Tuesday, November 15, 2011

District in Need of Improvement

Over the weekend, Lynn Sloneker reported on her blog, Unmuffled, that the Hudson City School District has now been officially designated a "District in Need of Improvement" by the New York State Department of Education. On the same day, Sloneker published some statistics about the salaries that were paid in the 2010-2011 school year to administrators, teachers, and business staff who, one would imagine, have to accept some responsibility for the dismal academic performance of the students at HCSD. In the 2010-2011 school year, forty-five employees were paid more than $85,000 and eighteen were paid more than $90,000. By contrast, the median income for 2009 in Columbia County was $49,795 and in Hudson $36,241.

The discrepancy between what we get and what we pay for in public education seems only to get more staggering, but the statistic that may be most grating to people struggling to pay the property taxes that finance our expensive and underachieving district is that 83 percent of the people receiving salaries from HCSD don't live here. The profligate budget decisions made by the district impact them only positively, and they suffer none of the consequences of their own failures.

So let's recall a simpler time--more than a half century ago--in the good old days when public education, according to all reports, accomplished what it set out to do. This is from Alan Sugarman's memoir, Jewels of Moments, quoted here before.  
In September of 1958, there were about seven-hundred students enrolled in the high school. The teaching staff numbered thirty-four and together with all non-teaching members, forty-eight adults were employed. The curriculum was basic and my biggest advantage was that I had taught or knew most of the student body. . . . The office staff was as slim as it could possibly be for a school the size of Hudson High. There was no administrative assistance of any kind. . . . Further, there were no department heads, so administratively and curricularly the principal was it. So far as guidance was concerned, there was one full-time counselor who was assisted by a part-time member of the English Department.
I had a secretary assigned to my office and a second person reported to the guidance area--and that was the merry little band what would meet the needs and requirements of the seven-hundred-pupil high school and the thirty-four teachers who composed the faculty.
In 1956, the principal of Hudson High School earned $6,500. In 2010-2011, the salary for the high school principal Thomas Gavin was $118,002.


  1. "By contrast, the median income for 2009 in Columbia County was $49,795 and in Hudson $36,241."

    But what percentage of residents of Columbia County and Hudson have Masters degrees and beyond which are required for teaching? I'm not sure why this comparison is relevant. I'm not certain I would invest in 4 years of undergraduate and 1-3 years in graduate school plus all of the required exams and certifications in order to make a paltry $35,000.00.

    One of the issues behind why Hudson teachers have higher salaries on average is because they do not have a lot of younger staff farther down on the salary scale. It's also hard to attract talent to a troubled school district without offering competitive pay. They also have a disproportionate number of special needs children who require, by state law, a certain type and number of therapists and other educational professionals that the other local districts don't need.

    Whether they've made a good investment, of course, remains to be seen. I'm not trying to absolve the faulty and staff of Hudson for their responsibility in poor performance but I think a lot of factors about the school district are overlooked.

    "they suffer none of the consequences of their own failures."

    This is only true if you believe that teachers and administrators don't care about the success of their students. That might be true for some, but if you've spent any time talking to Hudson's teachers (or *any* teachers) you'd know that's patently false. Also, even though teachers don't live in Hudson, that doesn't mean that they aren't affected by the quality of life in Columbia County and what it means to live here.

    I think Hudson uniquely suffers from a combination of factors that drag it down. People tend to forget that 20% of the Hudson student body has special needs. Unmuffled talked about that here:


    The figures are dated, but for non-special needs kids the district spent about $11k per student. Special needs kids are over $21k. Hudson has to spend so much time, money and effort on special needs kids (rightly so!) that they do not have enough to go around for the general population.

    They do need more money - the school does not have enough supplies to provide a basic, well rounded education for its children. Textbooks are dated, art and music supplies are at an all-time low, science equipment is dated and lacking. Schools like Chatham and Ichabod don't have as acute a problem as Hudson. Obviously, the city of Hudson's property is not valuable enough to provide for its students, unlike Ichabod and Chatham and other areas. If state foundational aid was truly equalized according to need, Hudson's ability to provide basic supplies to its students would greatly increase and there wouldn't be such high class sizes and a serious and dangerous staffing shortage. These are the key problems that drag down its test scores.

    I feel people spend too much time pointing fingers at taxes and teachers and not enough time digging into the truth of what is happening in Hudson.

  2. New York State is #1 in spending on education and #46 in results.

    New York State schools do NOT need more money. They need accountability. They need competition.

    Until there is school choice the poor children of Hudson are trapped in a failing expensive monopolistic system and everyone suffers. The Hudson schools do not improve because there are no consequences to the schools and employees if they continue to be terrible. (Thank you, unions.)

    If Gossips readers want to do one single thing to improve Hudson, get yourselves a first class school system.

    If there were a high school in Hudson as good as New Trier in Evanston, Illinois, or Palo Alto High School in Silicon Valley, it would do more good for Hudson than 100 additional antique stores and restaurants.

    -- Jock Spivy