Letter: Yarmouth schools should run like a business

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Reflecting on the proposed Yarmouth school budget increase, I recall a recently announced budget reduction by Boeing. They will layoff 1,800 middle- and upper-management employees to reduce their costs. It should be prudent for the Yarmouth School Department to consider the same approach by laying off what appears to be a very top-heavy organization, thus offsetting cost increases.

In the end, I suspect Boeing will continue to be a very successful organization. Further, I suspect the Yarmouth School Department would also continue to remain very successful if they were to follow Boeing’s lead.

Peter McCracken

  • Dave Mason

    Mr. McCracken suggests that the Yarmouth School system is a “very top-heavy organization.” He fails to provide specifics. If he wants his position to be taken seriously, he should provide names or job titles of the employees he believes to be dead weight. Do we have too many administrators? Which ones could be considered superfluous? To my knowledge we’re one of the few school systems without an assistant superintendent or curriculum director. Do we consolidate principals? Eliminate assistant principals? What savings would we enjoy by doing so?

    Maybe we have too many teachers. Mr. McCracken should do some research and identify the subject areas, grade levels and potential savings of laying off a few here and there. I’m sure Boeing didn’t just draw names out of a hat.

    Maybe it’s programs that should go. Considering that many are mandated by state and federal law, which of the others constitute excess? How much would be saved by cutting them.

    Finally — and to the point — what would be the impact on Yarmouth students if such cuts were made? I’m not convinced or comforted by Mr. McCracken’s uninformed supposition that Yarmouth would “continue to remain very successful.”

    • Jane Gildart

      I’m a long-time Yarmouth schools supporter, having served four years on the School Committee with a year as chairwoman, led two official task forces to develop and plan the implementation of a school facilities master plan, volunteered in classrooms and on Superintendent Murphy’s Strategic Planning Committee, and presided over the Yarmouth Soccer Boosters for a few years. It was my cohort that made our excellent facilities come into being. And my cohort extended the pattern of previous cohorts of Yarmouth families that seeded and nurtured a culture of achievement in town and in our schools. More than anything else, this culture of achievement among families is the secret to student success in Yarmouth, and it’s what draws new families here by the dozens. Success breeds success.

      Now hear this: I’m neutral on the school budget, but I believe supporting the schools doesn’t preclude one from criticizing school department spending decisions.
      You ask what could be cut without harming student success? The five positions that were added a few short years ago to accommodate full day kindergarten. Our present accolades have been achieved with a cohort of students that did not have free all day kindergarten. The best research shows that adding to public early childhood education programs doesn’t produce lasting gains. Money is better spent identifying the smaller population of Yarmouth kids who lack the achievement-oriented home environment that is typical here, reaching out, and concentrating early childhood services on them. That’s where lasting gains are made. Don’t take my word for it, look at the work of early childhood advocate Russ Whitehurst. You could start here: http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/02/05-congressional-testimony-preschool-whitehurst.

      It’s worth noting that increasing enrollments can lead to a shortage of classrooms. Logic tells us that full day K takes up twice the number of classrooms as half day K, consuming the extra capacity that used to exist at the newly built Rowe School. When you hear grumblings about crowded school buildings, think of that.

      To be fair, I understand that the free full-day K genie is out of the bottle and will not be shoved back in; families naturally feel entitled to it. Nonetheless it’s evidence that it is possible to slow the growth of school spending without undermining student success. We parents have unconditional love for our kids, but that doesn’t mean we’re uncritical of their decisions and actions. Likewise townspeople’s love for our schools doesn’t require an uncritical view of school spending decisions.

      • EABeem

        Jane was a great school committee chair and led the effort to improve the school facilities. Having served with her, I would not have known she was a conservative as we added close to $500,000 a year to the school budget every year I was on the committee. I believe Jane told me she could support spending local tax money when it’s a local decision. In any event, Yarmouth has one of the best school systems in the state and nation, it has always had strong support from the community and I assume it will this year as well, especially since even with an increase in the school budget most people’s taxes will be going down owing to the revaluation and state aid.

        • Bowdoin81

          Right, Ed. My approach to the eternal question, who should govern and how, is to prefer local and closer to real people over centralized and further from real people. To me, this is more compatible with individual liberty, as long as people are still free to vote with their feet, as my son has done by choosing Texas as the state where he can build his future.

          To be consistent in my closer is better approach, I can’t turn around and whine that the state of Maine isn’t picking up enough of the cost of our schools or our residential streets. Likewise I can’t call for state mandates to do X, Y, or Z, or beg Rep. Cooper to support legislation telling Maine business owners what they can’t or must do. And I sure as heck can’t place my hopes in a freedom-foe like Bernie Sanders who thinks our lives can be made better by command and control from Washington, DC.

          • EABeem

            One of the few things I tend to agree with conservatives/libertarians about is that the state and federal governments should get out of the public education business except as funding sources. of course, therein lies the rub. Yarmouth did not have the state on its back when it made $20 million in school facilities improvements because the state did not have skin in the game.

      • Dave Mason

        I think you misunderstood the point of my post. I’m completely in favor of citizens scrutinizing the budget, asking questions and making critical comments. I also believe that when one goes public with an opinion, it is generally an attempt to persuade others to their way of thinking. That would seem to be the implication anyway. Consequently, if they want to be taken seriously, they have a responsibility to provide specific data to support their argument. Otherwise they just sound like someone blowing off steam.

        As you pointed out, I asked where the savings may be found and what the impact would be. You gave me an answer. I read the material on the link you provided and it was helpful and informative, although in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t put much stock in studies. For every expert you provide that says “up” I can provide an equally qualified one that says “down”. You can’t toss a brick nowadays without crippling a PhD.

        Whether or not I agree with your assessment of the importance of all-day kindergarten is irrelevant. I appreciate that you took the time to respond with a thoughtful and insightful reply. I wish everyone who posted here would do the same.