Washington Post ed columnist/reporter Jay Mathews had a great post the other day in response to some WaPo coverage of supposedly catastrophic cuts to the Fairfax County school budget. He rightly notes, “the end-of-the-world reactions from Fairfax County parents in my colleague Petula Dvorak's latest column are so divorced from reality as to be comical.”
Oh, it is funny, but not ha-ha funny. It’s more a makes-you-want-to-cry kind of funny. Consider:
- Fairfax aims spend 1.4 percent more per-pupil in 2011 according to their Operating Fund total, which includes the vast majority of total spending and core services.*
- Total per-pupil spending increased 20 percent in constant dollars between 2000 and 2010.
- Using Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) total expenditure figures, Fairfax spent over $15,300 per student in 2010. Per-pupil spending remains higher than in FY 2006.**
It is difficult to see how increasing the per-pupil budget in the midst of an economic crisis and no inflation can be construed by district officials as "dramatic spending reductions," or "devastating."
The Fairfax County school superintendent claims that nearly 600 positions will be cut. Why? Why do they need to cut hundreds of positions when their per-pupil budget is increasing? From what baseline is he measuring these cuts?
These facts and statements do not reconcile. I have emails and voicemails in to officials, and I am eager to hear how they explain all of this.
*Their proposed budget document does not seem to contain an identifiable total expenditure figure. The Fund totals cannot be summed because of unnoted double-counting — because, well, who cares how much we’re spending overall, right? A query has been sent to officials, who need additional time to determine if their budget document can be used to calculate total spending for the budget and to provide me with a total spending figure.
**The WABE listed per-pupil figure leaves out some k-12 spending and provides a number that is significantly less than that in more comprehensive state records or that can be compiled from the district budgets, so I’ve divide the total expenditures listed on p.23 by the enrollment to get the real total per-pupil spending.