There was an interesting letter to the editor of Projo for the West Bay section recently that caught my attention, given my concerns about education financing on the micro and macro levels. It’s a very persuasive letter; the only problem is that it gives the wrong amount for what the Cranston School Department is requesting for the 2007-08 budget, and it provides a statistic which does not jibe with what the Education Finance Statistics Center for the US tells us. Here is the letter:
Cost of education in city is outrageous
Taxpayers of Cranston beware: the new administration is wasting no time coming after your (and my) money.
School Committee Chairman Mike Traficante and School Department head M. Richard Scherza are orchestrating an elaborate whining campaign about how little money they have and how the educational system is suffering as a result.
Letâ€™s look at the numbers: Mr. Scherza is requesting a budget of approximately $135 million for 2007-2008. This represents $12,000 per student, an astounding sum. This is very close to the tuition at the better private schools in the state, and exceeds that at Hendricken, La Salle, Saint Raphael and others by a significant margin. It is also close to being the highest per-pupil expenditure in the country.
Why is it that Cranston schools have so little money? Letâ€™s look at other numbers. Nationally, the average percentage of school budgets that is allocated to salaries and benefits is approximately 80 percent. In Cranston, our school budget is allocated 90-plus percent to salaries and benefits. So, on top of paying per-student fees higher than most of the rest of the country, we also allocate a much greater percentage to salary and benefits. Is there a rational explanation for this?
Also in Cranston, we are one of (I believe) two communities to use our own bus drivers. The portion of the school budget allocated for buses is more than $5 million. When I first saw this number, I wondered if it might actually be cheaper to buy all the students a new Lexus. Itâ€™s close. An independent study of the School Department a few years back singled this out as a way to save money. Has this even been investigated? Itâ€™s more likely that Osama Bin Laden will embrace Christianity.
Messrs. Scherza and Traficante would have us believe that theyâ€™ve cut expenses to the bone. But, theyâ€™ve failed to embrace cost savings that are clearly there. Letâ€™s also remember that Mr. Traficante was part of the School Committee that secretly approved new contracts for the schools last spring without a single word of input from the community, and without any idea of what the new contract would cost the taxpayer. This was the quintessential Rhode Island insider deal.
I say that let the crocodile tears flow in Cranston at the School Department and at the School Committee. But, we must refuse to give them one more dollar until they open up the budgeting process, and give us some real efficiencies and cost savings in the operations, and not just cut more books and activities for the kids.
First of all, the amount requested is not $135 million; it is $131,219,505. That’s a big difference.
Second, the letter claims that Cranston allocates “90-plus percent” of its budget to salary and benefits while other places in the US only allocate 80% of their budget to salary and benefits. I don’t know where Mr. Jackson got his statistics, but here are the statistics on this from the Education Finance Statistics Center:
So that means that nationally, the average spent on salary and benefits combined by school departments is 90.3%.
As for Cranston, we actually spend less than that, according to a graph from the current budget presentation. According to the slide presentation provided at the Cranston School Department website, Cranston spends 63.6% on salaries and 24.9% on fringe benefits, for a total of 88.5% on salary and benefits. That’s 1.8% below the national average.
So, as the saying goes, don’t believe everything you read.
Source for Cranston graph: http://cpsed.net/super/budget07-08/budget_files/slide0059.htm