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A small but important step

At a net cost of some $40,000 per year, outgoing school Superintendent Walt Rulffes awarded raises of about 5 percent each to six school administrators and his executive assistant.

This week, Mr. Rulffes’ replacement, incoming Superintendent Dwight Jones, reversed the move. The new superintendent said it’s not that he didn’t believe the seven employees were unworthy of the raises, which were supposed to take effect Monday. Rather, he said the increases cannot be justified at a time when the district expects a state funding shortfall of $300 million for 2011-12.

He was advised by district lawyers that if he wanted to rescind the increases he had to act this week before the hikes “became official in payroll,” he said.

Mr. Jones said he did not make the decision lightly.

“It’s a slippery slope for a new superintendent to come in and undo a decision by the former superintendent,” Mr. Jones said. “I feel bad about it, but I have to look out for the district as a whole. … In these economic times, I just can’t do it. I’m sure there are households and businesses in the same position. They’ve got folks doing a lot more with less.”

It’s a good start.

Yes, $40,000 is a virtual drop in the bucket when it comes to the district’s budget. But there’s no such thing as a tax system that will generate as much money for administrative overhead during lean times as during a boom. Mr. Jones is correct — the schools, just like the public they serve — have to start learning how to do more with less.

The correct attitude is to see this as an opportunity, rather than a disaster — a chance to examine where well-intentioned programs and policies have outlived their usefulness or become inefficient and sometimes counterproductive.

Mr. Jones’ decision on the raises is a good start. Here’s hoping it’s a sign of equally sensible moves to come.

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