Kevin Ryan: Aiding our schools

From the Georgetown Times- September 17, 2010

There is no doubt that our state’s schools have suffered as a result of recent budgetary constraints. The status quo education establishment has directed cuts at teachers and classrooms while avoiding the larger systemic problems that have plagued our schools for decades.

We have a bloated and antiquated structure of education governance and administration that sucks money away from classrooms and instruction where it is so desperately needed.

The 630 school board members, 85 school district superintendents, countless bureaucrats, special interest groups, and state legislators who have supposedly been “advocating” on behalf of students and “fighting to improve the system” have failed to produce a system we can be proud of. Teachers, parents, and students seem to have been left out of the discussions and continue to suffer. While elected officials and school leaders point to a few positive statistics and improvements, there is no doubting that our state education system is still failing. We are fortunate to have great schools, dedicated teachers, and involved parents here in our community – but this is the exception and not the rule. Education is a statewide problem that affects all of us because it is the largest spending area in the budget and because a qualified workforce is essential to economic development.

When school boards and administrators make budget cuts, it seems that teacher’s jobs are always the first line-item on the chopping block. Instead, we should seek cost savings in other areas. I suggest that we stop paying salaries to school board members – who will collect more than $1.3 million for their service this year. Concerned citizens should offer their time in these positions as a public service and be reimbursed only for actual costs incurred while serving. Perhaps the superintendents and administrators could forego their annual conference at a private, oceanfront resort and instead reduce the number of days that their instructional staffs are furloughed. Efforts which would lead to more impactful cost savings are school district consolidation and cutbacks at the State Department of Education in Columbia.

Here in Georgetown and Charleston we have one school district per county, but elsewhere in the state that is not the case. Presently, there are 85 school districts throughout the state’s 46 counties. Each has its own superintendent, administrative staff, operational costs, and school board. This leads to a lack of accountability and wasteful, duplicative spending. If elected, I will support legislation to begin the process of consolidating districts so that there is only one operating in each county. This will result in substantial cost savings, increased accountability, and more consistent opportunities and experiences for students across the state.

Additionally, many people are unaware of the size and scope of the State Department of Education located in Columbia. Filling its twelve-story headquarters are more than 475 administrative employees whose jobs have little to do with the day-to-day instruction of students. Almost three-quarters of these bureaucrats make more than $50,000 annually – far more than the average teacher. I have proposed that 15% of these positions be eliminated and the resulting cost savings be directed to classrooms where the funds are actually needed. My opponent misrepresents this proposal by making it seem as though I want to cut 15% of the agency’s funding.

As a recent product of Georgetown County public schools, I am very familiar with the problems that we are facing. My perspective will be unique in the State House because I understand that teachers and parents are the catalyst for educational improvement – not increased funding for administration or some new type of assessment test. The most recent years of my life have been spent in our public schools – not in Columbia currying favor with special interest groups and the status quo education establishment. I understand that we need to direct money to teachers and classrooms instead of funneling it through layer after layer of bureaucracy and administration. I will fight to reform the complex education funding model, consolidate school districts, reduce the number of administrative positions, and to put teachers and parents back in the driver’s seat of educational improvement.

Kevin Ryan
Candidate, SC House 108