By Mark Barnes
Brochures, flyers, signs and gossip are circulating around in the community regarding school district funding and spending. There are a lot of numbers being said. Some of these are right. Some are wrong. Unfortunately, when comparing two right numbers, the end result or conclusion may still be wrong, especially if those numbers were calculated using data that wasn’t comparable. Confusing? You bet it is.
You’ve heard of the phrase, comparing apples to oranges? Well, that’s what has been happening, either intentionally or inadvertently, when it comes to information about school funding during the wrangling and debate for the upcoming supplemental levy election on May 20.
Over the next few weeks KMN will be looking at costs, funding and the levy debate. This week, we’re taking a look at how much Kuna School District costs.
Using the Idaho State Department of Education financial summaries for school district statistics from the most recent year’s published information, 2011-2012, we find that Kuna’s school average daily enrollment was 4,637.68 with a student cost of $8,654.75 per student. For comparison, for the same year, Boise School District had an ADA of 22,885 and spent $9,799.22 per student.
Comparing apples to apples, Kuna ranked fourth among the following 12 school districts and charter schools in spending per student in 2011-2012. (See chart)
2011-2012 School Expenses
School District – cost per student
1. Horseshoe Bend – $11,336.58
2. Middleton – $10,163.80
3. Boise – $9,799.22
4. Kuna – $8,654.75
5. Parma – $8,482.66
6. Caldwell – $7,697.28
7. Nampa – $7,623.99
8. Melba – $7,469.04
9. Homedale – $7,435.83
10. Mountain Home – $7,129.65
11. Meridian – $6,358.57
12. Falcon Ridge Charter School – $5,158.22
According to information on the Kuna School District website, KSD spent $43,497,401 in 2012-2013. With an average daily attendance of 4,772.62, the cost per student went up to $9,113.94. Boise dropped slightly to $9,452.41 per student but still exceeded the per student cost in Kuna. To say that we spend more per student than other school districts isn’t accurate. Kuna spends more than average, but not the most.
The Kuna School District is currently holding weekly budget reduction committee meetings to determine where it can cut expenses in the event that the supplemental levy fails to pass a second time. These meetings, open to the public and made up of parents, concerned citizens, school district employees and administrators are educating those in attendance what expenses can and cannot be touched and workshopping where the budget can be trimmed. This isn’t the first time this process has been conducted by the School district.
Between 2008-2010, as state funding decreased, the school district tightened budgets by $376,051 in anticipation of lower revenues. These savings are still in effect and are reviewed often. They included but weren’t limited to cutting mid-day kindergarten bus routes, eliminating 6th grade band bussing to KMS, cutting district funded field trips and consolidating bus routes.
Another $2.3 million was cut from the district’s budget but was restored with the passing of the 2012 levy. These included reducing certified staff (teachers) by six, reducing Student Resource Officers (SROs) by 1.5, instituting parking fees at the high school, reducing school budgets by 40 percent and operation budgets by 15 percent, creating participation fees for all extra-curricular activities, eliminating Saturday school, reduction of operations by 6 days, reduction of seven administrators including the transportation supervisor and furlough (reduction of workdays) of classified employees, administrators, certified employees, the school superintendent and asst. superintendent.
The school district also made one-time changes that amounted to $671,577 savings in 2009-2010. Kuna School District has already conducted some belt tightening as the uncertainty of supplemental levy funds rears its head every few years.
Allegations of funny numbers presented by the levy opposition were discussed in detail in a recent article in KMN (Ethics Allegations from Both Sides of Levy Battle Fail to Stick, April 2, 2014). In a series of follow up conversations with Michael Law, Kuna School District Trustee, opponent of the supplemental levy and who was one of several behind the pamphlet that went out to area residents, KMN learned how they arrived at their numbers. While it was determined through our discussions that there might not have been any intention to mislead in regards to information about expenses, the process of determining which numbers to include, from which sources and from when, created difficulty for anyone else to come up with the same numbers. KMN was walked through these calculations but still argued that they were not comparing apples to apples.
In the pamphlet question “What spending do supplemental levy supporters leave out?” Parents for Advancing Education says that the district claims that Kuna School District operates on $4,494 per pupil from the general fund. The pamphlet then goes on to add in other dollars, such as Medicaid, Title I nutrition funds, supplemental levy, and the emergency levy to determine dollars spent per student. According to the pamphlet, it raises the actual budgeted cost to $7,254 per student, or without the levy, $6,629 per student. This approach blurs the difference between the cost of each student with the revenue and funding received per student, two separate things, and, in our opinion, confusing. Overall funding is sourced through property taxes, grants and other federal funds. The supplemental levy is only a part of that funding pie, however opponents used all revenue funding in their argument to make the case against the supplemental levy. (More next week we’ll take on funding.)
Another allegation is that Kuna School District is not spending the money correctly. Accusations of too much administrative staff, lack of funds trickling down to classrooms, not enough books, not enough supplies and teachers salaries being too high have been alleged by anti-levy residents. In effect, Kuna School District is charged with wasteful spending.
Compared to Boise for the 2012-2013 school year, Kuna spent 66 percent of its general fund expenses on salaries. Boise spent 63 percent with Meridian at 60 percent. Expenses across the three school districts for benefits, services and supplies were about even percentage-wise in comparison to each other. The general fund is the portion of the budget funded almost entirely by state funds and the supplemental levy and is mostly the only area where budgets can be cut. Based on this comparison, one could conclude that Kuna salaries are a bit high.
However, according to salary schedules from the district’s websites, a first year teacher in Kuna will earn $31,750. Meridian first year teachers will make $33,000 while Boise pays $34,593. With a masters and 10 years of teaching experience a Kuna teacher will earn $43,187, $49,084 in Meridian and $50,680 in Boise.
The National Education Association said that the average starting salary in Idaho is $31,159. The average starting salary for teachers in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia is $36,141. Idaho ranks 46th among all states. In the Northwest, only Montana (ranked last) is spending less for beginning teacher salaries. Kuna also has one of the higher student to teacher ratios in the state at 20 to 1 according to www.teachersalaryinfo.com. In other words, when it comes to figuring out where to cut the budget, there’s not much room in teacher salaries unless Kuna wants to fall behind even farther or increase the teacher to student ratio.
Next week, KMN will look at where the money comes from to pay for education and how Kuna compares to other districts.