Digging holes and filling them up would be fine too

See all posts

At first glance, Cleveland's plan to move 200 veteran teachers off the school district's payroll and onto federal stimulus funds for two years--allowing the district to staff classrooms with cheaper replacements--is a bit irksome. The veteran teachers will be paid their full salaries as a lure into semi-retirement status (that's at least $60,000 per year), so that they will be fully eligible for retirement by the time stimulus dollars run out. In return they need to do precious little to keep earning their salaries. For example, one of the two possible assignments involves tutoring students before or after school and pushing some paper for the hours in-between. The other possible assignment will be to cover classes on a rotating schedule to free up their teachers for professional development.

But upon more reflection, we've reconsidered our pique.

First of all, this is a welcome exception to districts' general practice of letting budget cuts fall entirely on the heads of teachers not protected by seniority. And because junior teachers are relatively cheaper, when this approach is taken, many more of them have to be fired than more senior teachers to make up a deficit.

Second, the great economist John Maynard Keynes reinforced the importance of any kind of stimulus spending in a depression by suggesting that paying people to dig holes and then fill them up was a fine use of government funds. Were Keynes to be designing Cleveland's "service separation plan," he might have just handed veteran teachers a shovel and directed them to a local field without giving the slightest thought to improving education.

As it is, with teachers tutoring and facilitating more professional development, Cleveland is getting some educational bang for the buck, even if the jobs are pretty cushy.