Bureaucratic Bloat – Bathroom Edition!

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Short version of this post: I clean my own toilet, therefore school staff unions should be abolished.

Long verson: I just had an article come out on bureaucratic bloat in Oklahoma schools, in which I noted that only half of the state’s K-12 public education employees are teachers. That’s pretty much par for the course nationwide.

(Before you ask, the breakdown looks similar if you do it by dollars instead of by headcount. I use headcount because it’s simpler – with dollars you have to navigate a more complex set of categories – and because there are categories of spending over which states have little control, such as debt service, whereas headcount is more flexibile.)

One argument I made was that instead of focusing on bloat in “administration,” we should really focus on privatizing services in the giant “other” category – bus, cafeteria, etc. Private companies already exist that can provide all those services better and cheaper. There’s no reason these functions should be performed by unionized civil servants under outrageously dysfunctional personnel rules that ensure substandard performance and with gargantuan nuclear exploding pensions that cost ONE TRILLION DOLLARS.

A disgruntled teacher writes in (anonymously) to say, among much else, that my argument is invalid because I don’t clean my own toilet:

 Not only do you expect us to teach our children, which I gladly and proudly do well, but you expect us to do so with out the assistance or limited assistance of janitorial staff, nurses, aides, bus drives and cooks. So we are to teach successfully as well as clean the toilets, cook their meals, take their temperature and drive buses (which we do anyway)…I wonder if Mr. Forster has someone that cleans his office and bathroom or if he does that himself?

(Read the letter in all its unabridged, unedited, undiluted glory here.)

Now, there are several problems here. As William F. Buckley once wrote: “I have seen non-sequiturs in my life, baby ones, middle-sized ones, and great big ones, but they all stand aside in awe at yours.”

First, I didn’t argue that teachers should clean their own toilets; I said we should hire private service providers to do it instead of using unionized civil servants. The teacher herself, curiously, seems to recognize this, but only in the non-toilet context; she complains elsewhere in the letter that under my argument “we are to contract out to professionals to provide meal service.” (I will leave unremarked upon her implicit acknowledgement that unionized civil servants cannot be considered “professionals”; unremarked upon as well will be the question of what this implies about teachers.)

The real problem with her argument, though, is that I do, in fact, clean my own toilet. The office in which I work does not hire janitorial staff. We are all responsible for cleanliness, including the bathrooms. On my first day, this fact was impressed upon me with some force by the administrative staff. And I’m proud to say that I have lived up to my responsibilities.

After all, I learned my skills through discipleship with a true master – the Li Mu Bai of toilet cleaning.

Sure he can walk on water – but does he clean it?

My first job in education was working for Jay Greene – yes, the Jay Greene – and we had no janitorial staff in that office either. In addition to our each taking responsibility for our messes daily, Jay appointed a regular schedule for comprehensive office cleaning. We each took a task – dusting, vacuuming, etc.

Jay always took the bathroom cleaning job. Every time. He told us this was his way of setting an example for the staff, citing a motto from the Israeli officer corps: “Follow Me!”

I still do.

So, if my arguments would be invalid if I didn’t clean my own toilet, doesn’t it therefore follow that since I do clean my own toilet, my arguments are valid?

8 Responses to Bureaucratic Bloat – Bathroom Edition!

  1. Patrick says:

    Awhile back I uncovered that just 1/3rd of the employees in Clark County School District (the nations 5th largest school district) were actual classroom teachers.

    They did inflate the figure by including substitutes and other licensed employees who were not teachers, bringing their official count to 50%.

  2. allen says:

    Be nice to know how charters compare. I remember reading, about a thousand years ago, an article at Forbes about non-teaching professionals, particularly central office staff. The article compared the New York Public Schools district to the Catholic Archdiocesan system.

    While NYPS had a significantly larger student population the number of non-teaching professionals per student, compared to the Archdiocesan system, was simply ludicrous.

    It was something like 15 to 1 even adjusting for difference in student populations.

    There’s a significant chunk of the public education problem right there.

  3. momof4 says:

    Allen, I remember a similar comparison between the DC Public Schools and the Archdiocese of Baltimore schools, both serving almost the exact same number of students (at least as far as one wishes to trust DCPS numbers, but they were probably inflated). The Archdiocese had something like 15 central office admins and DCPS had something like 1300. The suburban DC counties also have huge central office fiefdoms.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    DC is unusual because it has two (heavily duplicative) central bureaucracies. Nationally, the staff breakdown for public and private schools is depressingly similar:

    Teachers 55%
    Aides & coordinators 9%
    Administration 9%
    Student support 6%
    Library/media 2%
    Other (bus, etc.) 18%

    Better, but not by much. Of course it helps immensely that they’re not unionized.

    We don’t have separate data for charter schools, or at least I don’t know of any.

  5. allen says:

    What was notable about the Forbes article, which I just spent a fruitless half an hour trying to dig up, was that it was based on a master’s thesis by a former, New York City public school official who knew how to dig out information that the district tried to obscure and misrepresent.

    As one example, dredged from memory, a significant number of teachers are carried as teacher on the books but are, in fact, non-teaching personnel. Apparently this sort of subterfuge isn’t at all uncommon since the number of administrative personnel is always on the ascent but it just doesn’t look too good. So districts obfuscate.

    Sadly, my google-fu wasn’t strong enough to find the article.

  6. Rufus Levin says:

    Your privitization plan is EXACTLY what the Obama administration is PLANNING to do, except they intend for SEIU to manage the food services…which is why Michelle Obama was sent in to fund her little obesity gig with salad bars….SEIU already fully contracts MANY school district meal programs…and they want ALL of them to expand nationwide from mere Travel and Entertainment into huge GOVERNMENT wage contracts via the public government sector.

    Be careful what you advocate, unless you want the entire mechanics of schools to leave the local school district control and employment opportunities for locals, and to push up the cost of “education” via the food and feeding programs…these already extend into the SUMMER for low income kids all over the nation…which is CHILD care, not education.

  7. kashish says:

    you said teachers should clean their own toilets, dint get .

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