Thursday, April 10, 2014

2% of what?

with apologies to my regular readers for a bit of a re-run...

So I see that Worcester Magazine has recognized that the Worcester School Committee settled a contract with most of our unionized and non-represented employees earlier this school year. In most cases, these contracts include a 2% (or a 1% then 1% split over the course of the year) cost of living increase for this year.
And now we may have layoffs and budget cuts. How could this have happened?
I feel as though I say this ad nauseaum, but the Worcester School Committee (and, indeed, the Worcester Public Schools administration) does not control the revenue that comes into the district. We are at the mercy, and the decisions, of those in Boston, in Malden, in Washington, and in City Hall.

Our budget is projected based on the best information we have, and the increases in our budget are predicated almost entirely on two things:

  • the inflation rate
  • school enrollment
You'll note that we don't control either of those things, either.
However, the inflation rate is something that we have some records on. Here's what the state-issued inflation factor has looked like for the past several years:

With the very marked exception of FY11--which is when the federal government, recognizing the economic downturn, kicked in ARRA funds--we've been pretty steadily around 2%. In fact, the average of the above is 2.7%. Based on that alone, a 2% raise is entirely a reasonable proposition.

The second factor that influences our revenue stream is how many kids we have (and what needs those kids have). Here's our enrollment, both known and projected: 

Those projected figures are from NESCEC (enrollment figures are what they do) and MSBA (who of course are building buildings based on their numbers). No slouches on numbers, in other words. 
Yet, rather than the 25,022 or 25,032 that were projected as our population for October 1 of this year, we instead have an enrollment of 24,777. That's a LOT of kids that we were expecting that we don't have!
And that changes our foundation budget accordingly.

Now, I don't expect that everyone is going to know this. This was, however, part of our budget presentation back in February, so this isn't "news" in terms of the budget gap and the possible impact it has on programs. We already knew this, and we've known it for months.

I can't help but notice that this is coming up just as the pressure is on for the city to fulfill their fiscal responsibilities and fund education appropriately. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, by any means, but rather than having a real conversation about what we should be doing for our kids, we're going to have another round of discussion over administrative salaries--the raises of whom, I should point out, wouldn't even fund half a teaching position.

The athletic budget of the Worcester Public Schools is $444,242 for this year. That's 0.14% of our general fund budget. If there is any discussion about cutting that line item, it should make everyone extremely concerned, and not only because of the impact it will have on students.

If we are in such dire straits that we're looking at a line item that is such a tiny amount of our entire budget, then we are in dire straits indeed.
And we are.
It is high time that we recognized that and started having serious conversations about funding, rather than getting distracted by sound bites and grabber headlines. 

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