August 25, 2006

Let's Run the Numbers

In the comments of my last post, Mark Ruolo reminded me that per classroom expenditures are even more useful than per student expenditures for showing how much funding is really available to our public schools:
For what it is worth, I like to use "per classroom" as well as "per pupil" numbers. In California this year, the state budget allocates about $10K per K-12 student. I find that telling people that this means that we are spending a quarter of a million dollars per classroom (assuming 25 kids per classroom, which seems about right) has more effect than $10K per student.

I think this is because one classroom pretty much equals one teacher and so we get $250,000 per teacher, but everyone "knows" that teachers are underpaid. Well they aren't underpaid at $250,000 per year. The average California teacher gets about $55K/year in salary. Add in some generous benefits and it still looks like $250,000 per out to be enough to pay for a quality education.

Per-student numbers don't easily allow this sort of "obvious" conclusion.
Bear in mind that the Philly school system has about 30% more funds available to it than what's available in California.

But it gets better. California State rep, Tom McClintock, penned an op-ed last year illustrating just how far this kind of money goes. He lopped $3000 per student right off the top to bribe the educrats to stay away from the the schools an education altogether. That left him with about $7,000 per student to spend in the classroom:

To illustrate how we might scrape by at this subsistence level, let's use a hypothetical school of 180 students with only $1.2 million to get through the year. We have all seen the pictures of filthy bathrooms, leaky roofs, peeling paint and crumbling plaster to which our children have been condemned. I propose that we rescue them from this squalor by leasing out luxury commercial office space. Our school will need 4,800 square feet for five classrooms (the sixth class is gym). At $33 per foot, an annual lease will cost $158,400.

This will provide executive washrooms, around-the-clock janitorial service, wall-to-wall carpeting, utilities and music in the elevators. We'll also need new desks to preserve the professional ambiance.

Next, we'll need to hire five teachers, but not just any teachers. I propose hiring only associate professors from the California State University at their level of pay. Since university professors generally assign more reading, we'll need 12 of the latest edition, hardcover books for each student at an average $75 per book, plus an extra $5 to have the student's name engraved in gold leaf on the cover.

Since our conventional gym classes haven't stemmed the childhood obesity epidemic, I propose replacing them with an annual membership at a private health club for $39.95 per month. Finally, we'll hire an $80,000 administrator with a $40,000 secretary because, well, I don't know exactly why, but we always have.

Our bare-bones budget comes to this:
5 classrooms -- $158,400
150 desks @ $130 -- $19,500
180 annual health club memberships @ $480 -- $86,400
2,160 textbooks @ $80 -- $172,800
5 CSU associate professors @ $67,093 -- $335,465
1 administrator -- $80,000
1 secretary -- $40,000
24 percent faculty and staff benefits -- $109,312
Offices, expenses and insurance -- $30,000
TOTAL -- $1,031,877

The school I have just described is the school we're paying for. Maybe it's time to ask why it's not the school we're getting.

It simply boggles the mind how much more efficiently private industry is able to provide basic services and how inefficiently the public sector operates.

Using McClintock's assumptions, we'd have about $10,000 per student to spend for each student in Philadelphia, almost 50% more than in California. With this extra money, we could hire a private trainer for the gym class, hire a car service to chauffeur the kids to and from school, and purchase a few of those fancy smartboards and laptops for each kid.

Did I miss anything?


Anonymous said...

The per-student cost is nice in some ways because you just take the total budget and divide by the number of students. There is not much to argue about those numbers. Per-class is difficult because what is a class?

At my son's school (and at the public school he went to before), there are lots of classes (even in the lower grades). The primary teachers have a homeroom and they specialize in one subject, like English, math, and social studies.

The morning is usually set aside for the main subjects, like English and math. Sometimes in the morning, and for most afternoons, there are the "specials" like art, music gym, technology, science, and a foreign language. Each one of these is considered to be a "class" and are taught by separate specials teachers, who might handle more than one grade level.

What you get are more teachers who teach for less time during the day. Modern teachers are in front of kids for less time, and they are not even in front of the kids. (just look at how the desks are arranged) They are the guides on the side. Many times my son tells me that teachers have them do work in groups or on their own. When I ask what the teachers are doing, he says that they are at their desks doing paperwork or on the computer. (or wandering out of the room)

When I was growing up in public school, we had just one teacher for the whole(?) day (8am - 2pm). At most, we had a special music teacher come in once or twice a week, and, of course, there was gym. With the modern proliferation of teachers and "classes", one might expect a vastly improved lower school education. I don't see it. I just wonder what on earth all of those teachers are doing during the day.

However, budgets have become a battleground. In the next town over from us, taxpayers voted for a reduction the school budget increase(!) from 9 percent to 4 percent. The split was almost in the middle, but the reduction forces won. Opponents to the reduction (of the increase) used words like "eviscerate" to describe the cuts. Many people actually thought that the budget was being cut by 5 percent over the previous year. When your kids are in public school and you have no school choice, you become a big ally for whatever increase the school asks for.

Anonymous said...

My local school district has five elementary schools (K-5). Each has a web-site. Using the web site that appears to have the most complete employee list, I get this list for the employees:
*) 23 teachers
*) 1 librarian
*) 1 school nurse
*) 1 principal
*) 0 assistant principals
*) 1 secretary
*) 1 school psychologist
*) 1 "special resources" person
*) 1 "speech" person
*) 1 "technology" person
*) 1 literacy/reading recovery
*) 1 food services person
*) 2 ELD people
*) 1 custodian
*) 1 community liason
*) 1 "C.H.A.C" person
*) 1 "CELDT" person
*) 1 catagorical clerk

I get 23 teacher and 17 non-teachers. I'll further add that some of the non-teachers are necessary: I don't want to eliminate the librarian, the principal or the secretary, for example. Or the custodian (we can outsource this, but I still want the bathrooms cleaned!)

Still, part of the answer to "where the heck does all that money go?" is that the school staff is only 60% teachers.

Additionally, there is district staff (at least three employees named ... a superintendent, a Director of Administrative Services and a Director of Technology). I think I remember from an earlier version of the website that the district had about 12 employees. This works out to about 2 per school in the district. That would move the ratio to 23 teachers and 19 non-teachers.

The schools serve both breakfast and lunch. They can't make any money doing this, and almost certainly lose money, so part of the answer is that some of the money is spent on subsidised food for poor children (and maybe for non-poor children).

I know that the district has school buses, so some of the money has to go for buses, and maintenance and bus drivers.

The junior high schools (6-8) have assistant principals. I don't know about the K-5 schools. One of the junior high schools has counseling staff (again, before the web site refresh, I remember 4, but can't find the number right now).

According to the district website, 62% of the money goes for salaries, and 21% goes for benefits.

Using the California average teacher salary of about $55K, and assuming that the staff averages about teacher salaries (custodians make less, psychologists make more?), I get ~$55K + $18K per teacher: $73K. Double that to $146K to include the non-teaching staff. 25% of the state allocated money doesn't get to the schools, so 1/4 of $250K is ~$62K. $146K + $62K is about $210K.

This leaves $40K per classroom for things like electricity, heat, books, pro-rata share of the school buses *AND* pro-rata share of the learning disabled kids who get a lot more spent on them.

I think this is probably pretty close to where the money goes.

-Mark Roulo

jg said...

I'm completely with you about cutting out the crap. We must have 12 secretaries in our school and they don't seem to do that much work to need all 12.

My question though is with your budget are you changing the nature of what schools provide? What I mean is I see nothing in there for anything extracurricular. Is this school going to have sports, drama, music, etc? I'm not completely against that, there are certainly outside groups that can provide all those things. Obviously kids find ways to do drama and sports before they get to high school.

I do think that if you are proposing that radical of a change you face a long uphill battle. There is quite a nostalgic idea to many people about "the school play" and watching the local high school football team. I can't imagine many parents liking a lack of those activities. Getting parents on board is the first major step towards change.


KDeRosa said...

Hi jg.

McClintock's budget is a bit purposely hamfisted. I threw away 1/3 of the budget appeasing the needless bureaucrats. Some of that money could be better spent on extra-curricular stuff. Also, in his budget he allocates money for desks every year, you don't need new desks or books every year.

Mike in Texas said...

I have no idea how much a car service would charge to deliver children to school, but I've often heard the ridiculous claims of Rush Limbaugh that each child could have a chauffer driven limousine. At what seems like a ridiculous minimum, $10 per child round trip, that amounts to $324K per 180 day school year.

You also left out:

counseling (surely you didn't expect to get 180 perfect little children, did you?) I'll use the teacher salary you provided, so your additional cost is 67K
Food (remember if you have poor children you have to feed them, on the orders of the federal govt.) Going on the assumption that 50% of your students are low SES, a figure common for inner city schools, and you spent $3 per day you would need to spend an additional 48K.
Classroom supplies - we only get $100 per year at my school so I'll let you off easy on this one, $800.

The biggest problem I forsee is the small size of your school. I don't know what the laws are in the state you live in but here in Texas I THINK schools are required to provide 43sq. ft. per student, at the elementary level. Your plan works out to only 26 per student IF every sq. ft is utilized for student instruction, less if the 6th room is used as a gym. In addition, many states have laws limiting the number of students per class, especially at the lower grades. Your class sizes will work out to 36 students per class, hardly conducive to learning. If your school were an elementary school you would need an additional 3 teachers and 3 additional classrooms, additonal cost is 79K for classrooms and 201K for teachers' salaries, plus an additonal 16K per benefits. At least you should have enough sq. footage per student to be legal.

Your total expenses:

Additional expenses: $735,800
Total costs per student $9820, not including the private trainer (or equipment for the gym), smartboards or laptops for your students. If you got bargain basement laptops for $300 per students you would be over 10K per student, and that's without any educational software.

There is probably still many things I've left off the list.

Most public schools make do with FAR less than this amount.

KDeRosa said...

Hi MiT.

I'm thinking more van service than stretch limo.

We are talking total expenses since we're paying for the buildings and other capital expenses, not just operating expenses. So $9000 is probably well below the mean in most states.

Even if we take all your assumptions as accurate, you still fall below what is available in California and way below that available in the Philly school system.

Mike in Texas said...


In addition I think you can get a better deal for student desks than you have listed and as you pointed out, it will be a one time, or occasional expense.

I know nothing about commercial property but it seems like $33 per sq ft., including utilities, insurance and janitorial services, seems a bit on the low side, especially for a big city like Philly. I understand real estate is quite high in California, as are other expenses.

I think you would need an additional staff member for paperwork alone, which is usually required by the state and federal govts.

Anonymous said...

"Mark, you work in a district with 12 district personnel?"

No, my house is located in a school
district that I *think* has 12
employees at the district level :-)
I don't work for the school district
in any way.

But I'm doing this based on memory
of the district's old web-site. I
could be remembering wrong, or the
old web-site could have be wrong or
incomplete. Still, we only have about 4,500 K-8 students, so I'd be surprised if we had 50 district employees.

"About your personnel list, I'd go through it like Sherman through Georgia."

I don't see how making a librarian
'maybe' can be a good thing. I'd rather have each class be one student larger and keep the librarian.

I would also be *very* cautious about eliminating the janitor (again, unless the plan is to hire

I'm guessing that the schools could get by without one nurse per school and one psychologist per school (I
know we didn't have a psychologist at my Jr. High).

For some of the other jobs, I think we would need a plan to cover the loss. No speech therapist? Okay, but what do we do about the kids who need one? Maybe we don't need one per school (I don't know), but it isn't obvious to me that we can skip the task. Same for the "reading recovery person" (yes, I know that if the students were taught to read properly we wouldn't need as many of these, but until they are, what is the plan? Write off those kids?). For some of these tasks the plan may well be, "We don't do it", but just casually tossing 'em all seems pretty reckless.

"Oh, and that 25% that doesn't get to the schools? Back into the budget or into a tax reduction."

I think some of this goes to capital expenditures, so we can't entirely cut this without eventually letting the schools fall down.

Some of the 25% is paying back bonds that were taken out earlier for school related borrowing. Can't cut this without the state declaring bankrupcy (but it still is and *should* be scored as an educational expense, so I think the state budget is binning it correctly).

Some of the 25% *may* be food for poor children. Maybe it shouldn't be scored as educational spending, but there you have it unless we are willing to end the school breakfast/lunch program for poor kids (moving it to a different budget area won't save the money).

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"I know nothing about commercial property but it seems like $33 per sq ft., including utilities, insurance and janitorial services, seems a bit on the low side, especially for a big city like Philly."

I don't know much about commercial property either, but my company (small ... just 20 of us) just signed a 3 year lease in Brisbase (a few miles south of San Francisco ... I can see Candlestick Park from our windows). We have a view of the San Francisco bay because we are about 100 yards from a marina.

We are paying a bit more than $2/month per square foot. This price includes communal bathrooms and a cleaning staff that comes in at night.

I don't know about power and heat (I'm guessing that this is covered because billing this separately has to be a pain to manage when floors get leased to multiple companies. Additionally, I can't see it varying enough company to company to be worth the trouble breaking it out and billing it separately). The property owner pays for insurance ... we only need to cover our stuff (much like renters don't pay to insure the building, just their own property).

$33/year per square foot for California as a whole seems pretty reasonable to me, given that the San Fransisco bay area is quite expensive.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

You forgot legal fees. Legal fees are now a standard part of the school budget. You need a law firm on retainer to handle all those required policy changes handed down by the state legislature. Plus you are going to want to be able to defend yourself when you get sued by the parents with special needs kids because you fired their speech therapist.

Seriously, budgets should be looked at so much more closely. There are too many "consulting teachers" and "resource teachers" that never even see a child. Conferences and professional development trips are costly, but required under most union contracts. This year, the high school in our town has to budget $20K to house a visiting team to retain accreditation.