Another Meaning of Accountability and the NPS Budget By Lisa Thomson
Do we ask the right questions when reconciling public spending with student achievement? Do we know what we spend on the 3Rs? Do we understand per pupil expenditures at the elementary, middle or high school levels when parents get pitted against one another other over which positions or programs to cut, add or restore? Do we know how much is spent on Special Ed and whether it’s effective? Finally, do we know what we spend on a per pupil basis for sports, music or other extra-curricular activities, when we talk about Pay to Play?
I would argue we don’t.
What we do know is that parents’ want a quality and consistent K-12 experience for their children and taxpayers want a school district that reflects student achievement and that maintains a town’s reputation and property values.
But what’s going to happen in the future, for example in Norwalk, when next year’s salary freeze is lifted for teachers? What about the double digit increases in health care premiums? What about the debate regarding which side of the ledger some employee post benefits and pensions sit? How will these increasing costs impact the way we educate students, compensate school staff, or bill taxpayers?
The proposed $164 Million budget for 2013-14 reflects an average cost of $15,000 per student, based upon projected enrollment figures of 10,962. The chart below represents my simplified summary, taken from the Superintendents Operating Budget Book.
My concerns over the budget, stem from wanting to understand how much is spent on core academics versus other shared services and how it ties back to student achievement? At the moment, it’s tough to quantify. Just for fun, I examined the regular classroom teacher line item of $63.3M and equally divided it by 5 subjects (i.e. math, science, language arts, social studies and electives) and then further divided that figure by the number of students in the district. I came up with only $1154 spent per child on individual academic subjects. When contrasted against other costs, it was alarming!
In 2010, Marguerite Rosa wrote, Educational Economics, offering explanations why education funding has become so convoluted. Chapters entitled Fuzzy Math, Who’s Really in Charge of Education?, When Political Agendas Collide, Driving Blind, What Does All This Mean For Schools, A Wicked Problem, A Multi- Dimensional Solution gives you a sense of the complexity. If you read this book, you’ll see that I’m not just picking on Norwalk. Our budget is symptomatic of a state crisis, better still, a national crisis, when elected officials, willing to kick the demographic financial can down the road are complicit with the educational establishment’s historical budget creation process, based upon past practices and nominal alignment to student achievement. This approach, coupled with the inverted baby-boomer pyramid of expenses is smacking up against the next generation’s ability to get an education, close the achievement gap, prepare for college or get a job. It’s not just visible on the balance sheet, but in our neighborhoods, if one drives past former schools turned nursing-retirement homes dotted along Broad River, Strawberry Hill and Gregory Blvd. and Allen Road.
But demographics aside, when examining the budget from a core academic standpoint, it illustrates as a nation, how we’ve strayed from spending money on the nitty-gritty fundamentals of reading and writing and our nation’s test scores reflect it. Until districts more directly link budgets to student achievement, whereby staff, training, qualifications, technology and other resources are tied back to the basics, students will under-perform and educators and politicians will bear the wrath of parents and taxpayers.
Connecticut’s reputation for being the state of steady habits has left us with 169 school districts that carry the burden of 169 different contracts for health insurance, transportation, technology and a host of other expenses that are killing local municipalities and cannibalizing the classroom. We need to unravel the costs that make up the school budget and determine how to get back on track with the core objective of preparing students for the global economy without destroying the economy in the process!
Data Extrapolated from the 2013-2014 Proposed Superintendent’s Budget
Note: Allocated line Items numbers have been rounded up or down for illustrative purposes.
|Code||Items||Total Allocated||% Of Budget||Per Student Allocation|
|800||Professional dues, Associations||$ 108K||<1%||$ 9|
|700||Instructional equipment and software||$ 315K||<1%||$ 28|
|600||Supplies ( oil, electricity, gasoline, oil, books, postage, other)||$ 5.8M||4%||$ 625|
|500||Other (Special Ed Tuition & Bus Transportation)||$ 13.2M||8%||$ 1,204|
|400||Property Services (Building Equipment & Maintenance||$ 2.6M||2%||$ 237|
|300||Professional & Technical Services (legal fees, etc.)||$ 3.6M||2%||$ 328|
|200||Benefits (health & life ins., social security, retirement, longevity, etc.||$ 36.5M||22%||$ 3,329|
|Common Core Implementation, Salaries Workshops||$ 470K||<1%||$ 42|
|All Substitutes||$ 1.7M||1%||$ 155|
|Superintendent’s Office & Super Admin Team||$ 880K||$ 80|
|Principals & Asst. Principals and Housemasters||$5.4M||3%||$493|
|Supervisors and Asst. Supervisors (Instructional Specialists, Special Education Support, Expulsion Hearings)||$1.1M||<1%||$100|
|Secretaries, Aides and Clerks||$ 10.7M||7%||$ 976|
|Custodians & Maintenance||$ 5.2M||3%||$ 474|
|Security||$ 97K||<1%||$ 8|
|Nurses & Physical Therapist||$ 1.4M||<1%||$127|
|Extra- Curricular Stipends||$ 130K||<1%||$11|
|Degree Changes||$ 375K||<1%||$34|
|Other Certified Staff (Social Workers, Psychologists, Speech therapists, guidance counselors, instructional aides, HS Librarians)||$ 7.7M||5%||$702|
|Non Affiliated Staff (IT, Audio Visual Techs, Payroll, Facilities directors, executive support)||$ 1.4||<1%||$127|
|Other Non- Certified (security staff, monitors, testing coordinators, mailroom personnel)||$ 909K||1%||$82|
|Classroom Teachers||$ 63.3M||38%||$5774|
|TOTAL *||$163.3M ~||100%||$14,979 ~|