Thursday, August 1, 1996
OK, teachers, we're ready to discuss money

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Attention, class. It is time for an economics lesson.

Sit up straight, Heather.

Spit out the gum, Jason.

I'll have to ask you not to play with that assault gun, James.

Thank you.

Part one of this lesson comes to us from Dick Chiara, who sells school supplies. His plan should find considerable support in some quarters (the ones that smell like chalk and gym shoes and library paste, for instance).

He says we should pay teachers what we'd pay a good baby sitter, say $3 an hour. ''Instead of paying these outrageous taxes,'' his letter says, ''I'd give teachers $3 an hour out of my own pocket. Also, I would only pay them for five hours a day.

''That would be $15 a day. If each parent would also pay them $15 a day, it would still be cheaper than private day care. If each teacher has 25 students, that would be 25 times $15 or $375 a day. Since they only work 180 days a year, I am not going to pay for all those vacations. So, just multiply $375 by 180.'' That equals $67,500.

A bargain

So, we're getting off cheap. When the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research polled city dwellers earlier this summer, 59.8 percent said a beginning teacher's salary of $26,000 annually is ''about right.'' When told a teacher with 22 years' experience and a master's degree is paid $52,000 annually, 66.1 percent approved.

Not everybody does.

State Rep. Michael A. Fox, R-Fairfield Township, chairman of the Ohio House's Education Committee, for one. And he swings a very big stick.

''One of the main reasons children are being schooled in crummy, ill-equipped classrooms is because urban district labor unions squeeze school boards for increased salaries, wages and benefits at the expense of the infrastructure,'' he wrote in an Enquirer guest column.

Bob Dole says Bob Dole agrees.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said parents have lost control of schools to a ''viselike monopoly of unions and bureaucrats that is responsible for lower test scores, a higher dropout rate and growing illiteracy.''

Mr. Dole should spend some time at the front door of most American urban schools to meet the students who arrive in the morning. I believe he would see that the problem is not parents who have lost control of their schools, but parents who have lost control of their children.

A winning team for kids

When parents and teachers work together, says Voula Young, a teacher in Southwest Local District, the schools work. What does she know? She has taught in public schools for only 38 years. I say let's hear from more politicians.

Some of them think the answer to public education is school vouchers. The test program in Ohio has allowed 1,700 children to flee the troubled Cleveland Public Schools. Opponents argue that this amounts to using state dollars to support church-based schools.

''You don't fix the public schools by taking (children) out of the public schools and putting them into the private ones,'' says State Rep. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati. ''To fix the public schools, you fix the public schools.''

Mary Edythe Weddle, 87, a retired high school teacher, says, ''It has always been true that the public schools get the students parents send them - and they have to keep them.''

In other words, what kind of student arrives at the classroom? How ready are they to learn? And why would we expect that our teachers can cure teen pregnancies, drugs, poverty and gangs during algebra class?

James, Heather, Jason - have you been paying attention? Let's review. Republicans will fight with Democrats. Financially strapped private schools will fight for money from financially strapped public schools. It'll get hot. This is, after all, an election year.

Let's flunk everybody - whether it's somebody heading up a union or somebody running for public office - who tries to pit teachers against parents. And let's not listen to anybody who forgets that everybody is better off if the nation's children get an education. Every one of them.

That is really something we can't afford to forget.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.