Well, friends, we’re beginning to suspect that the Dark Arts are involved in this year’s budget process.
Consider that our State education aid is going down by $1.1 million in FY 2017. Most organizations would reduce operating expenses when their revenues take a major hit. But, no, our School Board comes in with the addition of $600,000 of new, on-going expenses. Not to mention the increase of $1.1 million of expenses associated with providing “level services.” So expenses are increasing by a total of $1.7 million while revenues are decreasing by $1.1 million. Amazing! Counterintuitive! Crazy! Have our Town leaders at last discovered the formula for turning lead into gold?
No matter what soothing words you may hear at the Budget Forum on Wednesday evening, please keep the facts above in mind. And remember that without the $1.6 million Wentworth School windfall, taxpayer funding for education would have increased by 9.7%. Clearly a case of dark magic at work!
New High School Rankings Released
In an annual rite of spring, U.S. News & World Report has released its national ranking of high schools (link here). We readily acknowledge that – at best – these rankings are a crude measure of academic performance. They are, on the other hand, conducted impartially and have some methodological validity.
Scarborough High School slipped from #11 in Maine last year to #14 this year. Not a huge decrease and still a very respectable showing overall. The trend, however, is concerning.
As can be seen in the above graph, performance is declining in spite of consistent recent increases in education spending. So if more money isn’t having a positive impact, then what changes need to be made? If there really is a decline in academic performance, what is causing it?
It’s also worth noting that the significant increases in school expenditures have occurred during a period of declining enrollment. As of October 1, 2011, total enrollment per the Maine Department of Education was 3,248. As of October 1, 2015 it was 2,989. That’s a decline of 259 students or 8%.
Finally, the Portland Press Herald had a surprisingly honest editorial about the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Here are a couple of vitally important paragraphs from that article [emphasis added]:
“Schools in wealthy communities score well in large part because the students come from well-off families, and get all the privileges and advantages that implies – more parental involvement, extra help outside of school, a warm, safe and hunger-free place in which to do homework.
But most people only see the ranking at a superficial level, so they attribute the ranking entirely to the school itself. That draws more wealthy families to the school district, pushing out others and reinforcing the geographic and economic isolation that plagues schools in Maine, and all over the country.”
Long story short: towns with much higher per capita income levels than Scarborough will always have better scoring schools than we do… no matter how much money we spend on them. Funding of the schools is obviously one important variable in determining the success of the students. But there are at least two other critical variables: the relative wealth of the community and the effectiveness of the teaching program.
Budget Forum — Wednesday, April 27 @ 7pm
Please don’t forget to put the upcoming Budget Forum on your calendar!
Hope to see you there!
New Superintendent Named
Congratulations to our new Superintendent of Schools – Julie Kukenberger! She comes to Scarborough from the assistant superintendent position in Haverhill, MA. She has pledged to “incorporate all stakeholder viewpoints,” according to an article in The Current. We’re hoping taxpayers are included as stakeholders, since each and every one of us is directly affected by the schools. Obviously, Ms. Kukenberger’s primary focus has to be student-centered. But let’s hope she will also be at least taxpayer-considerate.
News from other school districts…
Our neighbors in Cape Elizabeth had a 29% reduction in State aid due to “rising property values and declining school enrollment.” Their reaction was quite a bit different than ours, however. Instead of adding 6 positions like we did, they eliminated 4 positions. What an interesting approach! (Article in The Forecaster.)
Meanwhile, in Yarmouth some taxpayers are speaking up about the increasing costs of that Town’s much-envied school system. One resident said: “We are providing a private school education with a public school tax rate. At some point, where do you stop paying for all the extras that are beyond the needs determined by the state?” Oh my! That sort of attitude is sure to stir up Yarmouth’s Free-Spenders. (Article in the Portland Press Herald.)
Your Education Dollar$ at Work…
Here’s some of the consulting work that’s been going on behind the scenes in this year’s budget process:
[Editor’s note: A couple of our readers (from the Free-Spending Brigade) object to our occasional practice of tossing in a bit of whimsy with the hard, indisputable facts that make up the great majority of this blog. How can we take any of this seriously, they say, if it’s not all factual? Well, they’ll have to live with our occasional attempts at humor, as lame and moronic as they often are. And just in case they’re not sure, the first two items above are as real as real can be. The third one, not so much….]
That’s all for now, folks. If you want one more dose of the Wentworth windfall story, please see this column in The Current.
Hope to see you this Wednesday evening at 7pm at the High School auditorium!
Not all of the schools that ranked higher than Scarborough are wealthy towns. Brewer ranked #4 and they are ranked #116 by per capita income. Look at Bangor – ranked #147 by per capita income and #11 on the high school list.
Fair enough. The point remains: adding large amounts of funding to the schools does not automatically result in higher performing schools. It probably seems like a solution, but it may be a false solution. I wish more parents would attend School Board meetings and get involved in the decision-making process. For instance, the high school is about to embark on a significant revision of its schedule with potentially major impacts on the learning environment. All with very minimal public notice or involvement as far as I can tell. Saying that the schools need more money is easy; figuring out what really needs to happen to improve the learning results is much more difficult.