High School Report 9
(From a letter in 1996)
So how does our little high school get the funds to operate? Well, every school receives a portion of the local property taxes, but since this hamlet is dirt poor, that’s not much. Therefore there are all sorts of compensations. Extra funds are available for schools with a certain percentage of students living below the poverty line. In this school, 98% of students apply.
The school also gets a certain amount of money for each child of migrant farm workers. Migrant farm workers go north three or four months out of the year to earn money picking produce. So these children miss one or two months of school each year. Of course money isn’t going to remedy that, but it’s still nice. The number of graduates per school also takes the number of migrant workers’ children into account, and rumor has it that therefore those numbers are exaggerated. Students who come to school one day late after the summer vacation are cheerfully marked as migrant workers.
There is also general federal and state money, and the school receives a certain amount for each special ed student, so that’s another incentive to label as many students as possible as special ed.
The entire school year the superintendent has been saying that there’s plenty of money, that last year we didn’t spend enough, etc. But every time I want to order something for the library, the answer is the same: no money.
When I look out my window I can see where it goes: a football stadium with permanent bleachers and floodlights, a roof for the outdoor basketball court, a rubber top layer for the track field, a new home economics building, and a new office building.
The principal has been begging for a reserved parking sign with his name on it, and for new landscaping around the entrance, to make the school look more attractive, but the teachers objected too much. However, we do now have lines on the parking lot for the twenty or so cars. The principal proudly announced last week that a large sign will be purchased for outside the school, where (sports)activities can be announced, so that the community can see what a dynamic school we are.
Then there is the money that is spent on personnel. People like Mr. R., who spends his days in the detention room, reading the newspaper, and Mrs. W., who is in charge of special ed, even though ladling soup at lunchtime would probably be quite enough of a challenge for her. In order to be a high school teacher, regardless of the subject, all you need is a bachelor’s degree–again, it doesn’t matter in what, and then the school can certify you based on the emergency certification program. South Texas has a shortage of teachers, so there’s a “fast track”, which in practice just means that completely unqualified people get jobs teaching school. One of the newspapers mentioned a while ago that 40% of high school teachers teach something they didn’t major in. And even having a major in something isn’t saying much. It means getting 36 credit hours for classes in a certain field, and that’s about one European year’s worth of classes. And something like 80% of math teachers didn’t major in math.
Plenty of money is spent on the sports apart from the fields and such. This tiny school district with about 250 students in all, boasts seven coaches for the various sports. Seven. Then there are the football uniforms ($150 each), and the uniforms for the thirty or so band members, and the uniforms of the cheerleaders and the twirlers. And the band instruments. And the schoolbuses that take all these dressed-up students to the various sports games all over South Texas, and the hamburgers and milkshakes that are bought for everyone after each game.
In the elementary school the money is spent on fridges in the principal’s office and all the classrooms, for all the snacks used for rewarding the students. It’s spent in the middle school on pizza parties every Friday that the students have all shown up all week, and it’s spent on paper and glitter for the monthly best-decorated-classroom-door competition in the high school.
I’m not saying no money should be spent on these matters, but then again, if I were superintendent, and funds are limited and there are students in high school who can barely read, I would want to spend as much money as possible on elementary school teachers who are actually capable of teaching the students to read, write, and do math. And on libraries where students can find information. I wouldn’t spend so much of it on activities that are all related to one small group of boys chasing a ball that’s not even round.
The next post in this series is about the students’ graduation expenses.