Two weeks ago, I mentioned the effect that the dropping birth rate is having on the Moscow School District. Emsi’s eBook, “The Demographic Drought” (bit.ly/3b7teIE) discussed the effect of fewer children enrolled in schools and universities. As a result of the demographic drought, the United States has 6 million fewer students.
We see that effect manifestly demonstrated in Moscow. The school district reached its highest enrollment 30 years ago, in 1991, with 2,737 students and has had a steady decline since. In 2020-21, enrollment was 2,160 students. So, while Moscow has grown by 29 percent since 1991, the Moscow School District enrollment has shrunk by 21 percent. A collapsing birth rate will do that to government schools.
I also asked: Why does the district need more teachers, staff, and administrators when there are fewer children? In 2005, there were 2,434 students and 179 teachers: 13.6 students per teacher. In 2020 there were 2,160 students and 224 teachers: 9.6 students per teacher.
So while the student population decreased 11 percent in 15 years, the number of teachers increased by 25 percent, and that does not include the bloat in administrators and staff. While teachers’ unions dislike homeschoolers because of their tendency to divert funding and outperform publicly schooled students, they are targeting the same staff-to-student ratios found in homeschools.
Predictably, two articles appeared in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News immediately following my previous column, neither addressing my points but instead pleading for more money. The first was an editorial by Layne McInelly, president of the Idaho Education Association teachers union (“Rising private sector pay creates a conundrum for public schools”). He summarizes the post-COVID-19 dilemmas for teachers and, like a good union boss, demands more teachers and higher teacher pay. But he fails to address the lopsided student-to-teacher ratio. Today, there should be 159 teachers instead of 224 in the Moscow School District. That would provide a 40-percent increase in pay to our teachers without raising taxes.
Similar to the military-industrial complex’s employee unions, the education-industrial complex’s teachers unions have an unquenchable desire for money and growth. Since union income is based on the number of union members and their salaries, you will never see a public sector union boss advocate for measures that either reduce union salaries or the number of union members, even for the public’s good.
The second article was by Daily News reporter Garrett Cabeza (“Moscow ’21-22 schools budget looks a lot like it did before the pandemic”). Cabeza reports that the 2021-22 MSD budget is $29.2 million. That number is staggering. That’s $13,519 per student per year. Moscow’s Logos School charges $5,125 per student. What do the Moscow School District students and the Latah County taxpayers get for 2.6 times the cost of a superior private education?
Cabeza reports that Moscow Superintendent Greg Bailey said the district needs more money for facilities support. Yet, as I noted two weeks ago, reducing the number of school buildings would be a highly effective method to lower costs, especially with elementary enrollment down 490 students from its peak and with ever-fewer students coming in. The smallest schools (West Park Elementary with 156 students and Russell Elementary with 154 students) could easily be assimilated into the remaining elementary schools. Think of the facilities money available for the rest of the schools if one or two were closed.
Idaho already allocates 28 percent of its appropriations to K-12 education. Additionally, 48 percent of Latah property taxes go directly to the Moscow School District. Moscow School Board Chairman Ken Faunce played the “we have the best interest of the children at heart” card. Rather, the Moscow School Board has the best interests of teachers’ unions at heart, not the children and definitely not the taxpayers.
Just as the solution to the problems with the military-industrial complex are straightforward and odious to right-wing conservatives, so too the solution to Moscow School District’s problems is straightforward but odious to progressives: downsize. MSD doesn’t need 25 percent more employees to support 11 percent fewer students and with ominously fewer children in the pipeline (the birth rate fell another 4 percent in 2020). Plan ahead. Consolidate the elementary schools and reduce the workforce by attrition and retirement, then you could achieve your stated desire of increasing teacher pay and having more money for facilities.
Courtney served 20 years in nuclear engineering aboardsubmarines and 15 years as a graduate school instructor. He now spends his spare time chasing his grandchildren around the Palouse.