Op-Ed: Downsizing School District’s Budget is a No-Brainer

5f17bd50a561b imageMy Op-Ed on the Moscow School District ran in today’s Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Enjoy! 

I appreciate Moscow School District (MSD) superintendent Greg Bailey taking the time to respond to my two previous Op-Eds. In order to effectively respond to him, I spent last month reading 30 years of news reports in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and the Lewiston Tribune on the history of the MSD’s enrollment and spending woes.

Back in 1999, Daily News staff writer, Ted McDonough, wrote a brutally honest article about then MSD superintendent Edward Fisk, the Moscow School Board, and the Moscow Education Association. McDonough reported that MSD enrollment was down 213 students from the 1996-97 school year. “While student numbers have declined, the numbers of teachers employed by the district hasn’t fallen. Teaching levels grew slightly between 1996 and the current school year.” Sound familiar?

Bailey says that enrollment is down at MSD because of other options like Moscow Charter School (MCS) with its 187 students. The simple fact is that the district is bleeding students. Moscow has grown 29% since 1991 while MSD and MCS combined enrollment has shrunk 21%.

I had suggested closing an elementary school since elementary enrollment at MSD is down 490 students from its peak and there are ever fewer students enrolling. One of the smallest schools (West Park with 156 students or Russell with 154 students) could easily be assimilated into the remaining elementary schools.

That is not a novel idea. Heather Frye of the Lewiston Tribune reported about this same discussion back in 2001. “Another option is closing West Park Elementary,” she quotes Fisk. “Students would be reassigned to three other elementary schools in the district. Staff reductions would still be distributed across the district, so not all West Park employees would lose their jobs.” Twenty years later, with 490 fewer elementary students, Bailey says this is impossible. I have a question for him: how much enrollment decline will it take before redistributing a tiny school is feasible?

In December 1999, Staszkow reported that Fisk expected the downturn in MSD enrollment to be only temporary. “(Enrollment) did drop last year but I think last year was unusual.” We see how spectacularly wrong that prediction was. MSD enrollment has fallen from 2,490 in 1999 to 2,160 today.

Yet Greg Bailey made essentially the same prediction concerning the students that bailed on the government schools during the last two school years. “We are expecting these students to return if we do not see another high-risk scenario caused by the pandemic.” Just like Fisk’s 1999 prediction, Bailey’s 2021 prediction will also be spectacularly wrong.

Why? Because the Moscow School Board decided to require masking of all students this Fall. Most parents recognize that the risk of COVID to children is statistically insignificant, but the risk of masking and social distancing to their children’s mental and physical health is extreme. There are many other schooling options available to parents in MSD’s territory that do not require children to be masked all day, including homeschooling, online schools, and private schools.

Progressives, settled scientists, teachers’ unions, and the media (yet I repeat myself) all called for destroying two years’ worth of education and countless lives while all the time knowing that kids are statistically unaffected by the virus. Parents have experienced first-hand the loss of a year’s education in the government schools. Many parents are choosing not to let it happen again to their kids. With President Biden’s $3,000 per year child tax credit, parents can afford to give their children an alternative education.

MSD consumes 48% of our property taxes, making Latah County the 2nd most expensive county in Idaho. Daily News reporter Nina Staszkow reported that the 1999 MSD budget was $15 million for 2,624 students, or $5,716 per student per year. Taking inflation into account (58.9%), in today’s dollars that is $9,367 per student per year. Daily News reporter Garrett Cabeza reports that the 2021-22 MSD budget is $29.2 million, meaning MSD is now spending $13,519 per student per year.

The solution to MSD’s problems is straightforward but odious to progressives: downsize. Yet, at this rate, I anticipate the same problem in twenty years, with us all wondering why that superintendent needs $20,000 per year to educate 20% fewer students in elementary schools 20% full.