By Dean Kalahar
Listening once again to the yearly cry that “the schools are broke” is beyond tedious and boorish. But what does a school district budget really look like in “Anytown, U.S.A.?” For a point of reference, let’s look at Sarasota, Florida.
In a nutshell, the Sarasota County Schools budget has been rolled back to 2005-06 levels; a time prior to the housing collapse when revenue was strong due to a large property tax base and extra referendum dollars. As far as education quality is concerned, the mediocrity from bureaucracy of 5 years ago was no different than it is today.
The schools spent $372 million in 2005-06 to teach 41,516 students. In 2011-12 they will spend $381 million teaching 483 less students while spending $581 dollars more per student. How this creates cause for alarm or drastic cuts in any program, salary, benefit, or position is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, the district cries out as if the sky is falling.
Factoring in for inflation (constant dollars), per pupil expenditures have increased $1689 or 18.6% between 2000 and 2011 to its current level of $10,769 per student.
The $381 million dollar budget does not include the $41 million “fund balance,” also known as a school board savings account, or the $340 million capital outlay “construction” budget.
The total budget for next year is only $5 million less than this year’s –a far cry from what the public has been told- which represents a tiny 1.3 % decrease in spending. Lowering the fund balance to $36 million would have made up for the difference.
The political reality is that there are never enough dollars for elite educators who work within a system of utopian absolutes, void of such pesky market realities as profit, loss, competition, innovation, and productivity. Even at the height of the boom (2008) when the system had $485 million general budget dollars, you were told the schools needed more money, more referenda, more of everything! Cynics say they’ve perfected the “crisis for the children” game to hide the fact the system is fat, happy, and always hungry.
When the consistently militant blue collar teachers union folded like a cheap shirt at the bargaining table, it was clear they felt the heat of public sentiment against collective bargaining largess. Better to lay low for a while, seem compassionate, and protect the gravy train for the long haul.
The bottom line is that there is no budget crisis, the school system has plenty of revenue, and there will be no noticeable changes or effective reforms. The business as usual “shell game” continues. Unfortunately, the consumers of education keep losing while the public sector monolith keeps laughing all the way to the bank.
Source: Sarasota County budget spreadsheets