Kitzhaber's recommended Oregon state budget
Last Friday, Governor John Kitzhaber released his
recommended Oregon state budget for the next two years.
He is proposing to increase spending on K-12 education
by about ten percent. That amounts to roughly a
half-billion dollars more than is actually being spent
during the current two-year budget cycle.
The Governor is also proposing two modest reductions in
the runaway costs of the Public Employee Retirement
System. I strongly support the Governorís proposals. In
fact, I have independently requested that bills be
drafted for pre-session filling that would make both of
the changes he has proposed.
A spokesperson for the Oregon teachers union responded
to the Governorís proposals. She emphatically stated
that a half billion dollars is not nearly enough to
cover the rapidly escalating costs needed to sustain the
Oregon K-12 education system.
Further, she said that she believes the Governorís
proposed PERS changes are unconstitutional. Her
statement appears to make clear that the Oregon
Education Association intends to challenge both of the
modest PERS cost reductions in court.
What has happened during the past twenty-years to cause
the rapid escalation in the cost of Oregonís K-12
Three primary cost-drivers are easily identified.
The first is the cost of the taxpayer contributions to
the Public Employment Retirement System. That price tag
will have increased by $1,900,000,000 ($1.9 billion) in
only four years. We can be confident that the enormous
cost increase will continue to be required to be paid by
Oregon taxpayers, into the foreseeable future, in the
absence of significant PERS reform.
To put that huge into perspective, it calculates to
about $500 per budget cycle for every man, woman and
child that currently live in Oregon. Just the PERS
increase alone will cost the average Oregon family of
four more than one thousand dollars per year. About half
of that immense cost-increase is paid by Oregon
taxpayers to compensate school and education service
districts employeesí retirement benefits.
A second major cost-driver is the significant increase
in the number of public school employees. Oregon K-12
public school enrollment rose about fifteen percent
during the eighteen years between 1992 and 2009. During
that same time period, the number of full time K-12
teachers increased about thirteen percent. Therefore,
the student to teacher ratio has remained nearly the
However, the number of administrators, and other
non-teaching staff, grew by forty-seven percent in
Oregon between 1992 and 2009! The rate of growth of
full-time, non-teacher, employees was more than three
times as fast as the rate of student growth. Oregon
school district budgets are being eaten alive by the
cost of salary, health insurance and PERS retirement
benefits for these non-teacher additions to the K-12
In my opinion, the rapid growth in the number of public
employees is a consistent feature of collective
bargaining by public employee unions.
Job descriptions and classifications are created at the
bargaining table that limits the tasks that each
employee is permitted to perform and how many hours they
are allowed to work to perform those tasks. Employees
must generally be promoted to another classification,
usually with higher compensation, whenever they are
expected to perform a task that is not included in the
job description for their pay grade. In this way, the
unions force school administrations to choose between
either hiring more employees, paying their current
employees higher wages to perform more tasks, or leaving
the jobs undone.
Oregonís current rate of funding per student is a little
more than the national average compared to the other
states, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
It seems obvious that Oregonís failure to achieve
smaller class sizes is the result of choices to hire
more support staff rather than hiring more teachers.
The third major cost driver is the restricted amount of
time that school employees are actually required to
work. Teachers in one local school district are only
required to be at their school workplace 187 days per
year. Worse, the teachers do not teach students in the
classroom on twenty of those days.
In that district, a full time teacher is actually only
required to teach kids in the classroom a total of 167
days a year. That is only thirty three and one half
weeks of annual classroom student contact. Meanwhile,
the annual cost of salary, health insurance and
retirement benefits continue for all of the school
One might ask what all of these other school employees
are doing during the nearly four and one half months
each year when no kids are attending school.
A recent study by the United States Department of
Education determined the ranking among the states for
high-school graduation rates. In 2011, Oregonís sixty
eight percent graduation rate was the fourth-worst rate
in the entire nation. In fact, Oregon was rated dead
last for its rate of graduation among all ethnic groups,
including whites. Statewide averages for student
performance in mathematics and English have remained
virtually static for more than a decade.
In my opinion, better management of our schools is much
more important than better funding. Oregon can, and
must, do a better job of managing it K-12 public
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon
no one will.