Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Milwaukee Public Schools Spend Too Much

Milwaukee Magazine columnist Bruce Murphy is a card-carrying liberal.

But interestingly enough, he’s often unhappy when taxpayers’ money is spent to no good effect. He has, from example, opposed the massive taxpayer subsidies to business that “TIF districts” involve, and complained about excessive salaries at the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

His most recent column takes on the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Any story about government spending is necessarily going to get a bit complex. For example:
For starters, MPS is spending less per pupil than the Madison system and an amount similar to what other urban districts in Wisconsin spend. But it’s doing that with less-experienced teachers: Milwaukee teachers average 10 years of experience versus 15 years statewide. Since teachers typically get an automatic “step increase” for every year of service, you need to hold the level of experience constant and then measure. That measurement shows MPS teachers are getting 38 percent more than the statewide average in total compensation, the report found.
Then there is the administrative load.
Nearly as egregious is the money spent on administration, which was 19 percent higher for Milwaukee than schools statewide. The most jaw-dropping statistic is the number of assistant principals in Milwaukee: There is one for every 541 students versus one for every 1,177 students statewide. Given that assistant principals often handle discipline, this may merely reflect a district with more troublemakers. Still, it raises a red flag about how resources are distributed in MPS.
The bottom line: Milwaukee Public Schools spend more than needs to be spent to give kids a good education.

A key culprit: lavish benefits (such as health insurance) for teachers. As Murphy notes, this:
. . . reflects a long-term strategy by unions (and governmental leaders like former county executive Tom Ament) to spend quietly on benefits rather than salaries, because benefits were less likely to be noticed. In recent years, we’ve begun to notice, and for good reason.
We sometimes run across rhetoric, typically coming from liberals who want more government control over the economy, that private business operates on a very short time-line. Executives supposedly don’t care about the long-run welfare of the enterprise, but just want to jack up profits (and stock prices) now.

But the lavish benefits that public employees get reflect the fact that the public sector is much worse in this regard. If lavish health care benefits, or the promise of very generous retirement benefits, will placate the union right now, why bother with the fact that politicians sitting in your chair years or decades in the future will have trouble delivering on your promises?

Just ask Scott Walker.

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