Barbering a beast

The Texas Legislature has embarked on the budgetary equivalent of trimming a woolly mammoth. The House’s version of the new state budget comes up for debate today in Austin. If you hear roars from the north, you’ll know the beast got nicked. 

Among the governor and legislative leaders, a broad consensus has agreed not to raise taxes. Budgeteers have been “surgical” in reducing 12.5% from last biennium’s budget, as Higher Education Committee Chairman and my former boss Rep. Dan Branch put it.

But why cut something as important as education at all? Why not raise taxes? Because the families of the very kids we are trying to educate would have fewer resources to prepare them for education.

Then why not tax just the rich? Because the heads of the families of the very kids we are trying to educate work for and buy stuff from “the rich.” “The rich” will simply pass on any tax increases to their customers in the form of higher prices or to their employees in the form of lower wages and benefits.

Besides, some spending areas need not just a scalpel, but a sickle. Take education middle management, for example.

As it should, more than half of the state budget goes toward public and higher education. Way more than half of those budgets go to payroll. How much of those payrolls goes to educators on the front lines? Less than before.

Public sector leaders often gain perceived influence by expanding the sizes of their staffs. As a result and over time, layer upon layer of management strata fill school district and higher ed administrative offices.

Before long, we have vice provosts and assistant superintendents for every category under the lamp of learning. Periodically, we need to throw darts at the organizational charts.

Texas Tech University President Guy Bailey did. Last week, he summarily eliminated several middle management administrators including the Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs and the Vice President for Student Affairs and External Relations. The cuts will save the school half a million dollars a year.

In the private sector, middle managers are always the first to go in a slowdown. Owners and executives don’t fire themselves, and they don’t first release workers on the front lines, those who actually produce a product. Similarly, superintendents and university presidents should protect most those who have direct educational impacts on students: the teachers.

As the sign in my mother’s public school classroom said, “Old teachers never die; they just lose their class.” Some would add, “Bad teachers never die; they just get promoted to central office.”

Guy Bailey has the right idea: first cut the middle managers with the really long titles. Still, it appears he has some work to do. He reassigned some duties of the people he fired to the Vice Provost for Institutional Diversity and Undergraduate Education. No April Fool’s.

Kevin Thompson is a former chief of staff in the Texas House of Representatives and is now vice president at Texas Heritage Bank. He can be reached at

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 207 other followers


%d bloggers like this: