It was hard to miss the correlation at the St. Joseph Board of Education meeting last month.
The board’s president praised the additional $6 million coming from a school levy vote, with that additional money providing increased staff salaries, security upgrades and maintenance at school buildings, as promised.
At the same meeting, the board approved the addition of one new administrative position: an assistant superintendent to handle business/operations. A possible addition of an assistant director of special education was tabled for a future date.
This provides fuel to those who believe the district lavishes money on Downtown administrators at the expense of students and teachers. These critics see these new positions as evidence that the board and administrators will be up to their old tricks, now that voters have approved extra money in the April election.
The school board shouldn’t be prevented from making necessary structural changes, although the timing, so soon after the election in this case, was awkward.
The board surely understands that a segment of the population will never approve additional school funding, even if the administrative staff is whittled to zero. On the other end of the spectrum, the district can always count a certain base of support for public education, regardless of past scandals.
The board needs to keep an eye on those in the middle. These are the voters, parents and district patrons who were disgusted by past behavior but flipped their trust back to the district in April’s levy election. We would count the editorial board of this newspaper in this category.
Will these voters have short memories and forget about these two new positions during the next election, when the levy is set to expire? Or, more importantly, will these new positions increase the efficiency and performance of the school system?
If voters view themselves as shareholders of a $130 million company, the addition of two positions that account for 0.15 percent of revenue probably wouldn’t cause much of an uproar at the annual meeting.
That is, as long as operational results are up to standards. Here, a public school district diverges from a company with the primary goal of maximizing profits.
A school system’s standard of operational excellence is more nuanced. We’re not sure about the board’s measures, but we’d certainly put test scores, attendance, graduation rates and teacher retention and satisfaction in that mix. We would want to see a school system that makes employees and managers of local companies prefer to live in St. Joseph instead of Kansas City.
Will these new positions, in some way, move our locals school forward on these measures?
Critics will always criticize and supporters will always give support. Those of us in the middle? We’ll wait and see.