More Money for What?

by John Butcher

The tug-of-war between the School Board and City Council over school funding enters a new era of speculation: Will the recent election results produce more funds for Richmond schools?

That overlooks the more fundamental question: What is the School Board doing with all the money it now is spending?

The most recent data from VDOE are from 2015-16. Here, from that year, are the per-student disbursements by division for Richmond, three peer divisions, and the state average for school divisions. I’ve left out the sums for facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve.

The largest single cost for schools is salaries, so it’s no surprise that Richmond’s excess of $3,051 per student mostly went to the instruction category.

Expressing the Richmond data as differences from the state number, we get:

Or, multiplying those differences by the Richmond enrollment of 21,826:

Multiplying the $3,051 Richmond total excess by the 21,826 enrollment gives the excess Richmond expenditure total: $66.6 million.

We can account for some of that.

The 2016 average salary in Richmond was $51,263 vs. the state average of 56,320. That is, Richmond saved $11.3 million vs. the state average by underpaying its teachers.

At the same time, Richmond has a lot more teachers than average:

At the average salary of $51,263, that comes to an extra cost of $18.5 million.

Combining those data leaves Richmond with an excess cost v. the division average of $59.4 million.

This overlooks the question of what those extra teachers are doing for the RPS students.  To judge from the SOL scores, it’s more a question of what they are doing to the students.

We often hear that special education and poverty are major contributors to Richmond’s higher costs. It is difficult to come by data to quantify that. The closest I have come is SchoolDataDirect, the now defunct Standard & Poors data service that was supported by the Gates Foundation.

S&P calculated adjustments to spending on core operating activities to account for poverty, special education, and geographic factors. On the 2006 data, here are their numbers:

The difference in adjustments is 5.8%; that is, on those (old) data, Richmond schools were 5.8% less expensive than average (in terms of “core” spending) because of those three factors.

Based on that counter-intuitive result and the absence of current data, let’s pass on those factors.

One final item:  Richmond’s excess expenditure for O&M is $2.8 million.  Even if all that were justified (and given the sorry state of our old school buildings, it probably is), Richmond would be spending an excess $56.6 million.

After these adjustments we are left with an estimated excess in our 2016 school disbursements of some 56+ million compared to the state average (recall that this does not account for disbursements for facilities, debt, or contingency). What we got for that money in 2016 was the second lowest math pass rate and the lowest reading pass rate among the Virginia school divisions.

Until the RPS can explain where all that money is going and what we are getting for it, there is no reason at all to increase the school budget. To the contrary, these data make a case for cutting the RPS budget by at least $56 million.

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One response to “More Money for What?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    The question about what local money over and above the required SOQ match is spent for – is a good one.

    But as usual, Butcher is targeting a particular jurisdiction and ignore others , even adjacent ones and that selective “look” comes across not as a genuine analysis of such spending in general but rather a single focus on one district when, in fact, that district – even though it spends far more than the required match – far less than many other jurisdictions – also largely unknown for what.

    but take a look here:

    county amt over state reqd percent over state reqd
    HENRICO 106,183,966 87.62%
    CHESTERFIELD 94,888,723 77.19%
    NEW KENT5 4,971,078 65.06%
    CHARLES CITY 1,984,371 87.12%
    POWHATAN 10,302,920 102.87%
    HAMPTON 38,355,925 110.42%
    HARRISONBURG 15,238,991 110.63%
    HOPEWELL 4,371,121 75.89%
    LYNCHBURG 17,756,718 94.61%
    MARTINSVILLE 3,147,502 101.48%
    NEWPORT NEWS 53,643,222 108.25%
    NORFOLK 57,784,950 103.02%
    PETERSBURG 5,302,790 86.00%
    PORTSMOUTH 28,333,946 123.43%
    FAIRFAX 960,863,431 116.14%
    FAUQUIER 41,740,520 103.37%

    severa of these systems also have accreditation issues including Henrico with almost a dozen …

    so what does this really prove?

    1. – that quite a few school systems in Virginia – a majority in fact – spend MORE than the required state SOQ spending –

    2. – that few if any actually break out in their budget the specific things
    that the extra local money is actually spent on

    3. – systems that spend more than the required state level AND which have schools in accreditation trouble DO deserve closer scrutiny – more than just Richmond… if we really want to not just pick on one system.

    WIth Butchers skill and abilities, I think they’re wasted on these sound-bites ” here’s another piece of dirt on ..schools/VDOE”.. when the real scandal is more than just Richmond – which doe indeed have a high proportion of reduced lunch/at risk kids and you WOULD expect more money on teaches – that’s not a bad thing.. a bigger question might be how a jurisdiction like Henrico spends on a percentage basis – as much as Richmond does – MORE than is required and it too has continuing problems with SOME of it’s schools but not most of them.

    We need to require ALL school districts to break out the local spending that is over and above the required state level – and show what it is spent on – both Richmond and Henrico and all other systems..

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