In Eastern Washington, voters are being asked to approve school district levies in a Feb. 14 election. Spokane residents might have seen one or two or 10 billion signs about it strategically placed around the city. I saw a “vote yes for kids” sign at City Hall, tacked to the incoming side of the city bulletin board. I mentioned it to a woman at the counter, and she took it down.
Twice on its front page, The Spokesman-Review published pro-levy material that (to a journalist), can only be seen as full-page advertisements. First was “Anatomy of a Levy.” Then there was “Faces of a Levy.” Where can it go from there? Ears of a Levy? Elbows of a Levy? Butt-cheeks of a Levy?
Meanwhile, the union president published a pro-levy article in the KIDS Newspaper, and the school district helpfully delivered that pro-levy article to elementary schools and students across the city.
Clearly, the district, union and newspaper want us to support the levy. Some local advocates would rather we not. Whatever you decide, please don’t just stay home. If just three people vote on the levy, it will pass or fail based on the three votes. As you’re bombarded with a heavy emotional campaign to “vote yes for the kids,” however, here are a few things to consider.
- 2001-2002 actual operating costs: $7,857 per student ($236.9 million / 30,151 FTE students).
- 2001-2002 actual costs for all expenses (operating, transportation, capital projects, debt service and student fund): $8,944 per student ($269.7 million / 30,151 FTE students).
- 2011-2012 operating costs: more than $11,000 per student ($313.3 million / 28,093 FTE students).
- 2011-2012 costs for all expenses: more than $17,000 per student ($495.7 million / 28,093 FTE students).
Examine the budgets and see where the money went. Not all certificated positions are classroom teachers, and not all dollars for “teaching” are classroom expenditures. Included are a flood of useless curricula and supplementary material, plus school directors, executive directors, associate superintendents, assistant superintendents, instructional coaches, assistant principals and layers of administrators who aren’t held responsible for the results of their policies and curriculum choices.
Where in the budget do we find legal expenses? Where are the expenses for promotions of levies and bonds; for special elections for levies and bonds; and for the unproved multi-million-dollar federal vision? Where are the expenses for remediation, drop-out programs, counseling, professional development, curriculum supplements, and other supports – much of which wouldn’t be necessary if the district would allow teachers to directly teach good-quality material? It’s all in there somewhere, and we’re paying for it.
If the CPI is any indication, inflation’s impact on the bottom line was greater than I expected. The result was still an increase over 10 years, beyond the rate of inflation, and even as full-time student enrollment dropped by thousands, and classified and certificated staff also decreased. Do the calculation for your own district. The result might surprise you.
Consider that in 2001-2002, the levy paid for just 14% of the district’s $236.9 million operating budget. The fact that the levy now pays for a greater percentage of an exponentially larger operating budget should make it clear how much the levy itself has increased. Not including the state Levy Equalization Assistance – Spokane’s levy has grown by 74% over 10 years, from $35 million in 2001-2002 to $61 million (net) in 2011-2012. All of this is for fewer students.
Because of this percentage limit, if state and federal dollars go down, the allowable levy dollars also should go down. That isn’t what happened. School districts do say that state and federal dollars have been cut (again, it depends on which year, which dollars, and which expenses are chosen for comparison), but levy dollars have not dropped. I asked local administrators about this seeming contradiction, and they indicated that levy dollars are now based partially on pretend money. Here’s how that works.
Legislators decided to “protect” districts’ levy base from negative “changes in state and federal revenue sources.” (See RCW 84.52.0531, 4ii) Districts are allowed to base levies on dollars that would have been received had there been more revenue. The Spokane superintendent called it “ghost money.” I asked her what the levy limit for Spokane is, then, since it isn’t 28%. She hastened to say that it is 28%: “It’s 28% of what it would have been.”
You can’t make up this stuff.
Extrapolate these costs to the state. Washington has 295 districts. If they spend what Spokane is spending, it will cost taxpayers across the state $1.77 billion (295 districts x $6 million). Extrapolate the costs to the country. America has about 14,000 districts. If they spend what Spokane is spending, it will cost taxpayers across the country $84 billion (14,000 x $6 million).
On Jan. 4, I asked Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson why the district is adopting the unproved Common Core when it’s supposedly strapped for funds. He said they have to do it, which is not true. He said the district has cut elsewhere to pay for the initiatives. Apparently, the cuts include instructional assistants, special education specialists, and summer school.
- One year ago: State funds (general purpose) are less today than one year ago, by about $2 million, which doesn’t seem like enough to pay for 500 jobs. However, special purpose funds are slightly more today than one year ago.
- Two years ago: State funds (general purpose and special purpose) are more today than they were two years ago, by about $5 million altogether.
- Three years ago: State funds (general purpose) are more today by about $3 million. Special purpose funds are about $9 million less today than they were in 2008-2009, due to the $10 million cut in Student Achievement funds (I-728). Otherwise, state funds are more today than three years ago, and fairly close to what they were four years ago.
- Compared with ten years ago, how much of the 2012 levy would go to the actual classrooms and to actual classroom teachers? How much to "enrichment" activities?
- Compared with ten years ago, how much of the 2012 levy would go to central-office administrators? How much to building administrators? How much to certificated staff members who aren’t actually working this year as classroom teachers?
- Why is the district spending millions of tax dollars on new items, such as the unproved Common Core initiatives, even as it complains to the public about how short it is on dollars?
- Vote yes for administrator salary increases and benefits
- Vote yes for an unproved, unfunded, arguably illegal federal takeover of public education
- Vote yes for union political activity that goes by its own rules
- Vote yes for wasted dollars, on things that don’t help children learn
- Vote yes for deceitful presentations of student outcomes and manipulative district behavior
- Vote yes for substantial remediation for your child at the local community college
Rogers, L. (January 2012). "Yes, vote for kids by asking the adult questions about school levies." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/
This article was published Jan. 16, 2012 on EducationViews at: http://educationviews.org/2012/01/16/yes-vote-for-kids-by-asking-the-adult-questions-about-school-levies/
This article also was published Jan. 17, 2012 on EducationNews at: