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The Blob: Other School Employees Besides Teachers


Q. I was looking at our middle school's staff list in the student handbook. I started noticing that relatively few of the employees listed were actually classroom teachers in core subjects. There were all kinds of people working there who weren't actually teaching kids. We've always had the janitor and the lunch ladies, but this is getting ridiculous. I thought regular classroom teachers made up something like 80 percent of school staff, but the actual number is less than 50 percent now, according to our district's staff roster. What's up with all these nonteachers working in our schools?


You're talking about "The Blob." That's the term for the incredible amount of non-instructional staffing in public schools today. By "non-instructional" is meant people who are employed in nonacademic or at least non-teaching areas of public education. The term, "The Blob," was coined by former U.S. Education Secretary Bill Bennett about the vast, powerful, insulated and fortified education establishment which has caused massive new spending in K-12 education in recent years.


It must be said that many of these school district and school bureaucracy employees are essential and schools wouldn't run nearly as well without them. A lot of their functions didn't exist a generation or two ago: computer technicians, clerical workers to deal with all the government paperwork that wasn't required a generation ago, and almost the entire special education staff, for example.


On the other hand, there are those who say the problem with our schools is too many people on staff chasing too few tasks, in order to justify their jobs, and creating a lot of costly overcomplication that interferes with the simplicity of the learning curve. Many of these non-teaching employees make much more money per hour working for the public school district than they would make if they worked in the private sector. The implication is that they SHOULD be working in the private sector, and contracting to do that work for the schools, to save a lot of taxpayer money.


To many of those who don't like the growth of government, the fact that the schools, which are units of government, are employing these people to do these tasks in the first place is an unfair assault on the local private sector. Why? Because government jobs siphon off business from the private sector. Since school staffers are completing those tasks on the public's payroll, there's less work and services available for private-sector businesses to complete and help their businesses survive and thrive.


Examples: school-based preschools and before- and after-school latchkey day care workers . . . in-school counselors and psychologists . . . assessment directors . . . painters . . . carpenters . . . public relations staff . . . printing staff . . . security staff . . . caterers . . . assistant principals, associate superintendents, etc.


Many observers believe that spending per pupil could be brought into line with taxpayers' ability to continue to pay for public education if a lot of the excess, non-educational staff could be laid off, and their functions bid out to the private-sector for completion at far less cost.


They would like to see The Blob trimmed back, chiefly in non-classroom employment areas, and for schools to move to privatization wherever possible.


The Blob sprawls from the organizational lobbying going on by nearly 40 special-interest groups and professional associations in Washington, D.C., each of which has an agenda that involves spending more taxpayer money.


The Blob's wellspring and key cheerleading comes from the teachers' colleges across the land.


It is populated and funded by the politically powerful teachers' unions.


Its ways are entrenched by the remote, monolithic federal and state education bureaucracies.


Its prophets are the nationally-known consultants, speakers, ideologically-based researchers, and activists.


And on down to the local level, there are the school boards and committees, district employees, special-interest groups, vendors and contractors, often the Parent Teacher Association leadership, and affiliates of the national Blob's organizations and associations, all working to amass more money and power for education.


Because of all of the political power in the form of contributions and votes promised by The Blob to ambitious politicians, school staffing has gradually expanded 'way beyond classroom teachers into the other types of personnel who make their living in the education field but aren't really teachers.


The cynical view is that these jobs were created and defended to "grow" union membership. That might explain why the teachers' unions are constantly lobbying for more and more nonacademic functions to be started in public school settings. More resources . . . more jobs . . . more union members.


The antidote? How to shrink The Blob?


Grassroots activism by parents and the public to reduce overstaffing, because the costs are threatening to sink the educational ship. The public generally has no idea how big the non-teaching staffs have become in K-12 education. They should be informed of the cost of this practice.


We'll always need non-teaching employees in our schools. But to keep them and our children afloat, we need to throw at least some of The Blob overboard. And don't worry: they won't sink, they'll swim, because the same jobs they're doing in schools exist in the "real" world, too.


Homework: Chapter 16, "Parents and Education Reform," in The Educated Child: A Parent's Guide, by William J. Bennett.


By Susan Darst Williams Other School Staff 01 2009


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