priorities in focus, even if easy metrics aren’t the full measure of what they do.

Text Only
  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Compromise is not that simple

    It’s tempting for a casual onlooker to wonder why the Democratic House and Republican Senate can’t make what on the surface looks like the obvious compromise on pension reform.
    The Senate passed a measure based on recommendations of a task force to move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain existing defined benefits for current employees and retirees.

    March 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Frankfort plays ping-pong with public pension transparency

    Legislation that would make the Kentucky Retirement Systems transparent for those paying its bills has danced into the spotlight during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
    Passage of transparency bills filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would make the “names, status, projected or actual benefit payments” subject to our commonwealth’s superlative Open Records Act.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jack Strauss-BW.jpg The case of the ghostly neighbor

    Wilbur lived in a world of fears. Everything frightened him. The full extent of his courage was to admit that he had none.
    Noises in the middle of the night, his own shadow creeping up on him and, most of all, black cats scared the wits out of him.
    So, picture his chagrin, one day, when he came home from vacation only to discover that a mausoleum had been erected on property adjacent to his home.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Provisional concealed-carry law passes Senate unanimously

    Things are staying busy in Frankfort. Many bills are making their way onto the Senate floor from various committees. This past week several important pieces of legislation were debated and passed.
    I am particularly proud of the success we had in advocating for Kentuckians’ Second Amendment rights.
    I introduced Senate Bill 106 to allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional CCDW permit from the Kentucky State Police in one business day. In some of these cases, victims need this type of protection as quickly as possible.

    March 8, 2014

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg 50 years makes a world of difference

    I wasn’t in Frankfort on March 5, 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson led 10,000 on a march to the state Capitol in support of a public accommodations law.
    But a few months later, I stood in front of the “Music Hall,” site of the Glasgow Junior High School located on a street named Liberty, and watched black kids “walk up the hill” of College Street on the first day of integrated schools in Glasgow.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • 02.23 Mike Duncan mug.jpg Coal has kept Kentuckians warm this winter

    This winter, temperatures across the country dipped to historic lows. Here in our home state of Kentucky, the near-arctic climate caused increased power demand which resulted in an incredible strain on the electric grid and rising energy costs.

    March 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Protecting citizens’ data is a no-brainer

    Target Corp. is learning the hard way: The price is steep for retailers who don’t protect customers’ sensitive financial information.
    Target’s profits fell a whopping 50 percent during its fourth quarter of 2013 as the result of a massive security breach involving as many as 110 million of its customers’ credit- and debit-card accounts, which began the day before Thanksgiving and extended throughout much of the holiday shopping season.

    March 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Making plans for spring planting

    My brother Keith (Keeter) probably planted peas on one of those warm days last week, and I would not be at all surprised to find out that brother Steve did likewise to try to be the first two fellows in Letcher County to actually be digging the soil in their 2014 gardens.
    Keeter’s father-in-law, the late Dock Mitchell, used to get my brother to drive him a 50-mile round trip to get pea seeds and potting soil for early February planting. Dock raised mammoth melting sugar snow peas and sugar snaps around every fence on the place. 

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Cynicism, optimism both on display in Frankfort

    Those who spend little time in Kentucky’s Capitol and who read columns by cynics who cover it should be forgiven their disillusionment about how the people’s business is conducted.

    February 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Even Scrooge would enjoy library mystery

    Saturday afternoons and evenings are usually down time for Loretta and me.
    We simply don’t get out much after we’ve used up the movie gift certificates the kids gave us for Christmas. That means we mostly go to the movies to avoid guilt trips because our kids do work hard for their money.

    February 20, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Disbanding Muslim Surveillance Draws Praise Hundreds Missing After South Korean Ferry Sinks Passengers Abuzz After Plane Hits Swarm of Bees Boston Bomb Scare Defendant Appears in Court Pistorius Trial: Adjourned Until May 5 Diaz Gets Physical for New Comedy Raw: Ferry Sinks Off South Korean Coast Town, Victims Remember Texas Blast Freeze Leaves Florida Panhandle With Dead Trees At Boston Marathon, a Chance to Finally Finish Are School Dress Codes Too Strict? Raw: Fatal Ferry Boat Accident Suspicious Bags Found Near Marathon Finish Line Boston Marks the 1st Anniversary of Bombing NYPD Ends Muslim Surveillance Program 8-year-old Boy Gets His Wish: Fly Like Iron Man Sex Offenders Arrested in Slayings of CA Women India's Transgenders Celebrate Historic Ruling Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide

Should the Richmond City Commission stop rezoning property to allow construction of apartments?

     View Results