Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Remain Unconvinced

It is amazing what a little negative publicity can do. Within hours of my letter to the editor appearing in yesterday’s Banner-Herald, the HTML version of the CCSD’s “Facts & Figures” had been extensively revised and the PDF version had vanished altogether, prompting something of a mea culpa from the District in today’s edition.

Says the District’s spokesman regarding my particular point:

The $9,616 figure quoted by board member Charles Worthy comes from CCSD calculations of general fund revenues and expenditures. The $10,746 figure quoted by school board candidate Jim Geiser includes general fund revenue as well as federal allocations such as school nutrition grants and Title I funds.

Perhaps. While I appreciate the fact that Mr. Wooten fell on his sword with regard to the inconsistent information on the CCSD web site, to my mind the numbers still do not add up, either figuratively or literally (and please do not interpret this as an attack on Mr. Wooten – his job is PR, not accounting; I doubt very seriously that he rummaged through budgets and ledger sheets himself, rather I assume that he wrote up information given to him by someone else).

What the District is claiming is that Worthy’s figure reflects “general fund” per pupil expenditures only. Okay, but if so, then:

1) For what year is that figure? Since the per pupil expenditure figure on the CCSD web site has been revised upward to $9724, noted to be for the 2006-2007 school year, the implication is that the lower figure dates from some earlier time. Complaining about the use of dated information is where I came into this argument.

2) Isn’t is curious that the CCSD’s “general fund” per pupil calculation for 2006-2007 matches to the dollar the 2006 amount given by the Georgia Department of Education’s expenditure report for all per pupil expenditures?

3) The difference between Worthy’s and Geiser’s figures are attributed to the difference of “general fund” versus “general fund” plus “federal allocations” per pupil expenditures. Geiser’s figure is from 2007. That would mean that Worthy’s figure should also be from 2007, “general fund” per pupil expenditures being a portion “general fund” plus “federal allocation” expenditures for the same year. But how does this compare with the $9724 figure, which also dates from 2007?

Nonetheless, if one divides the “operating budget,” now given as $125,268,121 for 2008-2009 on the CCSD web site, by the “total number of students enrolled,” now given as 12,231 as of earlier this month (though the total for the grade levels added together comes to 12,227; for what is worth, it has been my experience that the FTE number used by the Department of Education is typically lower), the calculation yields a per pupil expenditure of $10,241.85. If past years are any indication, the budget will be amended upward by millions of dollars by the time the fiscal year ends, thereby increasing per pupil expenditures accordingly. And I don’t think that “operating budget” includes all spending, either.

As a general observation, I find the use of “general fund” per pupil expenditures only as a measure of spending, rather than total per pupil expenditures, to be problematic. Granted, that is just a philosophical position on my part, though a cynic may suspect that the CCSD is trying to understate its per pupil expenditures.

All of that said, however, the answer to the CCSD’s problems will not be found by quibbling over a few cents here or a few dollars there based on what sources are mined for information (though, of course, the most recent data available should be used). The problem is the general trend in the CCSD budget which, measured either in absolute or per pupil terms, has increased dramatically in recent years, irrespective of whether the money comes from the state or is derived locally, without any corresponding increase in student achievement.

Until we get past the “more money” equals ”higher achievement” mindset echoed by four of the six candidates running for seats on the Clarke County Board of Education, nothing is going to change because nothing else is going to be tried.

Addendum: Since my original post of earlier today, I did indeed find the $9724 figure on the 2006-2007 Report Card and deleted point #4 accordingly. Unfortunately, that only prompts another question as $9724 is given for 2006-2007, but the corresponding figure for 2005-2006 is $8641. That still leaves Worthy’s $9616 unaccounted for using the CCSD’s specified source material.

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