Letters to the Editor

In FOCUS: S.C. schools

Ideas to help save money for schools

I offer the following suggestions for school budget cuts that would not impact on our students. First, the number of statewide school boards needs to be reduced. South Carolina has 84 school boards in 46 counties. A policy of one per county, with limited exceptions, would save millions with reductions in duplicated staff, maintenance and utilities and the sale of valuable property. Secondly, I would recommend returning at least 10 percent of the remaining administrators who are qualified to teach to the classroom, filling retiring teacher vacancies. Life will go on without them in administration, and our children would benefit from their experience. Third, I would suggest honoring the teacher National Board certification agreements, but ending the program as soon as possible. It is very expensive, appears now to be rather easy to obtain and does not translate into improved classroom performance.



State's teachers getting hit in wallet

Legislators are considering cutting budgets by shortening the school year, reducing graduation requirements and cutting supply funds. Salary freezes and layoffs have long loomed.

Still, some local superintendents are receiving raises. One who made around $200,000 just accepted a bonus. The Beaufort County superintendent, tastefully declined a $17,500 bonus.

Teachers pay for supplies out of pocket and make a fraction of what other similarly qualified professionals make. Being federally "highly qualified" requires, at minimum, a master's degree, yet teachers generally start below $30,000. Now they're taking another blow to the wallet, while school districts employ redundant bureaucrats and continue to hand themselves raises. Are they aware of the outrage resulting from Wall Street bonuses? The only difference is that districts and the state Department of Education answer to voters, not stockholders.

Teachers and day-to-day staff make the difference for kids. The sign outside of Hand Middle School doesn't say, "If you can read this, thank an Unclassified D.O.E. Employee." (That position earns $135,000, according to The State's salary database.) Teachers must earn a living, and feeding their children threatens to take precedence over teaching yours. Please let legislators and school board members know they can trim budgets without hacking needed services.



Focus on healthy food in school lunches

First lady Michelle Obama has called on the U.S. Conference of Mayors to help her fight the national scourge of childhood obesity. She noted that one-third of all children are overweight or obese. She proposed healthier school lunch fares, increased physical activity and nutrition education.

Traditionally, the National School Lunch Program has served as a dumping ground for the Agriculture Department's surplus meat and dairy commodities. Not surprisingly, USDA's own surveys indicate that 90 percent of American children consume excessive amounts of fat, and only 15 percent eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. Their early dietary flaws become lifelong addictions, raising their risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

According to the School Nutrition Association, 52 percent of U.S. school districts now offer daily vegetarian options. Parents and others who care about our children's health should demand healthful plant-based school meals, snacks and vending machine items. Additional information is available at schoolnutrition.org, schoolmeals.nal.usda.gov, healthyschoollunches.org and choiceusa.net.



Students might need longer school year

It boggles my mind that some "leaders" are considering shortening the school year to help solve the budgetary problems.

Wondering, and not without some concern, I did some admittedly quick on-line research. I found S.C. middle schools ranked 35th in the nation based on data supplied by the U.S. Department of Education. Numerous other states are exploring making the school day and/or year longer, as studies show very positive results for the kids (remember them?).

No, 35th in the nation isn't the worst. If these "leaders" want a target, the Washington middle schools were ranked 51st.



Oversight committee crucial to education improvement

The cumulative effect of serving on the State Board of Education, the Education Oversight Committee and the S.C. Public Charter School District board has built my understanding of the responsibilities, importance and value of these entities. Eliminating any of these would not be in the best interest of public education in South Carolina.

Education Superintendent Jim Rex has suggested that we no longer benefit from an independent agency focused on strong accountability. But the EOC is the only agency where elected officials, educators and business leaders work together to report facts, measure change and promote progress of public education. This vital work supports the critical work of the Board of Education, the charter district and local school boards.

Currently our state is challenged by radical change in the economy as well as the breach building in our state revenues. As a fiscal conservative and a strong advocate of smaller, less intrusive government, I believe that achieving the right level of public expenditure with the highest impact requires that we accept the discomfort of independent scrutiny. That scrutiny is the hallmark of our nationally recognized accountability system. Just last month, the national Quality Counts publication scored South Carolina's accountability system an "A" with the state having earned 100 of 100 points (the national average was 84).

South Carolina spends nearly $3 billion of the people's money on K-12 education each year. Of that $3 billion, $1.4 million is spent on the independent evaluation function - that is five one-hundredths of 1 percent. This is a small investment with a big return for the children and parents of South Carolina. The EOC is considered by many throughout the nation as a model for independent accountability and oversight. Let's continue to be this bright light of accountability that is a hallmark of public education in South Carolina.