Friday, December 07, 2007

What Do We Do With All That Extra Money?

Imagine you run a charter school. Now, you've got the teachers and kids working six days a week, and longer days and years than public school teachers. Though you boast about how you pay your teachers more, for the time they work, you actually pay them less. The health insurance you offer is not equal to that which public school teachers have.

And of course, if anyone looks at you the wrong way, you fire them. Some NYC charters have fired the entire staff in the same school year. That's because the teachers were terrible, and had nothing whatsoever to do with administration making poor choices, of course. In any case, every time you get rid of one teacher, you hire another at minimum salary. No one ever makes it to maximum salary, except maybe one teacher who you trot out for press conferences.

"Step right up, folks, and look at the hundred-thousand dollar charter teacher! She walks, she talks, she crawls on her belly like a reptile!"

So by the end of the year, you've saved a bundle. What do you do with the extra money? You're on salary, technically, so you can't just keep it (you could do that more efficiently with vouchers).

Whopee! Let's spend five days in the Bahamas on the taxpayers' dime! That's what they do over at KIPP! Forget about vacationing with your family. First, you don't have time, and second, you can't afford it. It's go with your slavedrivers or don't go at all.

KIPP founder Dave Levin, who as superintendent of the academy attended the Bahamas retreat, called the trips essential to motivating teachers to work the extra Saturdays and extended hours demanded by the school.

Yeah, Dave, when you treat teachers and kids like dogs all year, they need a break. What--the kids didn't get one? Too bad for them. Well, if they're gonna grow up to work 200 hours a week with few benefits and no job protection, you can't train them too early, can you?

Loyal KIPP teachers rationalize the trips by explaining they don't actually have any fun while on them:

Math teacher Frank Corcoran, who attended a foray this year to the Dominican Republic, said formal meetings made up about 40 percent of the trip, but informal school-related chats dominated the spare time.

"So it feels like work even though people are walking around in swim trunks," he said. "Everyone comes out feeling motivated and pumped up, whereas at the end of the school year you're just burned out."

I can certainly understand being burned out after those six day weeks and being on call round the clock with the KIPP cell phone that allows parents to call you all night (precluding any sort of social or family life). And while workaholic executives may choose this very same lifestyle, KIPP teachers don't remotely earn executive-style money or perks.

Of course, KIPP denies using public money anyway, as they are beyond reproach:

Although officials at the charter school told auditors the trips in 2005 and 2006 were funded by surplus funds from private and not public sources, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said documentation was lacking to support those claims.

"Having surplus funds is no excuse to spend taxpayer dollars on trips to the Caribbean," DiNapoli said. "Money intended for education should be spent on education."

I'll pay for my own vacation, thank you, and I'll go with my family rather than my assistant principal (who appreciates this arrangement just as much as I do). My kid goes to a public school where they don't need to work her or her teachers to death.

You can kipp KIPP, thank you very much.

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