On the other side of the water

by nkronos on February 22, 2011

If you are uncertain of what is at stake in Madison as both the rhetoric and power plays ratchet up, cast your eyes eastward across Lake Michigan to the state of the same name. Consider…Detroit.

The teachers of Wisconsin who have flocked from throughout throughout the Badger State to roost outside the state house and call for the duly elected governor of the state, Scott Walker, to yield to their collective cries say they are doing it for the children. They are doing it for the future. If they want to glimpse the future for all should Wisconsin–and the nation–continue to operate in the style of big city Democratic machine politics, let them compare what Walker is proposing for them with what Michigan’s education officials are ordering for Detroit’s teachers.

Rather than not having collective bargaining, consider not having jobs:

State education officials have ordered Robert Bobb to immediately implement a financial restructuring plan that balances the district’s books by closing half of its schools, swelling high school class sizes to 60 students and consolidating operations.

These measures are necessary because the school system has a deficit of more than $4,400 per pupil. The tax base is gone as property values have collapsed (down 85 percent), yet the school system has almost $1,100 in fixed annual costs just to fund retirees’ pensions and health care. If pupil enrolment declines as projected over the next three years, that cost will increase to more than $1,350 per student.

Likewise, the district is so in hock that it is forced to pay about $750 annually per student to service debt.

This is a hopeless situation. Even if by some miracle of cost-cutting Detroit public schools achieve solvency, does anyone think any actual education will be going on in a system where the budget was reduced by 46 percent last year, is still more than 30 percent in the red, and has these huge fixed costs that contribute nothing to the current classroom–a classroom to be jammed with 60+ students? The schools of Detroit are beyond the point of no return, miles past where a flashy, rah-rah commercial starring Eminem can save them.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, the GOP governors are fighting to stop the madness in their states before it comes to Detroit’s incurable end. Whereas our national government continues a Kabuki-like dance that has all the appearances of ending in seppuku and our President sides with the forces of disorder against those of responsibility, these governors are doing the unthinkable: touching not the political third rail of Social Security, but standing in front of the massive train of bureaucracy itself. Each has one hand raised to signal to the engineer and all the rest that they’re going to have to take a pay cut.

The crew may not like the signal man’s message, but if they fail to heed it, like Detroit, they’ll find themselves going over a bridge to nowhere.

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