Our View

 

Our View

 

Date: April 14, 2010
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

Town Manager Bruce St. Denis should try it. He should try operating the town’s police and fire-rescue departments with one chief — a chief of public safety.

This idea bubbled to the upper levels of the town’s agenda once again when Fire Chief Rich Dickerson announced April 8 that he is resigning for family reasons.

St. Denis is not anxious to make this change. He contends, as he told the Longboat Key Kiwanis Club recently, such a move will not save the town money.

On paper, he says, yes, the town will eliminate the $92,393 base salary (and benefits) of Chief Dickerson. But in exchange, St. Denis told Kiwanians, the organizational chart under a public-safety director would require a de-facto chief operating officer for the fire-rescue department and one for the police department. Knowing what taxpayers pay these days for experienced assistant chiefs, you’d expect those two slots would result in two more $75,000- to $85,000-a-year salaries.

Presumably, these would not be new employees; more likely, they would be employees receiving promotions, boosting their pay, say, $10,000 to $15,000 each.

And if, say, St. Denis promoted Police Chief Al Hogle to public-safety chief, Hogle would expect a raise on top of his annual base of $107,681. Maybe another $20,000?

So let’s do the math so far: Increases: $50,000. Decrease: $92,393. So far, the town would be $42,393 ahead.

The changes wouldn’t stop there, however. The way it normally works, once you promote, more than likely you fill newly created vacant slots at the bottom. That could mean one new police officer and a new firefighter — another $90,000 to $100,000 a year combined.

And that would wipe out any savings.

That’s not the way it should be. This is 2010 — when every employer is still trying to do more with less.
St. Denis should give in. He should try operating with a public-safety director and not hire any additional staff. Do more with less.

This may not be the optimal staffing level St. Denis wants. But rare is the employer these days who has as many employees as he would like.

St. Denis also should consider this: If he doesn’t try operating with a public-safety director, he leaves himself open to continued grousing and sniping from taxpayers who love to criticize government for being a bloated bureaucracy.

Give it a try. Attempt to be innovative and/or more efficient. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, St. Denis will have to put the idea to rest.

+ Sign Senate Bill 6
Imagine if every job in America granted tenure. And imagine if every employer used the same system Florida’s public education has used heretofore dealing with subpar teachers.

Heaven help us.

America’s economy would be worse than France’s. Worse than Italy’s. Worse than Greece’s. Our competitiveness, innovation and quality would plummet. Unemployment among young adults would soar.

We would not be a superpower.

This is not hyperbole. Each of those countries’ economies cited above is held captive by strong, socialized unions whose missions first and foremost are to protect their members’ jobs. Their focus is not on the customer.

All of the above is why Florida Senate Bill 6 — the anti-teacher tenure, pay-for-performance education bill — is good in concept and deserves Gov. Charlie Crist’s signature to make it law.

The bill has its problems, some of which we’ll cite. But its attributes outweigh its faults.

To begin with, it’s useful to go back to the beginning — the earliest relation between employer and employee in a free market. In that arena, employer and employee have total freedom to agree on what the employer is willing to pay for a task to be completed and what the employee is willing to accept to perform that task. In a free world, that is their business; no one else’s.

What’s more, in that free-market arena, the employer and employee reach a mutual agreement on expectations — how the job should be performed and the results to be expected. If they aren’t met, the two likely will part ways. Conversely, in most of these arrangements, employers also learn that if they offer incentives to employees for exceeding expectations, they’ll get better results. Likewise, the employee will receive higher rewards. Everybody wins — the employer, the employee and, most importantly, the customer.

This is the way it should be in education. Delivering educational instruction to students is no different than, say, a safety-training company delivering instructions to a team of employees in a manufacturing plant. If the instructor is competent and effectively can motivate and instruct the employees to avoid accidents and mistakes, everybody wins. The employer cuts his cost of production because of errors and is more efficient and profitable; employees are more efficient and are more secure; customers receive better products; and the training company builds a loyal customer base that attracts more customers. Market based, incentives and measurements.

This is the thinking in Senate Bill 6.

Another concept in it is the oft-used bromide: You can’t manage what you can’t measure; it’s accountability.

So the Legislature (the employer) is now saying to the teachers (the employees): It doesn’t matter as much as it did whether you have 10 master’s degrees and 20 years of teaching experience. What matters are results. Are you, the teacher, motivating your customers to learn and are you effective at boosting their knowledge? And this will be measured each year on the basis of your students’ scores on standardized tests. If they show consistent, year-over-year improvement, Florida teachers will keep their jobs and be rewarded with higher compensation.

Welcome to the real world. This is the way it works in the private sector. And the Legislature — in spite of the protests from the teachers, teacher unions, Nanny-statists and public employees — should be heralded. Unlike most efforts in state and national capitals, this is a reform that goes farther and wider than typical government in the margins.

To be sure, there are flaws in this reform. Like all laws, it will have its not-yet-seen, unintended consequences. Two are likely to be short-term teacher turnover and shortages. Accountability scares people.

Others will be increased bureaucracy in Tallahassee and increased tensions between the state education infrastructure/Legislature versus school board/district administrators.

Senate Bill 6 adds to the record-keeping required in school districts and the reporting to the Florida Department of Education (see box). This will cost more money. No one knows how much.

But the biggest flaw is in the whole structure of Florida’s public education system.

It makes sense that he who has the money calls the shots. But when you have 140 lawmaker/politicians in Tallahassee setting policy in Florida’s public schools in the minute detail that they do, the likelihood for mischief, disasters, bureaucracy and waste are unavoidable.

What’s worse, we have a system in which accountability is grossly misplaced. While the Tallahassee politicians set all of the rules and procedures and control the money, voters believe their elected school boards are responsible for the way schools are operated and taxes imposed. This works great for the lawmakers. They can blame school boards and district administrators for the failings in Florida’s school districts — even though the laws they passed and the tax rates they set are at the root of education evils.
Government is best closest to the people. Managing the education of our children from Tallahassee and Washington is a guarantee that taxpayers will get exactly what we’ve received — mediocrity at best, and
that’s being generous.

Pay-for-performance and accountability are great market-based ideals. Let’s hope wimpy Charlie Crist lets these private-sector concepts into our schools.

BOX
The Beauracracy of Pay for Performance

Here’s a sampling of the added bureaucracy that may come with the passage of Senate Bill 6, the pay-for-performance teacher bill:

1012.34(1) For the purpose of increasing student achievement by improving the quality of instructional, administrative and supervisory services in the public schools of the state, the district school superintendent shall establish procedures for evaluating and assessing the performance of duties and responsibilities of all instructional, administrative and supervisory personnel employed by the school district.

The Department of Education must approve each district’s instructional personnel appraisal assessment system and appraisal instruments. The Department of Education must approve each school-based administrator appraisal system and appraisal instruments. The department shall collect from each school district the annual performance ratings of all instructional and school-based administrative personnel and report the percentage of each of these employees receiving each rating category by school and by district to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

(2) The following conditions must be considered in the design of the district’s instructional personnel appraisal assessment system:

(a) The system must be designed to support high-quality instruction and increased academic achievement district and school level improvement plans.

(b) The system must provide appropriate appraisal instruments, procedures and criteria for continuous quality improvement of the professional skills of instructional personnel.

(c) The system must include a mechanism to examine performance data from multiple sources, which includes giving parents an opportunity to provide input into employee performance appraisals assessments when appropriate.

 

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