Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Alternatively, They Could Buy Part of a Stealth Bomber

TS O'Rama ("Poncer? I don't even know her!") is appalled that his local school district wants to spend sixty million dollars to build a new high school. You know, that's a fair amount of money. Of course, my own little math shows that, assuming a population of 3,000 students, that's $500 per student per year over forty years (or, if you prefer, $2,000 for each student over forty years). Is that excessive? Heck, I don't know. According to one paper, it would cost $80-90 million for a high school in Hawaii ($40mil for an elementary school). In Massachusetts, a high school apparently costs $31.5 million. Nearby Connecticut needs $71mil, though. A high school in Virginia will apparently run you about $50 million dollars.

That's a fair amount of money. My own school district, Fairfax County, has a 2004 budget of $1.67 billion dollars. Each Fairfax County high school has somewhere around 3,000 students. On the other hand, Goochland County has an annual budget of $18.2 million, and built a 600-student high school for $20 million. Heck, renovating my secondary (middle and high) school cost $40 million.

I don't know how much of this is necessary and how much is "ooh, look at the cool stuff we could get!" When they renovated my school (after I'd already left for college), they added "conference suites," among other things. That seems like a waste, just like buying the latest computers so students can type papers.

On the other hand, I don't know how much increasing teacher salaries is going to help unless you make sure the teachers are darn well worth it. I honestly believe that there simply aren't enough teachers around who teach well enough to deserve six-figure salaries. Of course, if we're willing to spend our money on entertainment to such an extent that a rookie in the NFL can make over $200k just sitting on the bench all season, perhaps we can afford a few overpaid teachers in order to bring up the overall quality.

Again, though, I don't think increasing salaries is the answer. My professors here earn a pretty decent wage, and it seems all-too-often I simply get warmed-over third-hand political bigotry such as Bush-bashing passed off as genuine philosophy. One of my sisters had a teacher who was pretty vindictive and spiteful towards her (I still can't figure out why), while another of my sisters incurred the wrath of a teacher simply because she was able to name all the prepositions, embarassing the teacher who'd said that she was sure no one in the class could. Most of the best teachers I've had worked in high schools because they wanted to. My best English teacher also taught classes at George Mason University, while my best History teacher had a doctorate and was the only high school teacher (and an officer) in a prestigious society for history teachers. The teachers at Frederick Douglass Christian School are missionaries who have to raise the $12k it takes to fund their position every year.

When I start teaching, I'd love to make $90,000 per year. However, I know I won't. I probably wouldn't be worth it, and you would have to wonder about the source of all that extra money.

Of course, it might also be worth considering whether or not it's ethically right to earn money teaching when you know part of your salary comes from the lottery proceeds, but that's a topic for another day.

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