281’s fuzzy math

Speed Gibson digs into a fuzzy math claim on RSD’s claim, “The 67 Percent Solution:”

You may remember some legislative proposals to require that at least, say, 65 percent of K-12 spending go “directly” to the “classroom” – whatever that means. As I recall, these never got beyond the guidelines stage, probably because everyone realized how difficult this would be to calculate, let alone enforce.

Take for example the Robbinsdale School District’s claim that 67 cents of every tax dollar goes for instruction, specifically “teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students.” This is from a recent mailing from the District. Is this really true? Let’s try to find out.

First, let’s look at the tax dollar. Per the chart on page 37 of the 2008-2009 budget which supplies most of the figures below, 90 percent of the revenue comes from state, property, and federal taxes, in that order. You could argue that the other 10 percent is largely for meals and non-academics like sports, but I’ll use the worst case value of 90 percent below.

Now, how much are we spending? The total budget is $ 187 million, from which I’ll subtract meals and Community Education (including ECFE) to get a net $ 173 million a year. Applying the 90 percent figure above says that $ 155 million tax dollars are being spent this year. The flyer says that 67 percent of that is for instruction, which is $ 104 million. Dividing that by the enrollment of approximately 12,300 gives us $ 8,462 from taxes per student.

Going back to the flyer, the lowest class size shown in 25.4, for fifth grade if both Referendum questions pass. That works out to about $ 215 thousand dollars per class. One teacher with benefits costs about $67,000, but since the average teacher only teaches during 4 of the 6 hours, I’ll flex that up to an even $100,000. Subtracting another $ 5,000 for books and supplies leaves another $ 110,000 in taxes allegedly being spent on “instruction.” Where, pray tell?

Now I’m sure the District can show us how they came up with the 67 cents of every tax dollar figure but given the language they attached in the flyer, it has to be rather contrived. I requote the flyer’s definition of Instruction: “Teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students.”

The flyer does cite the preliminary District Audit Report as its source. I read the previous year’s Audit Report and Management Letter which shows Instruction as 56.6 percent of 2006-2007 expenditures, 55.6 percent for 2005-2006. I therefore infer that the 2007-2008 percent is almost certainly under 60 percent. Their definition of Instruction appears more broad, possibly including some Community Education I believe, yet their percentage is significantly less than claimed on the flyer. Why, pray tell?

I offer this to again say that District communications need significant improvement, as the Strategic Planning process has identified as Priority 4.

Where then does the money go, if not for “teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students?”  I’d guess that it’s not where it should be going, and that 281 administration will not answer (because they know it won’t support their fuzzy claims).

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