I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Crazy, Amoral, Uncle Paul Mulshine

Followers of this blog know I call Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine "Crazy Uncle Paul": he's that relative you see on holidays who will actually say things that make sense, followed by the craziest, most insane nonsense imaginable.

Crazy Uncle Paul is a libertarian, which means he uses his not inconsiderable gifts of persuasion to justify greed and indifference to others. Like all Randians, he will strenuously deny this: I'm for true freedom! I want to see everybody succeed. Liberals like you and Chris Christie want to keep poor people down!

(Yes, he really thinks Chris Christie is a liberal. He's said so many times. No, I'm not kidding - that's why he's "Crazy" Uncle Paul, see?)

Mulshine has so thoroughly convinced himself that "greed is good" that he now questions the morality of those who dare to question the notion. I know, it's hard to believe, but look at this:
Do the taxpayers of Montgomery Township know what their most highly paid employees is stating on their behalf?
If so, I suspect they would like to have their taxes reduced by an amount equal to the salary paid to School Superintendent Earl T. Kim. 
As you'll see from the letter Kim sent to state Sen. Mike Doherty about his Fair School Funding plan, Kim has no idea of the nature of the duties of an employee of the board of education.
Let me offer a hint to this overpaid bureaucrat: An employee of the school board  has no say whatsoever in such public policy matters as the proper amount of property-tax relief.
If he did, however, he should not be advising his superiors to take a course of action that deprives the taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars that could lower their property taxes and help keep them in their houses.
Now, first of all, I'd suggest that Earl T. Kim, as a professional educator and holder of at least one advanced degree in education, is FAR more qualified than a beer-drinking surfer/blogger to weigh in on public policy regarding school financing.

Second: I doubt very much that Mr. Kim had to take an oath of office that included creating and following what he perceives to be unethical policies, even if they are immediately helpful to his constituency.

Third: I think Paul Mulshine is "overpaid." Doesn't make it so. (Anything Crazy Uncle Paul makes is "overpayment" in my book.)

Finally... well let, me turn it over to the real expert in such things, Bruce Baker:
On most days, I can simply laugh off a ridiculous Paul Mulshine column in the Star Ledger. Most of his claims regarding education, taxation and the intersection of the two range from flat-out incorrect to wacky and misguided. But Mulshine’s claims in his column on Wednesday June 22nd necessitate a response.
For several years, I have been a professor where one of my primary responsibilities has been to train future school administrators. I believe strongly that well-informed well prepared and knowledgeable school administrators can and should play a critical role in guiding public education policy.  As one might figure from the name of this blog, my emphasis is on teaching school finance – an inherently political and divisive topic that often pits one district against another or even one school against another. As a result, I believe it is particularly important that leading voices in education policy in a state understand not only how policies affect their own district and children but how those policies affect children statewide – that local school administrators can think beyond the boundaries of their own school district and local constituents, and be mindful of the good of the public as a whole.
Any local school administrator would likely want to find ways to manipulate the state formula for allocating aid in a way that drives more aid to their district. And over the years, I’ve seen many twisted and unethical arguments advocated and legislated to accomplish these goals – including Jackson Wyoming – the wealthiest district in Wyoming – arguing (successfully) that it needs 30% more funding than any other district in the state simply because it is so wealthy. Kansas similarly adopted provisions which provide for more funding in districts a) with higher priced houses and b) with more children attending school in new facilities. I’ve seen more money driven to wealthier districts in South Carolina on the argument that they have more gifted children. And I’ve seen more money targeted to white schools than black schools in Alabama (still in effect) on the basis that white schools have more teachers with advanced degrees and that teachers with advanced degrees cost more (built into the state aid calculation). I’ve written on this topic in peer-reviewed research.
I’ve often been frustrated to see local public school administrators in districts advantaged by these illogical policies either sit idly by, knowing the policies to be wrong, or advocate loudly on behalf of these policies, still knowing full well that the policies are built on flimsy if not absurd arguments.  In the politics of state school finance, self-interest is often hard to overcome.  It is a rare administrator who is able to balance these conflicts well – to not take the easy way out and accept an absurd or even unethical policy position simply because it drives more dollars to their constituents. Earl Kim of Montgomery Township is one of those rare administrators.
Mr. Mulshine’s view that the only role of the local public administrator is to get more for his or her constituents, and that local bureaucrats should never take any action to the contrary – regardless of ethical considerations – is not only absurd but is indicative of much of what is wrong in politics today and society in general.  Mulshine prefers his bureaucrats to be amoral sock puppets.
That's certainly a big part of our problem, Bruce. But another, equally pernicious part is that our political discourse has been hijacked by people, like Paul Mulshine, who know absolutely nothing about the topics on which they opine.

Read all of Bruce's post, but the upshot is this: it doesn't cost the same amount to educate every child. Some children need more resources. And some districts have more of those children than others.

If Crazy Uncle Paul had stopped to think about this for a minute, he wouldn't be flying off the handle at Kim. But that's not how he rolls...
Endorsed by Paul Mulshine!

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