Tight School Budgets Don’t Excuse Excuse-making
National education reformer Rick Hess recently spoke to a group of RI superintendents and school district business officers about how NOT to respond to shrinking budgets. He outlined four common mistakes:”excuse-mongering”; “imagining that progress only comes with new dollars”; “thinking that any budget cut will be debilitating”; and “countenancing rather than condemning unacceptable employee responses.” For each excuse, he offers real quotes from principals/superintendents and then explains their flaw. For instance, regarding budget cuts:
Quote: “It is impossible to make cuts in a district and not have it impact teachers and students. We cut a secretary and many tasks are now falling to teachers. This takes up their precious time to prepare for students. We cut a technology integration person, and now teachers are having to spend more time researching web sites and online projects. We cut a mail delivery person, and now secretaries and paras are having to do curbside pickup and drop-off of mail so the mail can travel on buses.” The underlying message is lunacy. By the speaker’s logic, no organization–not the U.S. military, not the postal service, not General Motors–can ever make cuts or trim personnel without compromising quality. Well, the reality is that a slew of organizations have made cuts that seemed painful but that ultimately seemed to boost productivity, strengthen the culture, and left them more effective. Obviously, cutting in dumb ways (like by zeroing out music, art, or sports to save negligible dollar amounts) has an adverse impact. But the challenge for leaders is to prune in smart ways, to use rough periods as a chance to cut back so that their organizations will emerge leaner and healthier. To deny that one can do that is to abdicate one’s responsibility.
As I said, he offered similar thoughts and commentary on the other common mistakes. So now we know he told this to Rhode Island educators. I wonder if they listened.