Wednesday, April 14, 2004
In the 1970-71 school year, Nebraska’s largest school district had a pupil-to-teacher ratio of 24:1, and employed one staff member for every 17.7 pupils.
In 2002-03, that had changed a whole lot in the Omaha Public Schools. The pupil-to-teacher ratio had been cut nearly in half, to 12.7:1, and there was one staffer for every 7.6 students.
That’s an illustration of how school budgets have gotten so far out of hand: the incredible sea change in the way we staff our public schools.
I call it ‘’The Attack of the Non-Teaching Blob,’’ and it’s a killer monster that’s truly threatening the infrastructure of our K-12 public education system and the ability of the general public to continue to be able to pay.
School staffing has changed in unbelievable ways in the past 30 years or so. Consider this: the Omaha Public Schools have gone from 63,600 students on a budget of $41.65 million in 1970-71, to this year’s $311 million for an enrollment of 46,000.
That’s far fewer students, after the ravages of busing and westward expansion, while the total staff serving those far fewer students has increased by exactly two-thirds. In 1970-71, there were 3,601 full-time staffers in OPS, including classroom teachers. Last year, that had zoomed to 6,003.
Who are all these people? Well, they’re mostly union members, but not mostly certified teachers. They’re just about everything else you can name, besides the traditional K-12 staff lineup of teacher, principal, janitor and lunch lady.
Just as one example, in the 1970-71 school year, there were no teacher’s aides employed by OPS. But last year, there were 1,002.4 of them -- one of the largest employee groups in the city. Their fiscal cost to OPS in 2002-03 was $14.2 million in salaries, not even counting fringe benefits and other costs of employment. And the relatively new expense of all those teacher’s aides is on top of the teacher-to-pupil ratio, which has been cut in half.
Bottom line: there are far more people at far more expense serving far fewer pupils.
That’s ‘’The Blob’’ in action.
The ravages of ‘’The Blob’’ on OPS can be summed up like this: we are now spending seven times as much money on about three-fourths as many students, and taking two-thirds again as many employees to do it.
Those ratios may not be identical in other public schools in Nebraska, but they certainly are indicative of what’s going on from border to border.
If you care anything about public education, and keeping it going for future generations, you can see right away that this kind of a trendline has to be reversed.
We need to ‘’Un-Blob’’ the schools. And do it now.
One in a series on Nebraska school finance issues based on an article on the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s education website this week:
Also review Omaha Public Schools budget information on:
Source of the 1970-71 OPS data is a longtime Nebraska tax activist.
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