Many people have expressed concerns over the Board of Education’s budget request, and I understand why. After nearly a decade of being told we need more money the same story starts to grow old. After nearly a decade without any transparency attempting to convince people that things are now different is an uphill battle. A frequent contributor to the comment section of the New Britain Herald has recently been demanding more transparency from the Board.
While I do not speak for the entire Board, I campaigned on the promise of being more accessible and open with the public. So here is some detailed information on the funding for New Britain schools from 2007-2012.
The Raw Figures
Below are figures I took directly from the Strategic School Profiles, which are submitted to the State in an annual report. The State, unfortunately, lags behind, so the latest report available was 2011-2012.
As you can see, student populate dropped by about 500 students over the past 5 years. At the same time we have seen substantial increases in both the total expenditure as well as the cost of special education. Looking at this graphic it easy to jump to the conclusion that the Board of Education has been spending more and more each year of local tax payer money. However, the picture isn’t quite so simple.
If you look at the breakdown of where the money has come from over the past 5 years you can see that the combined state and local contribution has remained incredibly steady. In fact, the amount of local funding that has gone to education has mostly been on the decline. The increase in school budget expenditures has come mostly from an increase in Federal and other funding, which include non-state grant awards, donations, tuition fees and other revenues.
What does it all mean?
Honestly? Not a lot. While we can look at the historical spending trends and see where money is coming from and what it is funding it doesn’t change the basic fact that our students deserve a higher level of education. Some of the changes that Superintendent Cooper wants to make carry an upfront cost, but the enable us to make long term gains. A good example would updating our financial system to one that is modernized. This will allow us to more closely monitor spending and conduct regular audits.
Another example is an inventory management system. This will allow us to know where every book, laptop, and projector in the district is located and who is responsible for it. The fact that we didn’t have this before just one example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Yet another would be the money that was put into a transportation audit. This will allow us to make changes to our bus usage to save money, furthermore it puts us in a far better position to renegotiate our transportation contract when it expires. The same could be said for the printer and copier audit that we just signed off on. That audit will only cost us a percentage of the savings, so there is no potential for loss.
It is important to look back and understand historical trends. But it is also important to keep in mind what matters for the future. It doesn’t matter I only made three trips to the doctor last year and the year before. If I’m sick 15 times this year I am going to go to the doctor more. I will certainly look at the trend and try to figure out what might be the underlying cause of my illness, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still need to spend the money to get well.