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October 12, 2008

Comments

Brad Jolly

John, can you explain why you (the board) chose to cut teachers in a time of all-time high funding, when funding has outpaced inflation and growth for many years now? Why can the district not manage its expenses better?

John Creighton

Brad, I am pleased that you were able to comment so promptly on my most recent blog post. I marvel at the time you have to sit and wait for opportunities to comment.

I am happy to answer your querry and clear up your misunderstandings about school finances. First, it is important to look beyond simple numbers and understand their context. It's less useful to look for meaning if your goal is simply to take rhetorical jabs at public schools but useful indeed if your goal is to gain and share understanding.

It is true that Amendement 23 provides school districts with inflation plus one percent in additional funds each year through 2010. Inflation may be less than it seems. The calculation for inflation excludes items such as health care and energy (wouldn't that be nice). Last year, inflation was calculated to be somewhere slightly less than 3%. (That means additional funding is slightly less than 4%.) Some analysts project that true inflation - inflation that includes health care and energy - is between 6% and 8%. The costs incurred by SVVSD for health care, energy and state mandated contributions to the state retirement fund all exceed 4%. Over time, this erodes our discretionary dollars. We've managed for several years to preserve teaching positions and instructional programs by diverting dollars from other areas. As the Times-Call reported today, we have far fewer administrators than many school districts, we have rediculously few people on staff to maintain buildings and grounds and we pay our personell less compared to other districts. It has been by careful management of expenses that we've been able to put off cuts for so many years.

Another thing to understand is that education is a people driven business. Technology that replaces people has enabled other industries to achieve productivity gains and, thus, reduce expenses. For instance, the bank for which I am a board member has triple the number of accounts that it had a decade ago and a net gain of one employee. Technology makes it possible for each employee to manage a much higher volume of account management than was possible in the past.

I can't imagine many people thinking it is a good idea for kindergarten teachers to take on 75 students - in effect tripling the number of accounts that they manage. That would be one very large kindergarten room.

The last thing to understand - and something your previous posts suggest may confuse you a bit - is that state statute puts restrictions on moving dollars from one pot of funding to another. Bond dollars cannot be used for operations and mill levy dollars cannot be used for capital construction.

St. Vrain, as the data source you provided in a comment on an earlier post shows, has one of the lowest per pupil operating budgets in the western United States.

By your standards, since St. Vrain has one of the lower per pupil operating budgets of any school district - all other school districts must be extraordinarily poor at managing their expenses. Your logic would lead one to conclude that there are no well managed school districts in the country.

I apologize for the patronizing tone of this comment. Without a doubt, I am guilty of being passive aggressive. But, your intellectually shallow criticisms eventually become wearisome. It is not enjoyable to be provoked by shallow criticism.

We face challenges in this school district. We are not effectively meeting the needs of all students in our district. There are many ways in which we can improve. And, there are many people who are busting there butts to do just that. I choose to focus my energy on supporting these people.

So, keep the comments coming by all means. But, please, let's raise the bar on being constructive.

Brad Jolly

Hi John,

You assert things that simply are not true. Specifically, you say that health care and energy are not included in the inflation number. This is false.

Here is my proof.

In Amendment 23, we find the following:

"'Inflation' has the same meaning as defined in article X, section 20, subsection (2),
paragraph (f) of the Colorado constitution."

Going to the relevant section of the constitution, we find the following.

"'Inflation' means the percentage change in the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index for Denver-Boulder, all items, all urban consumers, or its successor index."

This sends us to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics site on the Consumer Price Index, where we find the following.

***** Beginning of US BLS Quotation *****

The CPI represents all goods and services purchased for consumption by the reference population (U or W) BLS has classified all expenditure items into more than 200 categories, arranged into eight major groups. Major groups and examples of categories in each are as follows:
* FOOD AND BEVERAGES (breakfast cereal, milk, coffee, chicken, wine, full service meals, snacks)
* HOUSING (rent of primary residence, owners' equivalent rent, fuel oil, bedroom furniture)
* APPAREL (men's shirts and sweaters, women's dresses, jewelry)
* TRANSPORTATION (new vehicles, airline fares, gasoline, motor vehicle insurance)
* MEDICAL CARE (prescription drugs and medical supplies, physicians' services, eyeglasses and eye care, hospital services)
* RECREATION (televisions, toys, pets and pet products, sports equipment, admissions);
* EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATION (college tuition, postage, telephone services, computer software and accessories);
* OTHER GOODS AND SERVICES (tobacco and smoking products, haircuts and other personal services, funeral expenses).

***** End of US BLS Quotation *****

Did you notice that fuel oil, gasoline and health care are in fact in the CPI?

Who told you it wasn't?

You speak of elevating the tone of the discussion. I agree. Let's start by speaking clearly about the basic facts.

Brad Jolly

Hi John,

I should have included the URLs for my citations, but the post was getting long.

Here are the sources of my quotations:

Amendment 23, from Colorado Department of Education:
http://www.cde.state.co.us/artemis/ga4/ga429internet/2004.pdf

Colorado Constitution, from the Independence Institute:
http://www.i2i.org/Publications/ColoradoConstitution/cnart10.htm#20

CPI Description, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpifaq.htm#Question_7

I hope these references are helpful for you.

Jo Charlton

Brad,
your "report" was from 2004. You might want to update your data. Times have changed. Here is the February 2008 report:
http://www.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/lcsstaff/2008/Final%20Reports/08SEFFinalReport.pdf
If you scroll through to page 17 and look at the chart, you will see that the honorable Mr Creighton is indeed speaking clearly about the basic facts. It is you, using data from 2004 that is not.
The table on page 17 of this 20 page report states that 2.9% inflation is the figure being used. There is another column I would bring to your attention "Change in spending from prior year" Here you find negative numbers.

John Creighton

My exact words "...health care and energy are not included..." are not accurate. I take responsibility for that.

I made a post on the main page to clarify my points.

Brad Jolly

Jo, the section in the 2004 report that I used merely quoted the definition of inflation in Amendment 23.

I did not in any way use it as a source of inflation data, and Amendment 23's definition of inflation looks the same in 2008 as it did in 2004.

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