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Some education reform ideas deserve merit

Perhaps the teachers’ union members should have offered to take five days’ less pay without a reduction in the length of the school year, thereby keeping their fellow members employed as well as demonstrating what is in the best interests of the students.

Eighty-three percent of the school’s budget is designated to wages and benefits; the school year is 190 days; our costs per student in this country are among the highest in the industrialized world; and our students are among the lowest scoring in math and science. We are already paying the most for the least. To be a plumber, electrician, truck driver, doctor, lawyer, civil servant, etc., you must pass a test, but high school diplomas are issued for time spent in class, not based on what you learn. Most jobs in America have periodic reviews, including upward evaluations. The teachers’ union has done an excellent job of negotiating wages and benefits, and in the process has done a truly remarkable job of protecting incompetence.

The vast majority of our teachers are much, much more than competent; however, one bad teacher can destroy hundreds of students throughout a teaching career. While I have great emotional sympathy for the students and families involved, mainstreaming, in my opinion, is a colossal waste of resources. In my view, wages and benefits should not exceed sixty-six percent of the budget (books, building maintenance, and libraries are necessary, too.)

That represents personnel and pay cuts, including administrative positions. The school year could be lengthened to at least 220 days without pay increases. In the industry I work in, teachers would be considered part-time employees with reduced benefits, based on the number of days that they currently work.

I believe in upward evaluation, peer and administrative review, giving administrators the power to access merit pay based on ability, not empty degrees, and the power to dismiss substandard performers. To receive a diploma all students would be required to pass a GED at the very least. Mainstreaming should be eliminated along with its support staff.

A lot of what I think can’t be done because of state guidelines, mandates, and district contracts, all of which can be amended over time. This is the U.S.A. I have the constitutional right to express my views. I know a lot of people agree with me; they have told me so. Each of you has the right to agree or disagree on each and every point. The purpose of my letters is to create discussion regarding possible options.

My last letter (June 1) must have hit a nerve and I’m glad it did. If $170,000 is representative of median-priced housing in Hood River, the product of the high school can’t afford to live here. Most high school graduates do not go on to college. Our current high school education is not sufficient to earn a living wage. How would a teacher know? None of them are trying to earn a living merely on what they learned in high school. I have been a resident of Hood River for over 35 years. I bought a run-down fixer-upper house and with sweat equity, starting with a pick and shovel, put a foundation under it. School didn’t teach me my work ethic or trade. With my wife’s help, we have a fairly nice home and two kids in college.

I believe I’m familiar with the changes that have taken place in Hood River. This is definitely not the small town I moved to. The only two things that haven’t gone up are the value of American money and the value of a high school diploma. Tell your school board what your priorities are. The board and administration are involved in a difficult, if not impossible, task. If money were the only thing involved, the answer would be simple. No matter what the outcome, there will be many dissatisfied people, but at least you have the right to have your opinion heard.

Michael F. Fifer is a Hood River resident.

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