Thursday, February 27, 2014

Myths of the WPS budget: BUSTED!

As we head into March and the schools  hear a bit more about how the district budget will affect them, I suspect we'll begin also to hear some of the myths about the Worcester Public Schools budget that come back every year.

Let's take care of those now.

Myth #1: "Every year they say that there is a HUGE gap and every year it is magically taken care of by June."
To begin with, we don't always start off with a deficit: this time last year, we didn't have a structural deficit, and we were close to break even in 2012; the last time we had a structural deficit was in 2011.
More importantly, we are required to pass a balanced budget: our expenses must equal the money coming in. Any deficit does not magically vanish: it is made up by cuts. So, for example, back in 2011, the structural deficit was filled through cutting teaching positions, skilled trade positions, 2 finance office clerical staff positions, a school plant manager position, and merging two vocational admin positions.
It doesn't just happen. We as a Committee don't have the power to increase the funds coming in; we can only reallocate what we get, and administration has the harsh job of making recommendations that will make the budget balance.
This is why I'm concerned not to be hearing more from parents and community members about the FY15 budget. As presented to us in January, we have a deficit of $27 million. That isn't magically going to vanish. It's going to mean cuts unless the money coming in increases, which can only happen through advocacy with the state and city (more on that to come).

Myth #2: "Worcester spends too much on education already."
For FY14, 35 cents of each tax revenue dollar went to the Worcester Public Schools. This is not a substantial amount compared to other communities. Moreover, as my colleague Mr. Monfredo points out in Worcester Magazine today, Worcester remains far behind the rest of the state when it comes to covering the real costs of education by funding above foundation: we're in the bottom 2%.

Myth #3:  "Too much money goes to administration."
We've now heard this one so often that it got its own slide last year. The vast majority of the money spent on administration--for FY13, the budget is $11.3 million--is for school-based administrators. That's principals and assistant principals.
As far as I know, no one is actually complaining that we have too many of those, so I assume that the complaint is actually about central administration, which for FY13 is budgeted at $2.5 million. That's somewhere around eight-tenths of a percent of the entire budget. It's also, if you see the chart above, a number that puts us right in the middle on administrative spending, and that's when we include the cityside administration costs over which we have no control.

Myth #4: "It's a black hole: I don't know where the money goes."
The whole FY14 budget--every last nickel of it--is here online.If you want to know how much each specific school costs, it's in there. If you want to know how much we spend account by account, it's in there. If you want to know what comes in as grants and how that's spent, it's in there.
I have a sneaking suspicion that in some cases this is really a bit of "math is hard" at bottom. The numbers are big, no question. How some of it gets figured out can be, at your first time through, pretty overwhelming. But there are lots of us, myself very much included, who are happy to go through this with anyone who wants some help figuring it out. So please don't give up: give it a shot.

Next up: what you can do!

No comments: