Monday, December 10, 2012

Clarke Schools Getting Plenty Of Money

Read the column here.

As usual, the percentage and percentile calculations are my own.  I had finished the column and was just checking my numbers one last time when I discovered that the Georgia Department of Education had revised its listing of school system expenditures, thereby forcing me to redo my calculations because some of the state averages changed.  Oh well, such is life; the numbers are based on the information available as of about noon on Wednesday, 05 December.  Those readers so inclined can view for themselves the Expenditure Reports for FY 2012, either aggregately as one document or by individual school system: 

See the CCSD’s FY 2013 Board of Education Tentative Budget Presentation delivered at that meeting, which I consider to be something of an exercise in sophistry:

Note how it lauds an “overall reduction” of $1.97 million because “projected” state and local revenue did not meet expectations.  At no point is it made clear that this reflects any real reduction in revenue, as opposed to a mere lowering of expected increases.  This is the same baseline budgeting argument going on up in Washington writ small.

Also note the claim that “austerity cuts” exceed “$33 million in the last six years,” meaning 2007-2012.  Does this mean that the state has actually reduced QBE contribution to the CCSD by this amount?  Hardly.  I’ve looked into this argument before, finding that even during years in which austerity reductions have occurred, which has been under both Democrat and Republican administrations, they are frequently measured merely as reductions in projected increases.  In a couple of years at the height of the recent housing market collapse, state funding did decrease.  The far more usual situation is that state QBE contributions to local school system actually go up in years with austerity reductions, sometimes substantially, just not as much as the incredibly arcane funding formula would dictate (which similarly, since its introduction back in the 1980s, has never been “fully funded” by either Democrat or Republican governors or legislatures – for the simple fact that it would blow the state’s budget all to hell).  And in those years when the increases have been substantial, the local school systems invariably term them as “cuts.”

See the audit of the CCSD’s finances from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts; click on the Advanced Search button and use these Project ID numbers for each respective year.  The germane parts are the concluding sections at the end of the documents:
FY 2006         7028
FY 2007         6291-2007
FY 2008         6291-2008
FY 2009         6291-2009
FY 2010         6291-2010
FY 2011         6921-2011

Remember these dollar amounts and rankings the next time you hear the CCSD lamenting tens of millions of dollars in phantom revenue reductions, the next time it is in court explaining that the “not more than” revenue figures indicated on its E-SPLOST ballot resolutions are not binding, and the next time state audits of the CCSD’s finances call their management into question.

The truth is that the CCSD’s per pupil expenditures should have dropped years ago concurrent with the collapse of the housing market, just as did those of other school systems across the state.  Instead, the CCSD continued to jack up spending and then complain that the state wasn’t providing it with “adequate” funding.  Of course, as regards education funding, “adequate” is invariably synonymous with “more,” regardless of what is already being spent.

My complaint is not with teachers or teacher pay (and at no point did I indicate that it was), rather my complaint is with policy and the fact that the education establishment hides behind claims of budget cuts, even as local education spending has skyrocketed in recent years.

Why do we spend so much more per pupil for transportation in this, the smallest county in the state?

Why do we spend so much more per pupil for maintenance and operations, when essentially all of our physical plant has been newly constructed or refurbished to the turn of hundreds of millions of E-SPLOST dollars in recent years?

Why does the CCSD outspend pretty much everyone in the state, year after year, and still chronically underachieve? I know that a large part of the answer has to do with the student population that the CCSD serves, but then the question becomes one of how does increasing funding address that problem. The evidence, again year and year, is that it doesn't. So why do we keep doing the same thing?

Those are the kinds of questions that I would like to see addressed.

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